"My main motor for innovation is history"
Mane Tatoulian ha logrado extender sus habilidades de marca para crear su propia personalidad distintiva.
We spoke with Mane Tatoulian graphic designer about the evolution of her career, the biggest influences on her work and her current fascinations and creative preoccupations.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your current situation.
My interests for the arts and creativity began since childhood. I was born in the core of an Armenian family that migrated to Argentina after the Soviet Union dissolved, beginning a life from zero on a foreign continent. Due to economic difficulties and a lack of resources, my passion for creativity slowly began to develop. I learned how to do more with less. From a young age, I felt this urge of giving existence to things, as if there was an inner universe waiting to explode in the outside. I have been working in the creative field since my first job until today: it is in my essence. I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Graphic Design at the Business University of Argentina. During the last year I also concluded the course for Professor Assistant at the same university. I am currently working on two personal projects of mine, that will mean the foundation of my future development.
What’s changed in art and design education since you graduated?
Well, I can say that definitely curriculum wise I see more Bachelors related to marketing, UX/UI, motion graphics, and so on. This would mean that new programs with a more “digital” focus are created to satisfy this increasing demand of the latest developments of design. I also realized that design has also become a more popular field to study, as it seems there is also a wider request of professionals in the field. However, that something increases in quantity does not guaranty quality neither efficient satisfaction of needs, I have to say.
How important is a formal qualification in design today?
With the development of social media and the digital community, it has become extremely easy for anyone that has even a basic knowledge of the design softwares to upload work. Unfortunately, I reckon that this ends up generating a digital pollution of visuals and a misuse of the design exercise. A diploma does not guarantee superior work, in the end it always depends on the individual. However, I think there should be a type of qualification that could regulate the work done, like doctors or architects.
How else can designers distinguish themselves, especially if it’s right out of school and they’re trying to find work?
The advice I can give is to truly look inside: discover who you are and what is that thing you can do the best of and put it in service of people. It is specially very important to develop this identity during school, which usually is the period in which unconsciously students end up being “generic” designers as the nature of the projects is very diverse. I used to argue very much with some of the professors, but I do not regret: I was already defining a line of work. To leave school and find yourself in this gargantuan market seems a bit overwhelming, but if you are focused on who you are and what you will give, you will find your place. However, if you are choosing to work as a designer just because it is a trend and it allows economical retribution, then I don’t have anything to advise.
What are your personal challenges and inspirations? What inspires and motivates you today?
I understand the Universe as an immense system, a huge organism, in which each of us is a cell contributing to the whole. It inspires me to know that each of us has a function in the totality, and life is about mastering that meaning to serve to humanity. My main motor for innovation is, paradoxically, history: to know who we have been will determine who we will be as a humanity. The challenges are diverse, for example, how to add more value and make it more accessible to people, or how to overcome the greatest forces that hide behind different predetermined social and ideological structures so true change can be done. In the very end, life seems in a way a Hegelian dialectic between constructive and destructive forces. One only has to choose which one to side with.
Who or what has been your biggest design influence—and why?
My inspiration comes from combining the heritage of the Modernist designers, philosophers and my own mind and creative energy. What specifically attracts me to the new Modernism of the 50s is that, in this time of history, design became a tool of reconstructing and reorganizing the world that was destroyed by the war. This generation of designers and architects built a solid system of objects and ideas to develop a new reality, while achieving a unique creative production. Behind the visual development, there was also a strong concept of system and order; an organized mind, brings up an organized reality.
How has the type of work you do changed from the early days?
For a long time, design was for me the strongest way of organizing the world. To design meant to me a way of emulating Nature, a mechanism of shaping reality. However, in the past years I started to notice how, as the liquid Modernity was affecting all spheres, design was falling into the Capitalist system of commodities, producing an endless and absurd ecosystem of objects with an ephemeral life. In the beginning of my career the variety of the work I used to offer was wider, still within the editorial-typographical approach, but definitely wider. In the past years, I narrowed the design work I do to only offer what I know I master, to avoid ever having to offer mediocre work in the field. However, I also started to exercise more activities related with education and theoretical development, so this is also another change, moving from a more practical background to a much theoretical sphere.
What do you enjoy the most about design?
I think design’s most beautiful aspects are two forces: creation and organization. Firstly, to bring forth into the world something that did not exist materially. Second, to organize the idea itself while materializing it in reality. I like thinking of designs as systems that organize a certain portion of reality, whereas emulating Nature in creativity, beauty and aesthetics. To create is, in a way, to overcome oblivion. There is, in fact, a metaphysical quality hidden in the essence of creativity: with design, somehow, the result of creativity and problem solving also becomes the potential glance of a memory. Our creations not only resolve issues, but also embody the capability to succeed the afterlife. Indirectly, our creations are a node that can connect us to an infinite state of being. We create not only for practical functions but to leave the traces for a conceptual dialogue with the future humankind.
After so long, how do you value your work?
I value it as the honest and genuine materialization of someone who puts her skills and passions for a social function and aims to leave her trace in the world.
What kind of music would your designs sound like?
Synthesized strings. A mix between the organic and the machine.
How important is the study of typographic fonts in a world like today?
Well, language is one of the most unique gifts that have been given to us as humans. Thoughts are expressed by words and words in design conceive typography. My relationship with creativity changed when I discovered typography: it helped me define the shape of my ideas: the energy of the words merged with the magic of the form. Nowadays we are bombed with infinite fonts and font “creators” that do not do more than just saturate the design system and proliferate the digital pollution. If we would give history the value it deserves, we appreciate more the classical designs and be a bit more conscious on the unlimited production we are generating.
Do you think that the necessary value is not given to the typography?
Well, in the Era of the image, pictures have always subordinated typography. Typography is more than just a mere font. It encapsulates diverse functional, historical, psychological, semiotic and aesthetic aspects in it. And as designers, we must know all these to make a proper use of typography.
When you start a job, what do you analyze first? Where does inspiration come from?
My first analysis is related to the essential function, trying to decode that main identity that needs to be brought forth. Then, I mentally search into the repertoire of visual forms that will best materialize this concept. This starts to be a more quick process the more you train yourself to focus and to organize your mind.
How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
Organized mind, organized reality. Typographic and thinking systems.
What work would you highlight and would you like to tell?
I would emphasize the systematic, organizational, transparent and aesthetic nature of the work. That is my main essence.
How do you lead yourselves from concept to design?
Everything starts on the mind, so the way you process and structure the idea first determines the material outcome. Both processes have to be coherent and interconnected. (same as with before) My first analysis is related to the essential function, trying to decode that main identity that needs to be brought forth. Then, I mentally search into the repertoire of visual forms that will best materialize this concept. This starts to be a more quick process the more you train yourself to focus and to organize your mind.
Where do the ideas come from?
Sometimes I feel as tho the ideas are somehow there already, and it is a matter of bringing them to life. It is a balance between the experience of the past and a new component that innovates the final outcome.
What’s been the most satisfying project you have worked on?
My favourite project so far was leading an editorial design learning lab in TUMO Center, Armenia. For three months, I was teaching students from different creative fields the art of constructing editorial systems. This was, to me, a beautiful journey: to see every student’s progress since the very beginning to the end was incomparable. This types of educational activities combine both theory and practice, symmetrical and asymmetrical experiences. To create a space that transcends only the topic of the class and goes towards a more complex atmosphere of knowledge is essential for the development of new designers. In the end, it’s all about the lives one touches with the work one does.
Living in the era of images, how can visual communication stand out from the crowd?
I would say that by offering solid and timeless work, related to values that transcend the mere trend or superfluity, this sort of objective reason that was defined during the Enlightenment. For example, the entirety of my work is interconnected within the field of language. This would mean, in design: editorial design, branding, typography; and on the other hand, writing and speaking events. I am obsessed with the idea of systematization, and language is one of the most perfect examples. This systematic alchemy of legible forms was, to me, the closest phenomenon I could find to Infinity. My sensitivity towards language and meaning allows me to achieve complex designs and create experiences that transcend design.
What part of the design process gives you the most satisfaction?
Give us the top 3 tips for inspiring young designers.
To give identity to an object and thus, making it exist.
To organize and systematize and idea in the world.
Being true to insights and principles.
What are you excited to have coming up in the future?
The possibility to reach more people every time to give even more value, and to be able to see a sort of renaissance of a more conscious and critical society. As mentioned before, the materialization of my two personal projects.
Why do we need branding?
Branding is the materialization of an identity, it is what basically makes a company or a person exist. In a world where identities are being liquified and annihilated, to create solid identities that can last over time is a challenge. However, I think this is not an easy challenge even tough today it seems undervalued.
Considering the importance of keeping current, how do you keep up? What are the current trends in packaging, color, design, architecture…
Honestly, more than keeping current I think we should keep timeless. As mentioned before, my main inspiration is history as a staring point. I do not look at trends and fashions, which hide a sort of obsolescence, but search for timeless components instead. And they actually change so fast that I do not even have a clear idea of what is the visual mode now. Trends are allies with Capitalism, they keep the system alive in an infinite cycle of changes and economical return.
Do you think ego is an important aspect within a designer’s work?
Well, today’s worldwide (superficial) tendency towards spirituality and Eastern culture is proliferating a propaganda against the ego. If we think, from the psychological and philosophical perspective, the ego is the psychic instance through which the individual recognizes oneself as “me” and is aware of his own identity. This does not have to be necessarily negative, on the contrary, it’s a human constitutive component. However, in the common language ego is mistaken for “excess of self esteem” and that is why it develops a negative response. As creators, we are most importantly individuals with a specific subjectivity trough which we create. I believe in the balance between accepting your own individuality and DNA while putting it in service of the world or your purpose, in other words, achieving objective values trough a subjective vision.
Which people working today in graphic design do you enjoy the work of?
I enjoy mostly the works featured in the SearchSystem database.
What are your thoughts on specialization vs generalization?
Taking again the analogy of an organism, I believe in the specialization in favor of the general whole. If we look in our bodies, each organ is specialized in specific function/s. This keeps the entire system organized and efficient. Naturally, as humans we are more complex than an organ, but even tough we can develop different interest areas, in the very end we choose one or a couple of them to master.
Do you think the Covid-19 situation will change the industry?
I think it will change if they find it necessary for it to be changed.
Can you tell us about your present and future plans?
My present is now about planting the seeds for the future. Everything I do in my profession, in the very core, has one orientation: words. I strongly believe in their energy. Thoughts are expressed by words, and words in design conceive typography. So even if it’s a speech, an article or an editorial, the word is always present. For the next level of my work, my will is to evolve my theoretical, communicational, organizational and educational skills to create always with the aim to enlighten and organize a portion of our world. In fact, this liquid and digital Postmodernity is redefining the function of humans: what will it mean to be a human in the future technological world? What heritage we will leave the future generations, if every aspect of our lives is elevated to the virtual world? What words we will inscribe for them to read, if language is being deconstructed and neutralized by political ideologies? What beauty we will legate if art is being evaporated by the capitalist baroque of commodities? My biggest will would be to be able to leave a valuable and useful gift, as tiny as it can be, for the future generations.