If Blok is more than a design studio … what is it to you? How would you describe the work that you do?
Blok has always been a space for collaboration, for questioning, for exploration. I don’t believe in defining narrowly what we do since it limits the possibilities of where we can go. At the core of Blok is the sense that every project has an elasticity that allows it to migrate from one expression to another. This way of seeing truly expands what we do and provides us with opportunities to keep on learning.
You’ve had quite the career, jumping from city to city and country to country – each with their own design sensibilities and nuances. What drew you to each place? Was there a plan or a goal?
I have come to discover that it is borders that crossed me and not vice versa. Opportunities have encountered us (for both my husband and I) and our nomadic spirit embraced each and every one of them. Although our decisions seemed intuitive and without any clear plan, they ended up taking us to the right place at the right time.
You worked in Mexico for a number of years, migrating Blok down there – and back again. What was it like to work in a country with a much more established visual history than the more youthful Canada? (Although we have aboriginal art here, it’s not as integrated into the mainstream culture as in Mexico).
Living in Mexico was a true discovery of many layers of culture. There is a collective idea and preconceptions of its iconography which is rich, colourful and very true to itself. But what really surprised me was the expansiveness and exploration of its high and low arts, the diversity of its vocabularies, the visionary sense of its architects and visual artists who inspired some of the most renowned contemporary cultural influencers of our time. I fell in love with the chaos of Mexico City and found it a source of authentic inspiration – always flowing, always surprising and surreal in every possible way. There is a much more eclectic sensibility that is liberating. And it’s where true character comes from. In Mexico you appreciate that which is not perfect and you simply rejoice in ambiguity.
Blok uses design sometimes for activism, social change, or to raise awareness on a particular issue. How do you approach project like this, when the goal is not to have a positive financial outcome – instead something more intangible like raising self-esteem? Are these projects more rewarding personally?
We’ve always believed that design is at its best when it serves society. We connect in a very deep way with projects that can help change behaviours and shift preconceptions or that are working in spaces that are challenging by their own nature.
The essence of our design process is similar with all projects and is grounded in deep, thoughtful strategic mining. However the insights that arise are unique to each project so we tailor our process to the particular context at play. We’ve been fortunate to have worked on social projects in countries as diverse as Rwanda, Nicaragua, Mexico or the USA, which has taught us to approach these type of projects with great humbleness and openness to listen and learn so that that we’re aware of the cultural subtleties and respectful of the values and beliefs. In other projects that are more activist in nature, it is the boldness of its members or message that inspires a very different tone!
We have a phrase at the studio and it raises the bar for where we want to be. We call it the “value legacy”. And this legacy is what we want to leave our kids.
Blok at one stage had huge clients like Nike (any young designers dream) yet today your focus has moved away from the glamorous client list. You seem to lean more towards businesses based on craftsmanship or art – and the work is better than ever. Has freeing yourself from larger corporations allowed you to do better design / is there a correlation there?
The studio is project based by choice, so the clients we take on have nothing to do with size or status but with possibilities and chance. Before taking a project, we ask ourselves if it will be a job that opens possibilities or one that narrows them? Will we be able to learn, explore, expand in some way or another? And do we enjoy the people we are working with? We’re lucky enough to be working with the visionaries and owners or CEOs of the companies. That is the difference that dictates not only the quality of work but the depth of it too. And we always end up learning in the process.
It seems like print is at the heart of Blok’s work. There is a sense of enjoyment from a lot of the projects where you play with finishing / binding etc. Will print always be Blok’s priority or are you shifting more towards the web / applications? How do you find designing for the screen versus the tactile landscape of print?
The studio is in a constant state of becoming – our shifts are continuous – so there is space to explore different mediums. We believe that a great brand must be able to move seamlessly through them all. We have to admit that we do love the materiality of print and its sensuality. But that’s matched by an equal love of film, which we’re literally exploring as we speak. We’re taking on more and more digital projects because it’s part of our contemporary landscape. We’ve designed exhibit spaces. These are completely different mediums and each one has constraints and possibilities. How to push them is what interests me.
Design in Canada is quietly maturing … there are plenty of very talented designers here. What can we do to keep pushing design in the right direction and are we missing anything fundamental?
I think the best way to support design is through openness and generosity, and by creating a creative and inclusive environment for great work to happen; by freeing ourselves to explore without always being linear or following anyone’s footsteps; and by wandering into other fields and finding what really connects us as people.
At the start of our careers as designers there is often a single project / person that really helped shape us. Have you ever had an experience like this, or what was the moment you knew that design was the career path you were going to follow?
I had a couple of wonderful mentors in my life, from Lou Danzinger, a design icon but also a wonderful and knowledgable man who taught me during my masters program at The Art Centre in California, to Stephen Doyle for whom I worked in New York after graduating.
But the true reason I ‘m a designer today has to do with my father who bought me as a surprise 14th birthday gift a book on Norman Rockwell and a used book on old woodcuts which I still have. We had very little access to foreign magazines and books in Argentina at the time, and the career itself did not even exist until three years later. So it was this simple gesture that became the most extraordinary!
A good 50% of design is actually business and management. A lot of people can become fantastic designers yet struggle with the brass tacks of running a design business. How did you learn the not-so-glamourous side of design and do you enjoy it?
I was lucky enough to have a family where business was always part of the conversation. All my life our dinners were a ritual where wonderful home cooked food was accompanied by conversations (as we grew older debates) on politics, economy, world issues and human rights. They were big subjects and you don’t realize how these every day moments shape the person you become. So business was something I learned by default and got better at it with practice. We don’t see business as a non-glamorous part of design but one that when managed well gives us true freedom.
Blok’s work has recently been featured on some fantastic design blogs like BP&O. How rewarding is it to get recognition from peers and on a more practical level – does it help land new clients?
We work and play hard at the studio, not for any other reason than the belief in what we do, a love of the most subtle elements of design, a means to think deeper, and a hunger to keep on growing. We never take things for granted because certainty is the death of exploration and we are always grateful when our work touches, inspires or affects someone in any way.