Kidnap Your Designer are strong believers that graphic design shouldn’t exist without ideas ‘when sense makes graphic-design then design-graphic makes sense’ 😀 We caught up with Caroline and Damien who are not only the two behind Kidnap Your Designer but also teach Graphic Design at ERG (Йcole de Recherche Graphique). Scroll on to cast your eyes on some of their experimental and self-produced projects—they love to play with typography and different printing techniques.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened? C : When I was 18, I wanted to study photography because I used to take pictures with my grandfather’s old Rolleicord camera (still my passion in my free time). I visited Art School during an Open Day and I finally decided to study Graphic Design because, at that time, this discipline seemed to lead to a wider variety of job opportunities. I was quite young (21) when I finished my Bachelors Degree, so I decided to go on for a Masters Degree at ERG (Йcole de Recherche Graphique) and to move to Brussels. During my Masters, I had already planned to become a freelance graphic designer and to open my own studio, which I did when I finished my studies. At this period, when I had a plan I followed it to the end.
D:I think you still do that, hehe.
My story with art schools started a bit earlier when I decided to go to high school in Tournai which has many study programmes centred on art. Indeed at the time I was already expected to choose a career and the only answer I was sure of was that if I had to do something every day for the rest of my life it couldn’t be boring. It was a boarding school, I had a great time there, though I can’t say I’ve produced super hype stuff (I’ve just been spending time sorting out my archives…) but it was nice to have time to figure out which art form I liked. I discovered the ERG then too and went for the graphic design section even though the art section intrigued me as well. Graphic design seems to involve more collaboration and meeting new people on a daily basis. Though I think the art world is slowly moving away from this hackneyed image of the lonely romantic artist.
“We want to work with very curious, spontaneous and autonomous people”
Whats your take on internships? (do you take interns now?) C: We have been taking interns since the beginning of the studio, so for more than 10 years now. A lot of trainees have passed by our office. We have tried to create a privileged relationship between us. We are fortunate enough to receive a lot of intern applications, so we have the luxury to choose people who fit quite well our outlook. The training period is important, we take only trainees for a long period, 3 or 4 months. It’s just the right length to spend enough time on a project, from the very first idea to the printing and delivery. The level of abilities on programs is not important for us, the feeling and the nature of the trainee is essential. We want to work with very curious, spontaneous and autonomous people. Of course, (s)he has to be a good graphic designer too! A lot of our past trainees are now working in the Graphic Design industry or they have started their own studios.
D:I find it very refreshing to host interns—we are very lucky indeed to have such talents knocking on our door all the time (an e-mail with portfolio is better). As their technical skills aren’t always top notch we are happy to let them roam through their creativity and let them tint the job with their touch. For most of them it’s the first time work gets out there for a real client and it usually lights up a little well-deserved pride in their eyes.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice? C: We are both teachers at the ERG (Ecole de Recherche Graphique) where we studied and met each other. I’ve been teaching Graphic Design in BA 2 for 9 years now, so almost since the beginning of the studio. The teaching practice has therefore always been related to my practice of design. It’s totally intertwined. The teaching process forces me to stay up to date. Everyday I have to know some new references to share with my students, and of course they also share a lot with me. Most of the time, I am the one who learns the most. Being involved in educational structure also challenges me on alternative pedagogy and how we can make – not better students – but better humans. For example, at school in my atelier, we practice self-evaluation. In that way, I hope that students will be able to practice this self-evaluation at work with clients or themselves throughout their lives.
D: I think you summed up the topic quite well; I can only add how fantastic ERG is (…wink). Nonetheless, art studies are fantastic, very demanding, not in a way other studies would make you swallow up an amount of knowledge & know-how but in how autonomous you need to be to bring your art to life and to share it with others.
Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them? C: What I like the most in my duo with Damien is that we visualise exactly the same thing in our minds when we are creating a project, so it’s really easy to talk together about it when nothing is yet on paper. I really enjoy this particular moment during the creation process. That’s the main reason that pushes me to work together. I think it’s quite uncommon and therefore precious. After that on a more practical level, we try to both be involved during the creation process and after that moment when the idea is on its way, one of us becomes the leader of the project. We’ve been doing this for a few years and it helps us to be more efficient. It’s also convenient for the client to have only one person to relate to during the process.
D: Here’s for a bit of love! Working for so many years together is already special and precious; we share experiences leading us to have a pool of common references and knowledge which makes us quick at building up projects but nonetheless we still have our own point of view (that can be strongly defended, where would be the fun without that!). It’s something I find important in a relationship; to be able to argue (which in French isn’t a negative word) without questioning the friendship, it’s often demanding but worth it to reach stronger concepts and avoid stereotype ideas. Though lets remember it’s not always the one with the catch phrases that is always right, haha.
Tell us about any collaborations you have been working on. C: Collaboration is a very important aspect of our philosophy. We like to be challenged by new people coming around for one specific project. We already worked with nice photographers such as Kurt Deruyter, Sarah Van Marcke or more recently Laetitia Bica for celebrating Kidnap Your Designer’s 10 year anniversary. Sometimes, clients become collaborators because we develop another kind of relationship. They’re involved us as a partner in the project and there is no client hierarchy anymore. It’s the case with Lucille Calmel, she is an artist, a performer on the internet. We are now working on her monograph and we have a very specific role of remixing all her archives into a book in our own way.
Whats the big goal in the next five years? D: Go with the flow we’ve created …to discover new paths. Welcome the curious who find us. Stay on a manageable scale.
C: To be more and more happy with the work we are involved with. To be able to live in this society full of stress without being imprisoned by the dictates of time and money.
Who would be the “dream client” that you would do anything to work for? D:This question makes me think of this organigram where 3 circles almost never combine to each other. One symbolises Great work, another Fast work and the last Inexpensive work. Usually only two circles are picked, leading to: fast and cheap jobs are rarely great but great & fast ones are expensive, etc.
Unsurprisingly, explaining this to clients takes a lot of time and dedication, we’ve even sometimes got cross with institutions supposingly ‘promoting the Arts’ about the way they work with graphic designers. We weren’t alone in this case; other studios and freelancers were struggling to be heard without being cast away. We’ve then collectively put up a movement promoting the profession as well as ‘good practices’. It’s still up and being visited weekly by many designers that use the website when encountering less-than-ideal calls for projects. It seems to work as some of these calls were reviewed to adapt their selection criteria.