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Featured Studio

Alto

April 2019

We chat with Alto co-founders and designers, Barbara Woinski and Sebastian Mojsa, about how they met, seeking inspiration in things other than graphic design; plus they share some well-balanced advice for new grads.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

Sebastian: I’m from Poland, and I have a master’s degree in Cultural Studies. I have always been excited about the music and art industry. When I was a kid, I used to design cassette covers for music recorded from underground Berlin radio stations. During my college years, I worked in many places, but my first graphic design job was for a cultural center called Firlej, where concerts, festivals, and art exhibitions were organized. Besides production, I was responsible for all visual aspects. I started with gig posters, which was an activity I loved. Firlej was a great place to work in as I had a lot of freedom to create and I learned a lot.

Barbara: I’m from Buenos Aires and I studied Graphic Design at the University of Buenos Aires. It’s a place where I felt stimulated to have a creative thought with a conceptual thinking. It’s amazing how inspiring the experience was and how much I learned there. My first job was at a professor’s design studio. What I learned from that experience is how to learn by doing. There is nothing you cannot do, especially at present, when technology is at your service. Learning by doing and making mistakes is a great way to learn.

We are a couple. We met in Wroclaw in Poland working together and, after a while, we decided to move to Argentina and create Alto here. We take advantage of this inspiring city and our different cultural backgrounds. We believe that diversity is the key to creativity. Sometimes it is difficult because I work very spontaneously whereas Sebastian is very rational. However, we don’t feel this fact is a drawback. On the contrary, trying to find the mid-point between these two approaches is an enriching experience.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

We are Alto –a young graphic design studio from Buenos Aires. Our work is driven by deep exploration and curiosity. We love clean, contemporary and simple design but we do not like to limit ourselves. We like challenges and keeping ourselves slightly uncomfortable, because we believe this will help us improve our skills. Our goal is to find a balance between intelligent thought and emotions. With a concept, we define the foundation on which we build the entire project. We always start with a reason but, at some point, we let free association do the job and bring about new ideas, always trying to stay within the realms of what is inspiring, relevant and stimulating for thought.

What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?

1. Book: “How to be a graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul” by Adrian Shaughnessy:

This book is like having a close friend who is an experienced designer and wants to help you. Shaughnessy speaks about all the different experiences that he and a group of graphic designers which he interviewed had. It covers all of the less exciting areas of becoming a designer: Things like getting a job, dealing with difficult clients and running a business. It is a very straightforward, humorous and intelligent book.

2. Blog: “underconsideration.com/brandnew”:

This blog makes a chronicle and provides opinions on corporate and brand identity work. It keeps you updated in what is new in the big brand world. Their opinion is always interesting, but one of the highlights for us is people’s comments. They are designers as well so it is cool to see different points of view about one project and the debate that this generates.

3. Book: “Now You See It and Other Essays on Design” by Michael Bierut:

It's a funny, inquiring and surprising guide to the world of design and advertising. It contains over fifty short essays in which Bierut takes a closer look at the graphic design industry over the last few decades. The book is full of entertaining and inspiring stories from the life of a partner of one of the most significant design agencies, Pentagram.

There is just one clarification to make: Don’t always get inspiration from other graphic design studios. You can seek inspiration in different things: Art, photography, street art, nature. We are the sum of everything we see. If you just look into what every designer does, then you won’t differentiate from them.

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I work very spontaneously whereas Sebastian is very rational — trying to find the mid-point between these two approaches is an enriching experience.

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Whats the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Barbara: It’s a personal one. Any time I was afraid of doing something new, my father used to say “la aventura es la aventura” (“adventure is adventure”), meaning that any new challenge in life should not be scary, but taken as an adventure.

Sebastian and I really loved it when he said that, and we took it as a piece of advice when facing new challenges in our studio.

We love learning things. We have a passion for exploration and knowledge acquisition. And we love learning by doing. If someone proposes a new project that we have not done before, we take it as a challenge and we start the new “adventure”.

What advice would you give students graduating in 2019?

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, we all do. Always show your work and have fun. And don’t be afraid of being your weird self, that is what differentiates you from the crowd.

Invest in your future. Don’t aim at earning money as your fist objective, go for experiences in what you love. Internships in good design studios or collaborations can lead you to better jobs and to learn the know-how in order to build your own practice. But be picky with the mentor you choose, if you are exchanging your time for the experience it has to be worth it.

Job search engines in Buenos Aires, don’t always show the best graphic design jobs. If you want to work in a good studio, send your CV straight to them.

In your CV, don’t include unnecessary charts about your software knowledge. Instead, make a good effort in preparing an attractive portfolio. That is how you can effectively show what you do best.

If you don’t get new clients by your own, create your own personal projects to include in your portfolio. Our first projects were for friends and family, for example.

Be nice to people. In the first place, it will make our world better and, second, it will help you to find new clients. It is remarkable how many new business opportunities come from random contacts.

Ask your customers for feedback so you can improve your contact with the following clients. Be open to them. Their fresh point of view can also bring about new ideas.

We always try to give a plus. When you offer your clients a tiny extra, they start to value you more, and that helps to build up their trust in you as a professional.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?

Technology is changing so fast that we all have to learn something new every day to understand what is going on, at least. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence and processing are only a few possibilities that we would like to explore in the near future. We believe that you should have eager eyes all the time and develop your skills. And remember to have fun! If you don’t like something, don’t force yourself.

Website: altocrew.com

Instagram: @altocrew

Twitter: @altocrew

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