Featured Creatives

Arzu Ozkal

May 2016

Today we chat with Turkish-born, San Diego-based designer and professor. She talks about the ethics of photoshopping hard hats, master-killing and how becoming a mother has made her more of an activist.

When did you fall in love with design?

I fell in love with design when I first saw Herbert Lubalin’s Mother & Child logo. It was my first semester studying graphic design. I rushed to the library to check out a book on Lubalin. We did not have the internet back then!

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

I studied graphic design at Bilkent University Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture in Ankara, Turkey. The three years following graduation, I worked at several advertisement and design agencies, all in Ankara. Clients ranged from construction companies to art galleries. The reason I quit my first position was that a client gave us pictures of his construction site for the brochure we were designing. He asked me to photoshop hard hats on all the workers in the photograph! I did the task because I was young, and my boss made me, but it felt really wrong. After couple more years of freelancing and working for design agencies I started questioning the role of design and that of a designer. I came to U.S. to attend grad school. I went to University at Buffalo for my M.F.A. I focused on tactical media. Tactical media, very simply, means to be able to use any media necessary to communicate a message to a broader audience. It aims to disrupt the myths that we take for granted. Bookmaking to designing posters, public performances, etc. In that regards is a true interdisciplinary form of art making. Today, it could be also called social activism or social practice. Call it whatever you want; the goal is to create a frame for people so that they can start talking about stuff.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

I create projects questioning inclusion vs. exclusion dynamics within groups and societies using print design, interactive media, and video.

What does a typical working day include for you right now?

I am a professor at San Diego State University. Almost every day I have a class to teach and students to meet with. When I am not in class, I am usually in my office researching art and design projects and articles to share with my students. I try to experiment as a designer with different techniques and materials, so that I can create a curriculum, which critically thinks about the field of design, and has room for experimentation and discovery. I am a co­founder of an art and design collective called Home Affairs. Together with Nanette Yannuzzi and Claudia Pederson, we create projects about a range of issues impacting women's lives. We are three women all living in different States. We try to meet regularly via video conferencing to plan our next projects, exhibitions, and find grants to apply.
I also have a 4 ­year ­old son, Milo. On top of the tasks I tackle daily, having a child has made me more of an activist than I was before. I want all children to be able to dream of a future. With my collective, we are getting ready to travel to Europe this summer to work with the mothers and children in the refugee camps.

What advice would you give students starting out?

When I was at school, one of my professors told me “One day, You must kill your master.” At school we work so hard hoping to become as good as our mentors, right? But, our goal should be to become better, better than our mentors. In a student, I look for that potential; the potential to kill a master. There are two groups of students I typically work with. One group follows instructions, step-by-step, and shows me more or less what I ask for, a result that I have probably seen many times before. The other group analyzes the brief, and explores various ways to approach it and finds a way to have fun with the project. They come up with creative solutions with a unique voice, and, they will have a potential to “kill a master.”

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

Design is becoming more collaborative. We share, and have to share, methods, techniques, materials, theories and research with other fields and disciplines, to address real­world problems. Today’s designer is multivalent. A typical job announcement requires the ability to work in interdisciplinary teams of engineers, business people, and creative practitioners. However, the traditional course of study in the academic disciplines does not prepare students for real­-world career opportunities that reflect this reality. Though the client­based professional practice in graphic design remains common, more often contemporary design problems require interdisciplinary engagement. This shift in working relationships reveals the necessity for broadening the definitions of design and designer in relation to the social, cultural, and political realities of our times.

Website www.contrary.info

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