Blok Design

Hold on tight because you're about to get a whole lotta wisdom laid on you by the brilliant Vanessa Eckstein, Creative Director of Blok Design in Toronto! Vanessa chats to us about her creative hustle as a kid, how the studio uses internships to see if someone can effortlessly fit into their community, and the importance of passing down knowledge to the next generation of creatives. Enjoy this read. It's a good one!

Any stories about you as a kid being creative?

When I was five years old, I went on my own door to door around my neighborhood selling my drawings – blotches of abstraction. I had incredibly lovely neighbors that, to my utter surprise, paid for them. This both boosted my self esteem and confirmed that I actually could make money doing what I loved.

How did you name your practice and what does the name represent to you?

I named my studio after an avant garde Polish magazine, Blok Journal. Interested in Constructivism and Supermatism, the 1924 publication published theoretical pieces by Malevich, Marinetti, Van Doesburg, Schwitter, and many more. I have always been exhilarated by the periods in art where all preconceptions were challenged and at its core took on an active role in rethinking society. We are always working to embody that ourselves – to push and shift thought.

What’s your take on internships?

We love internships that last at least 4 months for the simple reason that it is not just about experiencing work, but what kind of work life you want to live and grow into. Finding the right fit for both the studio and the designer is essential in choosing your right career path. Design is not the same everywhere, nor is studio culture.

Internships give us a chance to see how smoothly a person fits into our community. Over our time together we are able to understand their work ethic, curiosity, passions, motivators, values and personality. A good fit is actually effortless. There is no better interview for a job than to spend weeks working together.

There are experiences and knowledge that will simply disappear if we don’t pass them to the next generation and in turn, the generosity by which we move informs us.

Are you involved in any mentoring, teaching, workshops?

Since opening Blok over 20 years ago, I have been involved in teaching and mentorship. My philosophical ideals are based in sharing knowledge and giving back; making space for mentorship is an active part of my practice. There are experiences and knowledge that will simply disappear if we don’t pass them to the next generation and in turn, the generosity by which we move informs us. As we teach, we learn – always!

What advice would you give students graduating in 2020?

Our current situation of the pandemic, systemic changes, mass protests, and climate change are revealing not only uncertainty but essential understandings of our human interconnectedness. In this new environment, designers will need to be resilient, agile, and flexible. They will need to adapt to shifting circumstances through an innate elastic mind that can understand further and deeper beyond the present moment.

I believe our field will begin to cross into other fields more boldly and more intentionally. This is actually incredibly exciting and long due. Embracing this change is the difference between accepting a job and carving your future.

How will you adapt?

We have been designing and thinking about this new world for a long time: a thoughtfulness of work, an understanding of essence and value versus profitability and excess, opportunities that have not been explored, a shifting of paradigms, and a resilience to insinuate ourselves in projects that resonate to our understanding of the world.

We continue to adapt as things move because exploration is at the core of who we are as designers as much as taking on social and political issues. We are informed by life today and the possibilities of a fairer society.

Most recently we are experimenting in product design, launching our own product line called fors based in the philosophy “enough is plenty”. In its first intent, fors includes a line of dishes that speak to our love of form, sensuality, and humanity. Additionally we are working on a book responding to the political climate, race discrimination and equality. The relationship between oppression and how it shapes identity is an issue close to my heart due to my own personal experiences. The only way I know how to fight such oppression is through my own voice and the language of design.

What do you think the design community could do more?

Design historically played a fundamental part in shaping, questioning, and shifting society. Its role was not only commerce but to present new ways of understanding the world. This is not only about the cliches of making a better world, but actually understanding the opportunities we have to bring value to others, to use our own voice, and become the catalysts of that change.

Where to find Blok Design:

Instagram: @blokdesign

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