Interview:

David Lynch, Architecture and Structuralist-inspired graphic design by Pouya Ahmadi
Graphic designer Pouya Ahmadi not only has a beautiful portfolio of considered design and typographic work, he’s also got one hell of a global CV. From studying in Tehran to winning a poster design competition at the Shanghai Expo, he went on to an MFA programme in Basel, and is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It’s a lot to take in, so we had a chat with this international man of mystery to find out more.

How did you start out as a designer?
I grew up in Tehran where I studied visual communication at the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Tehran. A few weeks after I got in the programme, I was offered an internship at a small animation studio where I drew frame by frame 2D animations. It was a huge amount of work for a very modest salary. A year in, Neshan Magazine, a bilingual (English/Farsi) quarterly on graphic design based in Tehran, hired me to design their publication. So by the time I was a third year student, I already had two part-time jobs and was freelancing aggressively. In 2007, after finishing my bachelors degree, I moved to Basel in Switzerland to join the Graphic Design MFA program at the Basel School of Design, following my passion for typography and type design.


How would you sum up what you do?
I currently work as a design director at Studio/lab, located in downtown Chicago, where I mainly focus on developing identities for a variety of businesses from cultural and educational entities to small businesses and startups. As part of these identity projects, every now and then I get the opportunity to design custom typefaces for our clients to help them achieve a rather unique visual/typographic language. I am also a faculty member at UIC School of Design where I teach a design foundation course, helping the new generation of designers prepare for their future in their ideal roles as producers, researchers, artists, activists, or even enablers. As an editorial board member of Neshan Magazine, I write on a variety of topics from typography to design research, on designers and studios across the globe. The main goal of the publication is to strengthen ties between the Iranian and global design community by introducing local designers to the world outside of the country and vice versa. I also run my own independent practice on the side where I work mainly with non-profits such as Verge Books and Experimental Film Society developing their identity and designing publications and posters.

What influences and defines the aesthetic of your work, and your site design?
I would probably say architecture and cinema have had the most influence on my work as a designer so far. I consider myself a structuralist. I believe in systems. But that should not be confused with what modernists defined as structure by organising elements or content based on a rigid grid system. I strongly believe in critical systems where the design elements, be it type, image, texture, etc, are governed by larger dynamic and opposite forces. This idea is perhaps more well-versed in both cinema and architecture. David Lynch and Atom Egoyan are probably more accepted examples of the latter approach in cinema. While their films defy any predefined form, category, or structure, every scene in them is driven by contradictory forces and over-arching critical systems which allow for unpredictable moments throughout the piece. They are best examples of systematic chaos.

I really love the typography and the colour palette of the site – please can you tell me why you chose them?
Both the typography and choice of colour for the site are references to cinema (images appearing in the dark) and, of course, the world of RGB colour spectrum.

What are your favourite type of projects to work on, and why?
If I were to pick three, I would say editorial design, identity, and type design projects. I am, in general, more interested in working with cultural and non-profit organisations. While I do not consider myself an activist, I do occasionally work on activist projects. My interest in editorial work comes from pure experiential aspect of printed publications. As objects, books are designed to be consumed in a very specific way. The very act of “paging through a publication” in order to follow a certain thought process, (as mundane as it may sound) is very appealing to me. And, of course, the possibilities that could be explored in order to shape that very experience and giving birth to a concept through that process are my all-time favourite challenges of editorial design. Identity, on the other hand, resembles to creating a persona in a film. You have to consider how the entity is presented through certain characteristics of the visual components and behaviours, very similar to a character in a film; believable and yet unique at the same time. Type design for me, on the other hand, is more of a craft exercise. I am as much interested in the craft aspect of design as I am in the conceptual aspect of it. It’s one of the most relaxing and yet focused activities I do throughout the day.

What do you have planned for the year ahead?
I personally do not believe that my career path has to be a planned trajectory. I am more interested in taking spontaneous decisions and changing gears very often.