“Lifestyle Has an Immediate Impact on the Graphic Design Style of a Country”

An Interview with Julie Joanny

French graphic designer Julie Joanny is leading us into the world of French graphic design, while she is also giving some thoughts on her work and being a graphic designer in France and abroad.

How did you get into graphic design?
I had the chance to travel a lot with my family during my childhood: we were used to visit museums everyhere. I think that’s how I discovered / started to love fine arts, and I’d always loved drawing things. Then I had to think of a concrete job that combined arts, fun and tangible things so graphic design was perfect for me.

While I was looking for information on French graphic design I found this: “To this day, before you can be admitted into most graphic design programs in the best French art schools, you have to learn to draw. If you cannot render a pretty good likeness of the Venus de Milo, you need not bother.” And: “What became obvious to me at the Chaumont retrospective is that French designers seemed more interested in telling visual stories than conveying coded messages.”[1] How true is that? How should we imagine a programme in graphic design in France exactly?
Wow! There is a part of true in all of that…

For me, French graphic design is divided into two visions: an old one and a new one. The old one, which is generally supported by people who are not graphic designers, swears by Les Beaux Arts de Paris and academic drawing. For me, this is over now. Graphic design needs to convey a message, being trendy and timeless at the same time — things that change all the time. Graphic design has to communicate the right message to the right audience but at the same time attract new customers, and therefore you have to be ‘trendy’ in their way…

The new one says: yes, if you know how to draw nudes and reproduce famous paintings it will be easier for you to do quick sketches to your clients. Now schools are less focused on academic paintings and let you develop your own style. However, it is better to know how to draw the basics, like perspectives and where to place shadows and lights, so you can be really quick and can show your clients what you’re thinking of.

For example, in my school (called ECV), we don’t touch the computer during the first two years (there are 5) of the visual communication programme. We have courses that teach us the history of the arts and how to draw, paint and reproduce things etc. in order to gain background knowledge and be introduced to the culture of visual things before learning how to master Adobe (Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop). Even if you are not the best drawer, you have to develop your own graphic style with pens and paper before getting to use some kind of software.

You studied in France and Belgium and worked as a trainee in France and England. Are there any differences among these countries? Did you meet any particular challenges in England, for instance, as someone who had studied in France?
Yes, there are many differences! I think lifestyle has an immediate impact on the graphic design style of a country.

Belgium is more attached to research than results. There is a school named: Graphic Research School, which means everything! People there are more relaxed than the French, who are very inhibited — that’s not just a legend… England is the graphic design paradise for me! Most of my favourites graphic design agencies are English; they have the humour and the kitsch culture touch that we don’t have in France, and I’m still working to get hold of it.

When people talk about France, they usually mention Paris, which is the city of a lot of things such as love, arts, fashion, etc. If I’m not mistaken you don’t live and haven’t studied in Paris so I’m curious about how a French person thinks about Paris and its image. Does an artist or designer really have to move to Paris to become successful?
I grew up on the South West coast of France, which is the best French region because of the waves, the sun, the food (wine?), and great people live there. For me, Paris is grey and very expensive but it is the French capital so there are all the best events and the highest communication budget for agencies. You have to make a choice between good lifestyle, little agencies, less events and big ones, living in a tiny flat far away from the sea. I made the first choice, with a budget for travelling, but I am realistic and keep in mind I might have to move to somewhere else one day.

What do you consider the greatest challenge you have had to overcome so far?
I am a lucky person, I haven’t had too many big challenges so far, but the greatest I had was to be graduating and working at the same time. I was hired part time as a designer by a studio at the same time as my master’s degree courses and my graduation project. I was very stressed and scared to mess up my job or my degree but I ended up passing with honours and the studio also hired me!

Where do you find inspiration?
I am a graphic book & film lover! I find inspiration in all of them. I think we are always confronted with inspiration: a friend talking, an advert in the bus, a song…

How would you describe yourself and your style?
I am a life enjoyer, always laughing for nothing. I love little waves to surf, cheese & wine, travels, my cat, flowers, and old pink & wood decorations. I think I am a very easy person. I also like kitschy things.

Do you design on computer or by hand?
Both, I do sketches and title fonts, and then I vectorise or photoshop them when it is needed.

Could you talk about the COOK & BOOK project?
Cook and Book is a two-year-old project; it was a fictive project for a bookshop and restaurant named Cook & Book in Brussels. We had to create an event related to the country of our choice, and then posters and flyers. I decided to take Finland as the main country. I wanted something playful because the event was for families. The Finnish colours and lifestyle inspired me.

This is not my favourite project now, though, can we talk about another one?

Yes, we can.

I’d like to talk about Vagabonde, which is another poster project. Vagabonde is a surf art collective who organizes events all around the world. This project was a competition with school (ECV Bordeaux), for which we had to create the event poster that could be declined to logotype. The challenge was to bring a new public who didn’t know anything about surf and surf art. We had to use orange tones for the branding. I chose to do something more cultural than surf-related in order to attract different types of people more easily. I did something trendy and fluorescent to attract the eyes in the street.

The logotype makes us think about a stamp and a kind of waves like travel graphics. The letters are wondering like the name of the collective Vagabonde. The poster could be in print making use of fluorescent paper and printed with white letters on it. I used a sandy texture and a surfboard in the background.

I don’t speak or understand French so could you also elaborate on the project called STEREOTYPES?
Stereotypes is a huge book talking about European ‘clichés’. I chose 12 different ones to make it. I was inspired by famous movies, sentences, and I also interviewed relevant people to be sure that we all have the same views on each cliché. Also, I asked 50 persons to give me 5 adjectives to describe each style (the left sides of pages). I made the binding on my own, and I used raster scan on pictures to show that clichés are already defined from the very beginning.

What are you working on right now?
I am working most of the time on branding, packaging & webdesign for fine grocery products as I work as a graphic designer in the new branch of the agency where I was a part-time designer. I moved to Quimper, Brittany right after my graduation.


[1] http://www.aiga.org/french-graphic-design-a-contradiction-in-terms/

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