In our newest design debate, Martin Lorenz, Marina Esmeraldo, and Fredrik Öst weigh on in the impact technology has on creativity. Ready, set, debate.
"In a way, we were only able to become a studio because of the internet. We were able to work with people that we never physically met."—Martin Lorenz, Co-founder & Graphic Designer, Twopoints.net
When we opened our studio in 2007, TwoPoints.Net wasn’t known, and we didn’t have any clients yet. It was only when we met some friends from Harvard that we started to get a lot of jobs from the United States. Without the internet, it wouldn’t have been possible for our network in America to grow, though, or for us to be able to design for U.S.-based clients while living in Germany and Spain.
In a way, we were only able to become a studio because of the internet. We were able to work with people that we never physically met. To this day, we still haven’t met some of our clients.
We really don’t have many local clients; instead we have international ones – a lot in the USA and in Asia. These days, it doesn’t matter where you live; it’s more about the networks you enter. It helps, of course, that Lupi, Elio, and I speak English, Spanish, and German. This internationalism makes our job much more interesting. We learn so much from every client, and sometimes it is very surprising to see how our work is perceived in different cultures and contexts. The things that we design for clients in the U.S. are received in a different way from how they are received in Europe, but that’s sometimes the exact reason why they hire us and not a local designer.
Practically, of course, the design process is much easier today, too, especially if you’re working across different continents. Once upon a time, designing could be a real pain, let alone if you were working for someone abroad.
I remember having to work with low-res images in order to be able to work quickly and efficiently, and then, before the files were sent to the printer, replacing them with high-res images. Sending files to the printer was a whole different thing too. We had to burn CD-ROMs and send them across the city with a messenger. Then the printer would return proofs, and if there was something wrong, we had to change the print files, burn another CD, and send it off with a messenger again.
Later we started to use FTP servers, which made life easier, but it was still a pain when you had to upload large documents. It could take days. Fast internet connections, Dropbox, Google Drive, WeTransfer, etc. made our life much more simple. We share a Dropbox folder with clients in America and Asia so that everyone is always up to date. When we are done, we just share a link with the printer. There’s no delay anymore.
For our clients, it doesn’t matter that we’re in Germany and Spain and they’re in New York, or Los Angeles, or Tokyo. It doesn’t matter that we have a team member working from Spain either – in fact, it’s especially good for us because we work with a great printer there. Having our team split across two cities isn’t a problem at all – it’s almost like they’re sitting at the desk beside us because of all the new technologies and programs, when in fact they’re on the other side of Europe.
The internet has become so common that we hardly even think about it anymore; it’s like an extension of the office. People don’t say, ‘Now I am going to sit down and use the internet.’ You’re just constantly using it. And it’s because it’s become so natural to the working process that international clients have been able to trust us, and that’s been one of the most important things that’s allowed us to do what we do. Being able to trust someone on the other side of the world with your design process wouldn’t have been possible 15 years ago.”
"The problem is that you have to be on social media constantly. I personally became very addicted to Instagram."—Marina Esmeraldo, Illustrator
Consistent and long-term self-promotion through social media has been really crucial for my freelance business. The problem, though, is that you have to be on it constantly. The thing with social media is that it’s designed to be addictive. I personally became very addicted to Instagram. I became disillusioned with Facebook and Twitter because of all the political drama, and it felt quite organic getting off those platforms. But Instagram always seemed like the fun place to be, and it’s been hard to disconnect and reduce my usage.When the algorithm change was implemented, everyone started to freak out about whether their content was getting seen. All these ‘marketing specialists’ began popping up, who said things like ‘You have to post every day’ and ‘You have to use hashtags.’ There was this whole narrative about how you have to be on it constantly to get the best out of it, and that’s partly how my obsession started to kick in. I would justify that I needed social media for work.
And at every moment of pause, I would get on Instagram. It becomes a real black hole of time and energy. You tell yourself you’re going on to see what everyone is up to, to get inspired, and you end up tricking yourself into thinking it’s research. But really, it’s an energy drain. I was using Instagram in the morning as an excuse to wake up. I was using it on my breaks. And I was using it before bed. It was bad for my mental health because it meant I was always working. I was never, never off.
I began feeling really unhappy. I felt like I was constantly looking at all the beautiful things that other people were making and all the amazing trips that people were going on, and even though I was rationally aware of how good my life was, the brain often latches onto the negative. After a while, I realized I had to decrease the time I was spending on the platform. Because I was aware of the damaging effects, one day I just looked at my phone and deleted the app. It wasn’t planned. I needed a break. I ended up taking a 47-day detox.
My work improved immensely, and immediately. We are so connected with our peers and our history all the time that it’s easy to regurgitate what everyone else is doing. I always make an effort to filter influences, but after a certain amount of exposure, trends do trickle into your subconscious. The fact that I was making an effort to insulate myself gave new life to my ideas: I felt more original because I had to dig deeper.
During my detox, I remember waiting for a friend at the Barbican in London. He was late, and normally I would have just been scrolling through my phone, but I didn’t have that option so I went into the bookshop and bought a notebook and a pen. I went into the courtyard and started drawing lots of things. It was a complete revelation. It’s ridiculous in a way: I’m an illustrator and I studied architecture; we used to do observational drawings all the time. But I’ve become so accustomed to drawing digitally that sometimes I just skip the analog part of the process altogether.
Through that experience and others like it, I’ve realized that I need time with myself and without online chatter. As well as Instagram, I’ve been obsessed with podcasts recently, too, and after a while I realized that during every moment of silence I was putting a podcast on. Today it’s so easy to fill up empty spaces with noise, but the empty spaces are important. As a creative, it’s the time where your brain makes fresh connections.
"At Studio Snask, we create all our models by hand. People often say, ‘I could have done that with the computer much faster,’ but we find that building our sets creates a far more refined design."—Fredrik Öst, Founder & Creative Director, Studio Snask
Digital tools have become so good and so ubiquitous that there’s a tendency to use them for every part of the creative process. That’s not necessarily a great thing, though: It might hinder your full potential. In the creative industry, technology today tends to be used as if it’s more than simply a tool. It becomes unanimous with all stages of the design process: a place for gathering inspiration, for sketching, and then for completing a project.
When I was at art school, my university told me that we weren’t going to use the computer for the first year. I was like: ‘What?! That isn’t how this is supposed to be!’ I had this assumption that all graphic design was made on a screen. Then I realized that the computer is just one of many tools. You need it today because you need to make things digital, but you can choose how much you want to work with it.
At Studio Snask, we create all our models by hand. People often say, ‘I could have done that with the computer much faster,’ but we find that building our sets creates a far more refined design. We start all projects by sketching by hand, then we scan the image to get it into the computer and keep designing from there. Then we take it out of the computer again, and build it physically to photograph. Finally, we put it back into the computer to deliver it. In that way, the computer is just one step in the process and doesn’t dictate what we create.
For a motion video, for example, having a physical piece of artwork in front of us is a far better way of working. We can move elements around with our hands. In a 3-D modeling program, you can’t see the final outcome initially because you have to keep rendering it, which can take a long time. And even if rendering becomes faster in the future, for Studio Snask, moving physical elements is part of how we create. Who wants to be a machine, working as efficiently as possible? In creativity, you need the time to reflect. I don’t want to live in a society where art or music or film is produced within a few days, because that’s not how high-quality work comes into being.
Back in the day, photographers used to take loads of photos, and just a few would turn out how they wanted them to. Now, of course, we can be much more precise. But back then, unexpected things could happen. Now you have an image in your head, you look through the screen of a camera, and then you snap it quickly. It’s done. At Studio Snask, when we take a photograph, we first get the perfect shot and then we make the time to screw up some pictures for a bit. We do this because often something more interesting might happen that way. In these situations, the final picture that we select is often one of the messed-up ones. When you’re constantly looking at a screen on a camera to get the perfect shot, you might forget that you can also make mistakes, and that interesting things can come from that.
We always ensure that we give ourselves time for something we didn’t plan for. One must remember that tools are just one aspect of the design process; making mistakes – and playing around – is also vital. If you’re working with creativity, you have to disconnect in order to go back to things with fresh eyes.
Madeleine Morley is a design and architecture writer based in Berlin. She studied English literature at Cambridge University and went on to complete an MA in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She has written for Creative Review, AIGA, Monotype, magCulture, AnOther, and The Guardian among others.