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Interview with Andrea Austoni


Today we are going to meet our old friend, great Italian designer Andrea Austoni, who wrote some brilliant tutorials for Vectortuts+. Andrea is a many-sided personality, beside design, he is interested in music, learning foreign languages, cooking, the eastern philosophy. "Only by partaking of a large spectrum of life's many offerings will you become a better person and thus a better designer"- he says. Learn more about Andrea, his thoughts and illustrations after the jump.

Q Hi Andrea welcome to Vectortuts+! Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from, where do you live now. Do you have a basic design education or have you learned it on your own?

Hi, thanks for having me! I'm a self-employed designer and illustrator from Milan, Italy and I've been living in Krakow, Poland for five years. I specialize in icons, but I'm currently branching out into illustration, especially in my personal work.

I didn't go to design school, instead I have a degree in Architecture from Politecnico di Milano University. My final project was called "Oops! Literally misunderstood architecture" and it featured five buildings designed from peculiar words from five different languages. It's a bit weird, isn't it?

Studying architecture gave me a great overall preparation for any creative endeavor, but I'm self-taught in everything I do. I learned design by doing it professionally for twelve years now and I'm still learning every day.

Q You are an architect by profession and you became a designer. Why did you make such a choice?

Architecture is a wonderful thing. It's a very real and concrete form of design that reminds us that we have a body that can see, touch and smell and have a physical interaction with the world that surrounds us. Unfortunately that also means that architecture is inescapably tied to a lot of mundane stuff that has little to do with creating spaces for living and lots to do with politics and bureaucracy.

The working conditions for architects in Italy were not appealing to me when I graduated so I chose graphic design and I learned to enjoy the freedom of working on ever different projects, the quick turnarounds and the satisfaction of immediately seeing my work in use.

Q How does the profession of an architect help you to organize your work as a designer?

Every creative profession, be it graphic design, art or music, is fundamentally organization and when it comes to organization architecture is king.

I was trained to take an integral approach to design, which means I developed a process that allows me to design anything - provided I acquaint myself with the subject at hand. I think my background in architecture makes me good at seeing the big picture and making sure every detail fits in it.

Most importantly, though, I took certain classes as part of my architecture training that spawned my interest in art and sociology, which is where my ideas come from.

Q What types of work do you do? Do you have your favorite area of work?

I work mainly on icons for mobile and desktop apps. I like designing app icons, especially app logos, because they combine branding with illustration. Occasionally I work on logos and identity projects, which I consider hard to do therefore essential training for my design muscles. I'd like to expand more into full blown illustration because that's the direction my personal works are going.

Q The icons that you make are very bright and clear, I like your style very much. Do you have any recommendation on the creation of icons?

Icons come in different styles, from simple pictograms to detailed three-dimensional masterpieces. I would encourage anyone to start out with pictograms to learn to develop an iconic language based on simple, identifiable shapes. Operating systems, both desktop and mobile, are full of these little gems so that's where I'd start. Adding colors, complexity and dimensions is a fun, gradual process that will naturally follow.

As for style, it's a good thing to try out different ones to see what you like and what you're good at. A personal style is good to have, but I wouldn't concern myself too much with it because it will eventually develop anyway. The most important thing is to create icons you like and you need, no matter how weird the subject matter is. For example I designed an icon set based on obscure movies that nobody liked, but I learned a lot while creating them and had a lot of fun. Fun is the key to everything. It's even more fun when you get paid!

Q After 12-year-work as a designer I'm sure that you have your own methods in the work with clients. What are they?

As a designer I want to know everything about the project and the only way I can do that is if I deal with the clients directly. I often find out they're as passionate about design as I am. The best designs are communications between you and your clients. Add too many people in between and you start to have problems. Self-employment works for me because I like to take matters in my own hands, deal with the problems personally and be 100% responsible for the results. I don't mind the business side of the designer's life. I found lots of helpful content online on sites like FreelanceSwitch and David Airey's blog.

I've also written a couple of articles on how I manage my business: The Business Life of The Self-Employed Designer, Tips on Design Pricing, Estimates and Invoices. The best advice I can give on dealing with clients is this: be absolutely clear about the job's requirements and conditions, including deliverables, deadlines, payments and intellectual property, before the design starts. With money and bureaucracy out of the way you can develop a fruitful and friendly relationship with your clients and further each other's career.

Q Do you have any type of job that is not interesting for you? Or some types of clients whom you refuse?

I don't work on projects related to politics and religion. Being self-employed to me also means that I try to be consistent with my values and ideals.

Q Some illustrators while creating their work combine vector graphics and raster type graphics, like Photoshop. Others start to work in Photoshop, then get to the vectors, and vice versa. What does your working process look like?

Illustrator is a great tool but often the images it produces are too clean. That's when Photoshop comes into play. I build complex vectors in Illustrator and then bring them into Photoshop to add textures and subtle brush strokes to add complexity and interest to the image. James White's work is a great example of tasteful integration of vector and raster elements.

We all want to take the digital edge off because we are analogic, asymmetric and fundamentally irregular. Photoshop also allows me to create more complex shading using a combination of digital paint, vector shapes and layer styles. Generally I try to do justice to the project. If Illustrator alone will do the job then there's no need to complicate things.

Q A lot of beginners have problems with the selection of colors and their combination. Can you give any tips to them?

Pick one color and go to town. Alex Varanese uses only red and his work has an impressive range. When you're done with one color add a second one and see what happens. It's like learning harmony on the piano: you keep playing one note and listen to what happens when different notes are played along with it. Then you add a third note and listen again. Then a fourth one, etc.

Another way of learning about colors is taking websites, photographs, movie stills, shirt patterns, pictures of food, whatever catches your eye. Study those palettes and try to understand why those colors work so well together. Experiment by substituting colors. Dribbble and Ffffound! are good places to find inspiring color palettes. Learning about color theory can do no harm either, but things are learned by doing. To draw another musical parallel, the music lives in the instrument, not on the score paper.

Q You wrote some brilliant tutorials on vector graphics, are you planning to go on with this? What is a creation of a tutorials for you, the way to gather the audience, a wish to share it or something else?

As my interest shifts towards illustration I plan to write tutorials on the things I'm working on at the moment, character design, digital inking and digital painting. Before you teach others you have to understand the way you work, rationalizing your techniques and habits. Writing tutorials helped me understand and streamline my process.

If I decide to write about a subject I have to be knowledgeable enough to do it so teaching others is a good way of improving my skill set. I also maintain that tutorials are the most honest blog posts a designer can write. I did it to gain an audience, of course, but I also enjoyed putting my work up for critique. Knowing that people learned and had fun from my tutorials is a bonus and the biggest reward.

Q I know that you are fond of eastern philosophy and even use samurai ethics for design. Could you please tell us a little bit about those principles?

The Western world has spent centuries developing complicated sciences to understand what the Eastern sages already knew 2000 years before. Read all about it in the classic book "The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra. I like the mindset of the samurai, who trains for war during peace so in battle he doesn't have to think, he just acts. To me this is a good way of approaching design so I wrote an article about it that was published on Smashing Magazine.

Also I would like to quote the great Italian artist, designer and educator Bruno Munari, who once said "Thinking messes up your ideas." Designers spend a lot of time looking at design, reading about it and generally overthinking. I think we should shut our conscious mind up and just work.

Q What are you concerned about in life, besides design, what do you do in your spare time?

I'm very interested in people, what they do, who they vote for, how they interact, what they believe in and so on. I'm also well versed in the so-called conspiracy theories, especially the parts regarding esoteric symbols. They're the most powerful logos around.

I've tried my hand at many creative endeavors but my first and foremost love is music. Like many designers I'm a failed musician. I started out on the drums then moved on to the guitar and I've been teaching myself piano for three years. When I take breaks from work I usually (try to) play Tom Waits tunes on my digital piano (sorry, Tom) or annoy my neighbors with Tuvan throat singing.

I have a great deal of interest in languages, I consider them the greatest collective artworks ever created. I'm currently learning Spanish and Hungarian in preparation for my next trips.
In the kitchen I wear a red apron with white polka dots (the one you see on Mostly I cook hot and spicy dishes but I cannot recommend enough my risotto alla milanese! Finally, I like just about everything from the 1970s: the music, the clothes, the TV shows, the exploitation movies (check out their wonderful typography and posters).

Q Andrea, thank you for the interview, say a few parting words for beginning designers.

There's a Spearhead song called "Stay Human" that goes "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world". To me that means don't be afraid to follow your passions and interests, no matter how strange they are. Most of all have lots of fun being a designer, it's one of the best jobs around when done with enthusiasm and professionalism. Thanks for the great questions!

Andrea Austoni on Web

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