Cover photo: Jakov Prkić
Dejan Dragosavac Ruta is a graphic designer born in 1971 in Nova Gradiška. He studied graphic technology at the Faculty of Graphic Arts in Zagreb. From 1994 till 2003 he was working at Arkzin, and then he established his own studio. He designed and graphically edited a number of magazines and journals: Arkzin, Nomad, Godine nove, Libra libera, Gordogan, Up&underground, Civilno društvo.hr, Frakcija, etc. His clients are mostly present in the field of culture and civil-society scene: Multimedia Institute, Kontejner – bureau of contemporary art praxis., Platforma 9.81, Eurøkaz, SKD Prosvjeta, Oceanmore, British Council, the initiative Pravo na grad, for which he designs catalogues, books, promotional materials, campaigns, etc.
I would like to continue where we stopped last time with the interview a couple of years ago when we organised your exhibition of magazine and journal design at HDD. I remember us going there to exhibit the issues just printed, and it seems to me that, in the absence of support, the publications, which at the time were still being published, are not published any more today. Do you see that as a definite end of a phenomenon or there is still some hope that that type of publishing will survive, even if in another form?
The last magazine featuring articles about culture that is still fighting to survive is Gordogan, but I don’t see too much hope for that type of publishing activity. The moment when they could have been saved passed long time ago, and they could have been saved if their business operations had been reorganized, like for example transferring to digital media or if they had been continuously receiving external support. Of course, certain skills concerning editing of printed matter will be lost, but the magazine form will still be used through advertisements, scientific magazines and journals, although they will be more often in a form of a pdf document, and not a hard copy. Culture portals that partly cover similar content differ from the printed predecessors in the way the material is treated, where a designer is more involved in designing the relation between a text and photographs, meaning their interpretation. Moreover, the emergence of a “new generation” of printed publications is almost inconceivable to me, unless it is in the form of a representative fetish or designer concept. Times are fast, choices are abundant, printing costs, and the flats lack space.
If we do not take into account the first years at Arkzinu, the key period of your development as an author is the end of 1990s and the beginning of 2000s, or the rise of the independent culture scene you were closely connected to as a designer since the very beginnings, and to such an extent that jokingly you were referred to as an official designer of that scene. Do you think that even today there is that kind of vitality on the scene that definitely existed back then, and if there is, where do you see it the most?
The vitality on the scene definitely exists even today. The scene has been changing, and change needs to be enabled and maintained. What I see today as the strongest reflection of that scene vitality are initiatives, associations and arts organisations that managed to endure throughout the last two decades by absorbing new members and as such by undergoing changes. Moreover, the vitality is seen in the fact that the scene still continues to show a tendency of integrating mutual interests and implementing cultural-political goals. Today it seems to me that starting from scratch is much more demanding, although there are such examples too, as there are fewer content niches to fill in, and it is harder to maintain the continuity of action.
Retrospectively, what are the most important things you have learned about design in the last 20 or so years of your career?
A good idea is only a half of the job done, meaning that well “packaged” bad idea, is, unfortunately, a better solution than badly “packaged” good idea. There is no shame in seeing the spirit of the times in design. The clients are more often right than designers would like to admit. When you are running late, say so. It is good to forgive oneself some silliness from time to time.
Looking at your overall production, sometimes I have an impression that all types of materials you work on are under quite a large influence of the fact that your origins are in the editorial design. Even when talking about the posters, especially the ones made for Mama, that is pretty obliviously evident. What is your comment on that?
The way you approach and deal with the specificities and issues of the form you are working on has become, in time, a characteristic of your aesthetics, or to put it simply, a part of your authorial language. When for years one does editorial design, ones starts to think like that too: what is seen at first sight, how to involve the reader into a story, where is the beginning, what is the most important information, hierarchy, is design presenting the content and similar. However, that is often the case of a game of “wrong form”, when for example you design a poster that looks like a tram ticket, likewise a newspaper page can be a poster, a book cover or a festival flyer.
You have been designing a lot, and your colleagues too mostly praise your agility. Can you tell me what is your day like when you are in the process of designing, but also generally what is the process of coming up with a solution like?
The agility periods are partly mixed with periods of laziness, so the agility is a matter of impression because of the amount of materials I used to process in a short period of time, and that is the consequence of working for the newspapers and magazines where there are strict deadlines and time is limited. It could be said that it is a matter of aptness, but also the last-minute working rhythm. Until I had “serious” clients I had to communicate with on daily basis, I had been working at night too, but in the last ten or so years I find it easier to start working around 6 or 7 in the morning in order to have 3 to 4 hours of uninterrupted work before the first telephone calls. That is the time when I do the jobs that require concentration, for example copyediting, formatting, as well as creative tasks. When the communication starts I mostly deal with additional corrections, format adjustments, and generally I work with clients. If I spend an afternoon working on a design, mostly that means that I am becoming familiar with the content, I am contemplating, sketching, etc. The very process of coming up with a solution is seemingly very simple: I am sitting for a while, thinking and sketching on paper, and then I am at the computer and I am working until something happens, and if I get stuck I go back to the first step, and repeat all that until I come up with a satisfactory solution.
Despite the obvious problems the printed publication is facing today, it seems to me that a part of the production, even at this exhibition, remains firmly at the top, because of its representativeness and quality. I am sure that, concerning your affinities and experience, during the selection process, you paid special attention to that segment, so I would like to know what do you see in it as the most interesting or most exciting, but also what characteristic shortcomings and problems you see in it, if any?
When talking about books and similar publications the solutions depend on the publisher and designer’s enthusiasm, so there are several solutions, which despite very modest financial resources, look more than impressive, like the design by Lana Grahek for the book Jazz Beat. Moreover, a book, as a form, appears also in the most representative and luxurious forms like annual reports, construction design presentations and similar. Several books have stood out because of their consistency in implementing solutions and their scope of work, although the content itself is not particularly exciting. When observing the form of magazines and journals, I find it the most interesting when it is not in its usual context, but when it appears as a supporting publication, like in the case of Project Ilica, or when it includes a marginal or dispersive social group, like the magazine O. (Otočka).
What is your opinion about the recent students’ production, especially in the field of graphic design. Is it realistic for you to say that those works, when talking about quality, can be compared to those from the professional categories? Do you see any interesting differences in the approach regarding those works coming out from colleges in Split, Koprivnica, Rijeka and Zagreb?
I am not sure if the students’ works can be compared to professional works as they are not made under the same conditions, they have no client, what influences the design. However, students’ works are visually very close to the professional ones regarding the language, visual literacy and creativity. The shortcoming of the students’ works is when reality crashes in, as students still have not had contact with clients and users. For example, on a poster that is excellently designed the key information is too small to be read, and there are similar oversights. It is difficult to compare the faculties as I do not have a comprehensive insight into their work, but judging from the works submitted to the panel I can say that most of works regarding speculative design originating from workshops come from Split, while the works from Koprivnica and Zagreb are closer to everyday designing tasks, as they have originated from mentored courses.
Does it seem to you that when it comes to designers new times bring new requirements and challenges? In your opinion to what extent are things different today compared to 15 or 20 years ago? Is it harder or easier today, and why?
It is difficult to determine is it harder or easier because there are arguments for both options. Technology is more accessible and more reliable, clients are more literate, information is more available, and the possibility of working is not limited just to Croatian clients. However, at the same time designers are expected to have more skills, like working with the web, social networks, digital animation, the competition is fiercer, while it seems that the labour costs are lower.
Have you noticed, after selecting the works for the exhibition, some characteristic trends in the visual communication design that could be singled out as interesting? Moreover, do you think that there are some areas that have not been covered by this exhibition, and they should be?
I have not noticed some special trends, everything what has been happening in the last ten or so years can be seen now at the exhibition. Maybe, regarding product design it can be observed that apart from wine and oil packaging design, beer and gin packaging design has appeared as well as interior design of catering facilities. I believe that all relevant areas are represented at the exhibition, but it would be interesting to see more works by young designers who went to work abroad or they work for clients outside Croatia.