Cover photo: Jelena Jovanov
Slavimir Stojanović is a graphic designer born in 1969 in Belgrade. He graduated from the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade and the Academy of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden, under Professor HC Ericson. He worked in the agencies Saatchi&Saatchi, Kompas Design, Arih Advertising, Communis DDB, as well as in his own studio Futro Desig, where he is the creative director. He is the founder of the lifestyle brand Futro and the creator of the series of children’s picture books Avanture Singi Lumbe. He worked on commercial projects for numerous clients, including Sony, Michelin, Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, Allied Domecque, Abanka, Zavarovalnica Triglav, Ljubljanski Kinematografi, Studio Moderna, Delo Revije, Lisca, Gorenje, Europlakat, DrogaKolinska, MPC Holding, Entrix, Kozmo, Voda Vrnjci, Polimark, Idea, Atlantik Grupa, Knjaz Miloš, Plazma, AquaViva, Kabinet, etc. He is also responsible for numerous projects commissioned by cultural institutions, such as the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, the New Moment magazine, the Museum of Applied Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, The Modern Gallery in Ljubljana, the Belgrade Cultural Centre, the Zvezdara Theatre and many others. He has received more than 300 international awards and recognitions in the field of advertising and graphic design. His work was covered by the world’s most significant magazines, such as Graphis, Print, Communication Arts, Computer Arts, Creative Review and Novum. His works are exhibited in the Pompidou in Paris, Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg, Poster Museum in Warsaw, Museum of Applied Arts in Belgrade and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Novi Sad. In 2017, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Serbian Association for Market Communications, and in 2018 he published his first novel Devet. He teaches a class on posters at the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade.
In the introduction to an earlier interview with you, Ana Radovanović called you a pop star of Serbian design, which always sounded a bit odd to me in the context of design, but it seems appropriate in your case – you truly do have this curious status of a design icon at a time that no longer seems to support such icons, at least in Croatia. What is your opinion of this?
I have taken over this imaginary media space, here in Belgrade, somehow spontaneously during the 90s, when I would, while I was working in the agency Saatchi&Saatchi, regularly win awards abroad, whereas the situation in the region was tragic, to say the least, which is why people saw a bit of a light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. Later, when I moved to Slovenia, the success continued and the media would regularly follow what’s going on with me in the great big world, even if this was only 500 km away. After I returned, I realized, after all my experience on different markets, that design was no longer my only channel for creative expression. I did a couple of independent exhibitions that were very well received, I wrote and drew an award-winning children’s picture book, and now, in September, I published my first novel. I have retained this space in the media because I wasn’t lazy, and people here, like anywhere else, like it when someone makes a genuine effort.
Although to most people you are known for your personal projects, especially in the last ten years and particularly for the work you do for your own brand Futro, you have spent most of your career working for large well-known advertising agencies. It seems to me that this translates into your own work, as it exudes self-confidence and professionalism, even with your playful work. How important is this type of experience for designers generally, and how important was it for you personally?
To me, working in a big multinational system like Saatchi was a godsend. At the time, it was literally impossible to work in any other agency, and when you worked for Saatchi, you could compete with your projects internationally. This sense of confidence in my own work imprinted itself in my subconscious when my poster for the Sony Walkman was named the best project within the global Saatchi network. This is why I am very serious when it comes to my work, and always give my best. I put everything I know and feel into my work. Sincerity and earnestness are the two most important characteristics that I developed over time, and which I definitely lacked when I was younger.
In an interview, a long time ago, you told me that you were fortunate that , in you, the agencies recognized a young designer whose talent would bring them awards, and that owing to this calculation on their part, you enjoyed a relatively protected position that allowed you a great deal of creative freedom when working on projects. Now that a lot of time has passed since then, what is your view of how that arrangement worked; to what extent was it a matter of your creative freedom, and to what extent were the agencies calculating?
I accepted this calculation right away as inevitable and approached my work pragmatically. I put my blood, sweat and tears into my work, knowing there wouldn’t be a second chance. At the time, my parents’ monthly wage was 5 deutschmarks, and mine was 100 deutschmarks. The more awards I won, the more my salary increased – the calculation was more than transparent. As my salary grew, so did my freedom to experiment and develop creatively. Now, after twenty years, I can say the entire experience helped not only me, but also the development of the entire creative field here in the region. My example made it obvious that investing in young talent pays off. After that, though, with the democratic changes, the bubble of creativity – as a salvation during difficult times – burst when faced with the reality of the market, and the investment in creative capital was replaced with the struggle to win over media market shares.
Which influences would you say were formative for you in the field of design? In previous interviews, you would mention pretty disparate role models, from Mirko Ilić, Dušan Petričić and Jugoslav Vlahović, to the postmodern deconstructivists like Neville Brody and David Carson, and Scandinavian minimalists. Having said that, your work, at least today, resembles none of these.
All of these were initial impulses, without which I probably never would have become a designer. They kept me on the course of inspiration, which is crucial to everyone. I’ve always put the creative concept first, as I didn’t get aesthetics when I was younger, which is why my first role models were the illustrators you mention, whose work had an extremely strong conceptual character. Brody, Carson, Peter Saville and the Academy of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg introduced me to the domain of aesthetics. With time, these two aspects of design, the concept and the form, interconnected in my work, and I developed quite a precise taste in contemporary designers, whose work I look up to daily. I primarily mean Paul Sahra. His visual intelligence is what I seek to achieve when doing graphic design. When talking about branding projects, I mostly look up to Michael Bierut, and when it comes to pushing the boundaries of visual arts, Eike Koening is a great role model of mine. Of the younger stars, I am definitely inspired by Braulio Amado.
Viewing the production of Futro, but also your theatre posters and some other work of yours, I get the sense that you approach almost every task as if you were designing a logo, that you are trying to condense everything that is important into one immediately recognizable and legible unit that says everything that needs to be said concisely, in a nutshell.
This is the result of the desire to communicate; I want my voice to be heard loud and clear. When I was a kid, my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in America for a year. When I returned, I could barely recognize my parents, and my place was taken by my newborn brother. For years, I struggled with the challenge to find my place in my own family, and, consequently, in the world. If you don’t have anything to say, it’s better to remain silent, and if you do, all efforts should be put into making the message precise. Today, no one likes to waste time, particularly in communication.
What does your design process look like? What do you find easiest to begin with, from the idea that needs to be articulated or from the visuals, finding the idea along the way?
In my case, it’s the idea. Of course, it’s often the case that it is the aesthetic that is the idea. After more than thirty years of doing visual communications, I can say that I have a pretty big repertory of visual metaphors that I yank out of my subconscious when I need them. The language of symbols has become my second language.
To me, almost all of the artifacts of your brand Futro resemble fragments of a manifesto of some kind of warped design and life ideology of yours. Though I doubt you could summarize it unequivocally, could you tell me what this ideology stands for today?
I agree. Today, every effort made according to an ideology that is not materialism, even if it is clear and acceptable to most thinking people, will seem like a futile and trivial attempt to create a utopian society of social justice, love, diversity and understanding. However, I have no intention of giving up on myself. It took me a long time and a lot of work to find myself, how could I give up now?
I know you follow the work of Croatian designers, and the context of this exhibition gives me the opportunity to ask you what you think of their work. What, in your opinion, are the most salient and recognizable characteristics of Croatian design; what do you like the most, and what do you like the least about it?
Croatian design has now been at the top of the global design scene for years now, and what I recognize as most valuable about it is the constant inflow of new talent. I also like the way you are organized; individuals holding the structure of the field together in organizational terms are just as important as the designers themselves. As far as the design itself is concerned, I recognize a lot of humor in conjunction with aesthetic intelligence, but mostly very talented individuals who have managed to retain their enthusiasm under the pressure of market oscillations. I have a tremendous amount of respect and am inspired by the work of Bruketa and Žinić, Nikola Đurek, Vanja Cuculić, Damir Gamulin, Šesnić and Turković, and many others. What I appreciate the most is gumption, ingenuity and a willingness to experiment, while blind trend following is my pet peeve.
What is your advice for those who are just getting their start in design? What is it that they should pay the most attention to, and what should they avoid?
Without passion, dedication and sincerity, there is no good design. Anything else turns into manipulation very easily.