Our write-up of Marina Willer's talk 'Amongst other things'

The title of Marina’s talk Amongst other things’ is an overall description of where she passionately believes design sits in the world – surrounded by culture and reality. Design cannot be perfect, it needs to survive in reality and be created so that people can contribute to it. The more this happens, the more successful design will become. The talk focussed on Marina’s love of vibrancy and chaos of both design and living in the real world, and was an incredible insight into her thoughts, projects and passions. 

She talked about her life being a mixture of two halves – the pristine business life that she tries to maintain at work, versus her crazy, chaotic life at home. Often these halves merge together, somehow creating a balanced madness that inspires her on a daily basis, with her mind being a whirlwind of designs, briefs and creative solutions, mixed with the thoughts of a mother of two young and energetic twin boys. 

Marina talked about growing up in Brazil, surrounded by the spontaneous nature of the Brazilian way of life, mixed with themes that still inspire her work – bright colours, bold patterns and a vibrancy and vivacity for life. Take for example the poster that she designed for her Long Lunch talk in November 2013. Vibrant colour blends and bold, expressive type run across the middle of the page, reading Ginga’ – a phrase in Brazil that means improvisation, to go day by day, a way in life in Brazil that she often uses in design. Create a grid and break it; improvise, experiment, express. 

Marina is amongst other things’ herself. This passionate, expressive, Brazilian woman moved to dreary and grey Bolton on first coming to England, before later moving to London. She talked about how colour is used in Brazil like nowhere else in the world, and joked that she can’t get her head around the fact that colour is such a vital part of design, yet designers stereotypically wear black from head to toe! She discussed her twin boys being another big influence and inspiration in her life, describing them as walking catastrophes and creators of beautiful things, as they have a sort of inspirational, everyday craziness to them. The questions they ask out of nowhere, like most children do, (‘do spiders have armpits?’), have a poetic curiousness to them, that could in turn, inspire and encourage our own questions and curiousness. We create rules and guidelines that are so controlling, is this the best way to create, within a sensible framework? Or should we be more curious, more chaotic and therefore more creative? 

Marina took us through her first job at Wolf Ollins, branding the Tate Modern, designed 17 years ago, yet still looking so relevant today. The brand had changeable qualities in the way that it was perceived by the viewer, reflecting the changeable way that we as individuals see art compared to one another. The theme of the work was look again, think again’, and the identity represented the fact that the Tate was always changing, but it was still always the Tate. In complete contrast to this was the identity that she presented for Amnesty International, which took on a simpler, single-minded approach, showing that the brand was about emergency, intervention and immediacy. Other pieces of work she showed us were identities that she had created for The Southbank Centre, refreshing the Oxfam identity, as well as work for the Serpentine gallery. 

However, even more valuable was the unsuccessful’ work she showed us. In a section entitled Every time I’ve been dumped’, Marina talked us through projects where she had tried and failed, and how she overcame those failures. It’s a rare thing to hear a designer talk about their unsuccessful projects, those moments we’ve all had where clients don’t see the project the way we do, or when jobs fall through for one reason or another. One such job was the brand identity that Marina and her Pentagram team created for Action for Children. The identity focussed around the urgency of the brand, with messaging of we can’t wait’ running throughout, taking on a both positive and negative spin. Marina talked about how she gave her soul to this project, talked through why it didn’t happen, and the various emotions that you go through, saying that she felt it was just as important to share these kind of experiences as well as successful ones.

Marina’s whirlwind of a talk also showed us an introductory film created for Richard Rogers’ exhibition which expresses Roger’s philosophy and ethos in his work and in his life. It’s a fascinating snippet, and definitely worth a watch (no pun intended!). This project spurned Marina on to create her own film called Red Trees’, a short, personal piece about her father and his family, surviving the war and escaping to Brazil. In Marina’s words the film tells the story of a journey of colour, acceptance and diversity.” 

Marina gave a great Q&A session, with one of the final questions being what makes a successful project?”. In answering, Marina talked about her work for Macmillan Cancer – when you see that you can make a difference with a project, when everyone embraces the brand that you have created because it means so much, that’s what makes it successful.

Which leads us back to the initial point, that it is the design that is amongst us, amongst our lives and our everyday. Design that we embrace and interact with makes the biggest impact. Design is more relevant when it’s connected to life. It’s responsive, aware, attuned. It succeeds or fails, not in isolation but right in amongst people, systems and space. Design cannot exist in a vacuum.