Ten questions for... Astrid Stavro

Ahead of them taking to the WEDF stage, we ask each of our speakers ten questions. From our upcoming talk, Astrid Stavro, one of the founding partners of Atlas, gives us a taster of what we’ll hear on the night.

1. What was the Eureka moment that made you become a designer?

Discovering Interview magazine, designed by Tibor Kalman.

2. What was the first thing you ever designed?

A stapled, photocopied fanzine called The Jamaican Gazette that I started with a group of friends whilst at secondary school (circa age 14)

3. Where did you study and who taught you?

A BA at Central Saint Martins and an MA at The Royal College of Art. The best teachers have been the books I read and my fellow students. At the RCA I adored Andrzej Klimowski and Alan Kitching. Before studying design I studied literature and philosophy. I remember Elie Wiesel’s classes as the best lessons ever.

4. Design heroes? Who influenced you in those early days? And who influences you now?

I started with the usual suspects, David Carson, Neville Brody, Tibor Kalman etc. Today I am influenced by anything new, interestingly the new comes mostly from the past. Such as when I discovered the work of Jacqueline Casey or Muriel Cooper. What I love about design (and about everything really) is that learning and discovering things is a never-ending job’. My biggest heroes are actually not designers. They are writers, artists, philosophers, industrial or product designers, anthropoligists, sociologists, musicians and cinema directors.

Jacqueline Casey // Alan Kitching

5. Where was your first creative job? What did you learn?

There is space for creativity and learning in almost everything. My first design job’ was as a courier carrying disks from the design studio to the repro house and the resulting litho plates to the printers. My former boss hired me not because of my non-existent design knowledge, but because I had an old Italian Piaggio. I learnt how to drive a bike faster than anyone. I also learned a lot about design by watching my boss work, organising his extensive archives and accompanying him to meetings with clients. It was not a creative job per se, but at the time I found it creative because it taught me so much. 

My second job was at another small design studio. I didn’t even have a portfolio. I was hired because I casually walked in with the latest issue of Interview magazine. One of the few newstand agents that sold it was precisely around the corner from the studio. My official job title was assistant cutter’ – I did this for two years. Using parallels, cutting my days away with scalpels of all sizes and spending hours in the photocopy store enlarging images (mostly beer bottles, beer packs and beer bubbles). That’s the place where I first cut my finger, the designer’s cut’. In fact, part of my finger is still missing! Again, it wasn’t a particularily creative job but it was a very creative place. My boss was a well-known sculptor (designer by day, artist by night) and through him I met wonderful artists and incredibly interesting people. He really opened my mind. It was a great opportunity, even if the actual work was monotonous.

The studio was huge and beautiful. For fun, we used to design furniture together, such as a CD rack made out of red, yellow and blue aluminium modular pieces with airplane wheels attached underneath. We would then throw it to each other, the CD rack gliding across the room. Time to change the music. I learnt how to make things (in particular how to cut them). Above all, I learnt how others make things. In fact, I learnt that you can make (create) anything you want. When you know the what, the how is a matter of craft.

There is space for creativity and learning in almost everything.

— Astrid Stavro

Piaggio // Interview Magazine

6. What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve created? And what’s your favourite piece of work someone else created? 

I can’t answer this as my favourites change every day…

7. When you’re stuck in a rut, how do you get creative ideas flowing?

Get as far away from the computer as possible.

8. The worst thing that ever happened to you during one of your talks?

Giving the talk.

9. The best book you’ve read lately?

Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog.

10. If you could have a super power what would it be?

Teletransportation through space and time.

Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog