Jonas Stallmeister

1 September 2006 – 1 February 2007
University of Applied Sciences, Darmstadt

First—about the reason for going to Moscow, the cultural crash course. Living in a Muscovite-German-Belorussian household gave me an insight into middle class life. But in this deeply divided society, I could not experience the life of the really rich and poor. Of course, I observed and overheard a lot in five months, but did not get a sure feeling for the culture and the nuances of life. My experiences therefore were always reflected by the people I was working and living with, but rarely purely my own.

In everyday life, I saw little independent, new, Russian Design outside of Art. Lebedev. (The old soviet kind on the other hand is still very much present, “The successful branding of a whole nation”, as an art director put it.) Most graphic design in books, ads, magazines and on posters is western or japanese influenced. The small examples, flyers, concert posters and stickers, too, lean on well-known styles. Of course, there still are many small differences-big companies are far more pompous, especially if luxury goods are sold. Kitsch is more widespread and is used easily (both as an adaption to nationalist pride and as an ironic reaction), and private design (flyers, advertising for small businesses often simple and primitive).

Still, I think that I worked at a company that had its own way of design. The studio polarizes, it has many admirers but also also gets strong (and, concerning Artemy Lebedev, personal) critique. Still, all the people I spoke to agreed that Art. Lebedev is not a typical russian company. Neither in Moscow nor in Germany, I saw this mixture of direct information and humour that ranges between confrontational and a wink at any other design company, and I like the results that it produces.

The studio has a certain diction-it employs ten editors, connecting graphics amd text closely. They work and design as much as and in cooperation with the graphic designers. To get involved in this “design from language”, I lacked the necessary Russian language skills. Even if I understood everyday conversations, I could not master wordplays and language-based humour. That meant I could understand the content and work with it for layout, but every change had to be done by editors to avoid mistakes. My work was rather the organisation of information than finding ideas and developing concepts.

Apart from the language barrier, there were other problems: Dominik Heilig, together with whom I had organized the internship, left Art. Lebedev in the middle of 2006-between the preparation and the beginning of the internship. That meant that nobody knew what to do with me when I arrived. While Dominik knew my possibilities as a designer, Ludwig Bistronovsky, the art director I was working with now, had to get a feel for what I could do. He gave me varied small tasks with relatively slow pace of work. That quickly changed, bigger, real projects were taking up my time, I was taken seriously as a designer. Here, I steadily worked with one manager. That did not change for the first half of the internship, with me also doing small, quick changes on other projects she oversaw. The upside was that I worked with different designers and maybe got a feeling for their characters quicker. But nobody cared obout my internship making sense from a design point of view. Looking back, I notice that none of the designers had an complete view over my work in the last five months to be able to conclusively judge my performance and development.

By not being able to take part in the concept phase of a project, but helping where I was needed, my tasks were (to about 75%) detail changes and organisation in an existing design concept, or simply routine, with every design decision already made. I did not learn a lot here, neither technically nor creatively. Two of the projects seemed to be rather unloved, with difficult clients and, therefore, jumpy managers. They had a long history with multiple designers, but not the quality level that I was accustomed to from Art. Lebedev. I worked on these projects quickly (more than I had before) and long (spending some nights in the studio), but not very enthusiastically.

Still, there were also tasks that were completely new to me, where I could learn a lot even from only building the final result from examples. Here, it payed off to work in a studio with many different specialists, with something new always appearing. I could always ask them questions, lend books, discuss them, talk about ideas or get an opinion on my own on-the-side project. And with the possibility of saving every small idea, and the over-the-weekend homework for all designers, I always had interesting problems to solve and the right, interested and experienced people to help me.

Working in a company of Art. Lebedev’s size was new to me, for example getting used to not having to do everything myself-and not having the chance of doing everythung myself. On one hand there were specialists to help with everything, on the other I had to give feedback and keep my work transparent to others-different from the independent work on university projects. While we learned during the Hochschule Darmstadt work to present our work ourselves, here we had the managers as the connection to the clients. Sometimes, only they could establish a connection between quirky designers and uninterested, authoritarian customers, between people that simply could not talk to each other directly. But in other situations, in projects that needed lots of source materials from the clients or had lots of small changes, the indirect communication was complicated. And the managers had the information monopoly-with the inherent danger of interpretating customer feedback to fit their project plan, for example with time running out. Of course, it would be nice to trust in good design explaining itself, but sometimes, its value (especially for long-time use) is not apparent at first glance, and still need to made clear in a short presentation. In this case, a first-hand presentation is better than a second-hand one, in my opinion. Of course, I could not have explained my work to a Russian-speaking customer anyway, but would have liked to sit in on a conversation with clients. Here, I see the danger of designing rather for the customer than for the user-of all brandbooks designed by the studio, only one is being applied in reality.

I reached one important goal of the internship. During the first three years of my university education, I delighted in simply trying my hand at everything that interested me, but was aware that this meant starting over again and again, not specializing myself. Here at the studio, I also could get impressions of a broad range of graphic design, but from the everyday work of professionals on a very high quality level. That meant I experienced a lot of working practice, I feel, enough to make an informed decision on what direction my studies and the work afterwards would take.

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