Interview with Davar AzarbeygUI

Text by Natalja Laurey

Davar calls himself a design ambassador, with a specialization in identity and brand development for start-ups and established businesses.He works as a design director for Landor and Fitch as well as a design instructor at the University of Cincinnati. He was born in Iran and loves to celebrate the diversity and beauty in design. He has a background in Graphic Design (Pratt Institute), especially typography, and loves to communicate this in his work.

What does design mean to you?

I am a true believer that design can pretty much solve any problem, right? So it's one of those disciplines that whether you're doing packaging design for a consumer client, whether you're doing an identity, whether you're trying to solve a problem for a corporation, a good designer can solve such problems by giving it shape. Some sort of form. For example, one of the biggest common denominators of any business is they need an identity. They need something to tell the world who they are, where they are, what they do, right. They need to be able to build a reputation around that identity. Design can help to discover and communicate that identity. And that is more than creating a logo.

What makes a design successful?

I think that's the great thing about design. If design is successful it works on many levels. You can see the impact of design. I mean, you don't have to really feel it or touch it, but you can see it. You can see it in their growth. You can see it in their revenues. You can see it in the joy of the company. Whether the employees and customers are happy. Take for example the biggest branding company Procter and Gamble. It is something, at least in the USA, that is noticeable in every part of our lives, whether we like it or not. From diapers to creams. They invest billions of dollars in what we call their innovation pipeline. The agencies that do work for Procter and Gamble and for example design their packaging, they do really important work. They not only do packaging, they do strategy. To do good design you need strategy.

So, thinking about strategy is what makes a designer a good designer. Are there other things that make designers stand out?

A strong designer understands the principle of design. The principle can vary. So, for me the principle of design is typography. I love typography. I believe that I think 80, or maybe 85% of good design is based on good typography. Because design is all about communication, right?  I'm a big proponent of making sure that typography is a central part of design, that it works in all directions, whether it's typography in motion, whether it's typography on packaging, or on social media. How the use of typography is very important. Other designers are much more aesthetic driven. So they're like, for us shape and color is key. And others are more about the stories. I personally believe that typography is one of my first tools that I use to solve a problem. If it can be solved through typography, we are 85% there.

How can you solve a problem through topography?

Using typography can help to come up with the right solution to a problem because again it is about communication.  Many companies do not know how to communicate. They don't know how to speak to their own employees. So you have to find out why. Because you're not speaking to them? Is it because the messages or the emails you're sending, they're not reading it? Why are they not doing that? Is it because maybe you're not communicating your best practices to them? Or is it the way in which you communicate the best practices? Topography is not something that has to be beautiful, but it has to be legible. I'm seeing a lot of designers who use very simple typography tools just to solve the problem and get it over with. They are missing the point. But if they spend a little bit more time on understanding what needs to be communicated and crafting the right type of  typography, or finding the right font for their project, it does make a big impact.

The work of designers has been rapidly changing in recent years. As you said, designers no longer only make products but also help solve organizational problems. How did you experience this shift yourself?

In the past maybe five to six years, we are moving away from homogenized design, where everybody's kind of swimming in the sea of sameness.  Now we see more particular skill sets of designers. We see designers going into the field of climate change. That is where the next generation of good designers is going. Like, I really don't care anymore about developing an app, I want to make an impact.  I want to make a lasting impact that my children or future generations are going to see. So they are using design to go into fields of innovation, architecture and engineering  to tackle some of the bigger problems, like climate change.

This shift may also mean that designers need to learn new skills. What do you think about that?

Yes, they have to. The skills of designers are not anymore only on the aesthetic level. It's much more on the functional level. It's less about is it beautiful or pretty? It's more about is there a function to it? Is this identity going to help this company to grow?  At the same time, I see designers doing really innovative work. For example doing 3d animation videos. Or using the power of data, data analytics, to turn design into fantastic pieces of art. We are seeing a younger generation of designers that are less concerned with making money. They are more about whether their work helps solve a larger problem. They're less involved in making money. They found happiness in design. It allows them to be creative and help solve some part of the world's problems. In the fashion industry, for example, we see that materialism is slowly fading away. It's not any more about making people buy. It is about making people buy consciously.

What is your happy place in design?

My happy place in design is to spot beautiful pieces of design and share them with a bigger (online) audience.  It is my happy place when I inspire others with design. I have been kind of active in the past couple of years on social media in promoting the work of design agencies. When I was younger, I used to say ‘oh, this is crap’ and criticize too quickly.  As you kind of grow a little bit older, and you get into the process of working, you know that it takes a lot of work to design a brand,  a logo or a packaging design. So you start respecting and appreciating more of the work behind the scenes, the thinking, the process, then the final result. And that kind of appreciation is something you gain through maturity and experience.

So happiness in design also means understanding the complexity of design. You start to understand not only the effort people put in it, but also the dedication, time and love.

Yeah, a design solution often does not come within an hour or two. Sometimes it does, but only after months or years of hard work and having experience in design. At the same time, it can happen that you spend years or months trying to figure out a design solution but you cannot find it. So you need to move back and forth, in multiple directions, to try and find a design solution. In design, it is the effort that counts more than the final result. For example, when you get into branding, you understand that there's a much bigger effort that goes on than just designing a logo. It's much more than a visual sense. You have to think about how it comes to life. Whether people will use it, enjoy it.

Do you have certain creative rituals that help you get inspiration and solve a complex problem through design?

What I try to teach my students is if you're trying to design or find a solution, do not go on Pinterest because that's not the place to go. You know Pinterest has become like this junkyard of people just throwing up designs and products for the sake of it. So I think a lot of much more holistic thinking is being done on my end when I want to find inspiration. I have plenty of books. I have all kinds of design books. There is social media. If you want to be really original, some people do meditation, yoga, walk or any other form of exercise. Some people get inspiration through watching movies or through making love. So there's a whole variety of ways that you can get inspired and come and come out of it creatively. Inspiration is everywhere. It depends if you're willing to look and where you look.

How did the pandemia influence your creative rituals?

Of course, movement is more limited. But for me, it has in a way opened up new doors. Now I am collaborating much more and with more diverse people. In our work, we have meetings online, and recreate designs online. And now, I'm speaking to you. Yeah, we're about two years ago, if COVID had not happened, we might not have had this conversation.

But, for designers collaborating together and looking each other in the eye is important right?

Yes, you do miss the physical collaboration. Sitting in a meeting room and throwing ideas around. Hopefully we will go back to some kind of model doing that. But at the same time, we've expanded our collaboration efforts and ways of collaborating. So yes, we can have a board meeting with 17 other people from other countries at the same time. Yeah, so it's kind of like this hybrid collaboration method and that is exciting.

How does diversity inform your work as a designer?

In 2008, me and my family, we all moved to the Middle East. I got hired as a design director for a big advertising agency. It was so interesting. A completely different aesthetic. Also a different way of how you target certain audiences. What are the needs and desires of the audiences there. Their design aesthetic is much more beautiful, less corporate. They love beautiful typography and luxury.

What do you hope for the future of design?

I think most designers should be more ambassadors of design. That means celebrating our multiculturalism.  That means travelling the world and spreading good news. Beautiful news. What is interesting, wherever you go as a designer, you adapt at least a part of yourself to their culture. That's the real passion of design, to break through silos. If you're stuck in your silo in your bedroom or your office and you're not going places,  you're not helping your creative juices get out. You have to really travel and see the world, far away or close by, in order to be able to absorb that kind of inspiration and passion.

With POSTALL we are striving for something similar. Creating a community around design while celebrating diversity and passion for creative work itself. What is your dream for this community?

I think being part of the design community is a dream in itself. It is not about what will come. Wanting more and more. It is about now. Connecting and appreciating what we have now instead of obsessing over what might or might not come. We need to be more grateful and see what amazing design and inspiration already exists in the world.