We recently had the pleasure of having Maud Passini speak at the Shillington New York campus. She is a talented creative who came to New York from a quiet town south of Paris and is now living in Brooklyn where she works for a branding studio, Franklyn. She loves American design and the interconnected design community in New York.
We caught up with Maud after the talk to continue the conversation and to hear more about her creative journey, passion projects and design work.
After graduating from the university, were there any challenges that you experienced starting out as a junior designer?
After graduating, I threw myself into my work and didn’t really have time to think about what was hard. But looking back, the biggest challenge was to trust my creativity and my ideas, be confident enough to present them to my creative directors, and pushing for what I believed would work. It’s hard to develop your voice when you don’t feel confident. But I was so lucky that I was always surrounded by talented and kind people who pushed me to grow.
Your mother who is a fine artist taught you about art and how to draw. Do you think her encouragement towards creativity influenced your decision to follow a creative path? What made you choose to be a designer vs a scientist?
Definitely! My mother was a passionate fine artist, who had a strong creative voice that she wasn’t afraid to follow. She passed away in 2016 and her prolific work is so precious to me. She took me to exhibitions, taught me how to draw, helped me with my painting assignments (I suck at painting) and so on. So it was always an option for me to become an artist, although I knew I wouldn’t thrive in the fine art world, and needed the constraints and guidelines that I find in graphic design. In the end, I had an ‘aha’ moment in high school where I was like “I’m so lucky I have a passion and a gift, why in the world would I not try to make a living out of it?”
Do you find that your style has evolved since moving to New York from Paris?
My style is definitely influenced by the boiling creativity of New York, the rule-breaking attitude that designers adopt here and the undeniable passion that drives people. I found that the open-mindedness of New Yorkers makes for clients who are willing to take risks, trust the creative director and really want to stand out, which makes our job as designers very exciting.
You mentioned that you strive to achieve a balance between client guidelines, your aesthetic and the need to adapt to the style of the agency. For the Nourish Baby high-end catering brand, one of your challenges was to find something that would surprise the client. The idea to create an illustration that deconstructs fruits and vegetables is a creative approach, leaving the design open to interpretation. How did you approach this project and arrive at this concept? Any advice to students who want to create an identity for a brand?
That’s because it was really a process. We showed ideas to the client and based on their feedback, we kept evolving the work and finding new ideas. When the back and forth between you and the client becomes a conversation, you can only grow and get to unexpected places, which makes the design much more interesting. My advice would be to keep evolving the work. I always start with a pretty specific idea of what it’s gonna look like, but after hours of work and trying to get to something even better, I surprise myself with how it turned out.
I think that giving the project time to grow and taking breaks to come back to it with a fresh perspective is really important
Do you always present multiple design concepts to a client or prefer to show only one strong idea? Why?
I’m definitely not against showing only one idea, but I’ve never done it. When you show multiple options, even just two, I believe that seeing several different concepts allows the client to compare two things, which will lead them to really understanding why and how they like the direction they’re choosing.
I’ve found that it always enriches the work to push yourself to have more ideas
From the talk, you stated the importance of showing your personality in projects and that a good designer is someone who isn’t afraid to have their own style. What advice would you recommend to a designer just starting out on their creative journey?
To improve your work, there’s only one way: practice
We absolutely loved the identity for The Citrus Club—it’s fresh, modern and playful. Being a lover of type and hand-painting, this must have been a dream project for you! What was it like working on the branding for a restaurant?
It was my first bar that I got to work on, so that’s always exciting. Having to design something “fresh, young and playful” is a pretty cool guideline as well. And it felt just like that—playing around, having fun. It was liberating to use gestural handwriting, paint and other techniques. There’s a wide variety of collateral to design for a bar, too. Menus, coasters, matchbooks, but also some signage, and we even designed a flag: it allows you to really flesh out the whole aesthetic and give a strong identity to the brand.
The 2015 Cherchez La Femme exhibition design for Sotheby’s project is very creative and highlighted the female surrealist artists from the early 20th century in a beautiful way. The hand-painted logo and portraits are stunning. Can you talk about how you arrived at the concept?
It started with playing around away from the computer
We wanted to make something surrealist looking, so I started writing the artist’s name with a brush that only had water on, then I dropped Indian ink into the ‘puddle’ that had formed, so the black ink formed arbitrary and mysterious shapes in the water, which gave the type this texture. For some of them, I reversed the colors, which made it even more abstract. This idea dictated the whole identity around it, and I started distorting the portraits of the women as well. It ended up looking mysterious, weird, dark and poetic.
You mentioned enjoying getting away from the computer and working with your hands doing collage, painting, lettering and illustration. Were there any projects that you worked on that allowed you to do more hand-made work that you enjoy? Do have any favourite client projects?
Cherchez La Femme and the Citrus Club involved a lot of handmade art. I also often make lettering with an actual marker, like for the Vanity Fair and Condé Nast Traveler covers.
My illustrations for Parlor Coffee and my self-portraits are made digitally, but they feel handy because they’re so gestural and I draw them directly on my tablet. Apart from those, a project that I really loved was for Nourish Baby: the end result felt so right, both for the client and for us, a win-win.
Tell us about the mirror self-portrait series you’ve been working on. You mentioned that it was inspired by your mother and that people really resonated with the portraits—stressing the importance of self-initiated projects and experimentation. With personal projects, you can play and not be afraid of what people think, as long as you make yourself happy doing it. We hope you will eventually turn this portrait series into a book!
Thank you! I’m quite shy so posting an image of myself on social media required courage—but it’s a project that makes me grow and move in the right direction since I need to take more risks and step out of my comfort zone sometimes. Like you said, the only requirement for this exercise is to enjoy the process, learn from it and try out new ideas. It’s also very relaxing, to just draw, as opposed to designing.
At some point, people started sending me their selfies to draw, and I did a few, which I loved, (always great to collaborate with other people) but then I started getting commissions, and it began to feel too much like work, so I stopped and got back to self-portraits. I don’t want it to be just about copying a photo, and when I draw myself, I know what feelings and mood I want to convey. I do want to take it further, a book would be a great idea, and I’d also love to animate them…
What is your advice about finding the optimal balance between work and passion projects?
I think your passion projects will bring more of the work you want to do—if you share personal projects, people will get to know your personality better and reach out to you for what you actually like to do. So it’s important to make time for them. Since they don’t bring money though, I try to keep them limited in time (it can actually be a fun challenge to give yourself a limited amount of time to finish something) or focus on them when I have less work.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
I really want to be doing more illustration in the next few months. I do a lot of design, but I feel like illustration helps me relax and recharge and reminds me why I started all this—for my love of drawing. So bring it on!
Thank you Maud for speaking with our students and answering our questions! Be sure to check out Franklyn Studio’s portfolio and follow Maud on Instagram and her website to stay up-to-date on her work.
Read more industry interviews here. Curious to hear more about being a designer? Come to one of our Info Sessions to learn about what it’s like to study at Shillington. If you can’t make a date, get in touch with us directly to arrange a private appointment.
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