• ← Thesis 2013
  • Performance


    A manifesto of process
    In all of our conversations and planning leading up to the launch of the Seventeen-day Studio we kept track of our more compelling quips, ranging from simple rules or constraints to some dogmatic ideals. This exercise helped to firm our understanding of the studio’s place in a widely varied field.

    From those bits and pieces and snippets of thinking we developed a series of statements that would serve as a point of reference for visitors. Over the first few days in the studio we produced and published a document that we would give to visitors of the space. The guide then becomes a representation of our studio. The paper, layout, content, printing and construction all reference some particular sensibility. These documents serve as ephemera rather than artifacts, much like the planned impermanence of a Seventeen-day Studio.

    Graphic design is made of contrary elements, involving a clash of thought, emotion, and behavior, leading us as graphic designers toward eccentric perceptions, inappropriate actions and feelings, our withdrawal from reality into fantasy or delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.

    Seventeen-day Studio writes about books, experimentation & experience.

    The book as place
    Young Sun Compton

    I want you to consider the book as place because books are defined by their distinct boundaries and the space they contain. As place the book holds things as obvious as an author’s words and ideas, but it also carries your attention. Place is distinct in its position and relationship to a surrounding geography. So a book on a shelf, in a bag, or in hand relates differently in each setting. Thus the book establishes our sense of direction and dimension. With that, the place establishes a space that goes beyond words and pages. A book seeps out into its surrounding environment, encompassing everything from the walls and the furniture to the noise level and present company. This is why you might seek out certain places for reading, whether that be on a park bench or quiet car with noise-canceling headphones.

    My favorite portrait of a reader, reading, and the relationship of book and place is by Italian artist and designer Bruno Munari. In 1944, Munari published a series of staged photographs titled, “Searching for comfort in an uncomfortable armchair.” 1 The character Munari plays has a burdensome relationship with an armchair, but each scene is propped up by books and/or reading. The issue of comfort is exacerbated by the book as place. Munari’s desire and struggle to read predicates the poor design of the chair. Reading is distracting, and our attention is split between the content contained and the surrounding space. The book as place, then, creates a distinct mental space and desire within you, the reader, that also influence and are shaped by your surroundings.

    Munari reveals the importance of books and reading precisely because they play heavily in the everyday. Seven years later, in 1951, renowned German philosopher, Martin Heidegger delivered a lecture entitled, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” positing that the act of dwelling is an important consideration when designing. In short, dwelling happens when we make a place for social and cultural habits and routines. Design facilitates dwelling by creating place through objects, experiences, and buildings. Heidegger writes that “building and thinking are, each in its own way, inescapable from dwelling.” 2 Though his reasoning focuses on architecture and large-scale planning, it has very clear implications for other disciplines, including graphic design. I cannot help but think back to Bruno Munari’s struggle in dwelling, all for his desire to read.

    Today our everyday is split; beside our real lives, we are living online. So, too, dwelling happens in both respects. When moving to a new apartment, I feel at home only after my books are unpacked and the internet is working. I arrange my books—their place—to correspond with how I use the space they share. Books in the living room, in the oce, and a stack in the bedroom have dierent purposes. I use books as place in order to understand my space, because, after all, “the relationship between man and space is dwelling.” 3

    What then of our digital lives online? Most, if not all, content online is there to be read. So our habits and experiences—our dwelling—there happen by reading, and reading is how we relate to a digital reality. This works the same way a book creates a relationship of reader and space through absorbing and/or deciphering text. Reading is fundamental to dwelling and this fact is true regardless of the technology used.

    You know how to use a book, so you must know that they are freely navigable, and that you might skip ahead or page back quite easily. Unhindered flipping through a digital book is not so free. “Tables, illustrations, and captions—which might appear in countless configurations on a printed page—obey strict marching orders in the e-pub world.” 4 So the method of publishing and the graphic design directly aect how we read. Devices like the iPad or Kindle usher a reader steadily forward, page after page. This creates a reading environment that is rigorously linear, while other kinds of reading—selective, informational, and consultative—don’t fare so well. Some would even argue that an ebook makes for better focus, where more flexible navigation of a book in paper might lead to more diversion.

    Reading is distracting. All kinds of books create a purposeful space that happens to also fight reading. In addition to finding our perfect park bench or bustling café for reading, we adjust by selecting the material to fit a locale. The proliferation of niche mobile/web applications, dedicated solely to reading, allows you to pick the method best suited to the reading space around you. For example, reading a novel on your phone might seem claustrophobic, but for sneaking a paragraph at a time while at work, it is incredibly opportune. News outlets are also adapting to your preference. Websites like Mule Design’s Evening Edition and mobile applications like Circa distill the day’s news into succinct paragraphs suitable for your evening commute. While the more book-like, designy magazines recently shows an attempt at making a more serious reading space than magazines typically garner. Geeky publications like Oscreen, Bulletins of The Serving Library, and 8 Faces become collectibles instead of piling up in a corner, waiting to be read.

    Here, reading and graphic design are an inescapable pair. Heidegger wrote that buildings become landmarks and change how we navigate space. The act of publishing serves a similar function. How we read affects what we read. I always think to appropriate Marshall McLuhan’s take on Churchill and say, “we shape our books and thereafter our books shape us.” 5Design aects behavior and understanding. The paradox is this: words and ideas are construed by the context of delivery. There is no such thing as plain text. Even the most rudimentary text editor has its own visual quality, one that reads, “This is a work in progress; cut me some slack.” In creating and publishing ideas, we might be aware that there exist levels of finish, formality and wholeness—of reading—that emerge purely by the graphic design of a work.

    The book is not singular, nor is it fixed. Books are variable, open to our interpretation, medium, and subsequent editions. In that way a book is quite flexible. The redundancy of books as objects and concepts becomes a welcome constraint when making one. Because we know how to use books, and they are open to interpretation, judging a book is esoteric and hardly quantifiable. Taking risk with the form, pacing, and typography is supported by a reader’s prior experiences with reading. “All text involves sight and sound … what difference did it make if the visible text went its own aesthetic way?” 6So the content with those designed parts—binding, cover, margins, titles, index, etc—create the space within and around the book.

    What does a book do? You, Reader, take note of your surroundings, your comfort level, and time of day. A book will not typically beg such consideration even if “the reader’s experience in reading a book creates its content, so there is no ‘text’ without the reader.” 7As a reader, you supply utility and interpretation, before, during and after reading. This relationship is made clear by Italo Calvino’s in his 1979 novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. The novel focuses on you, the reader, and your experience reading. You never really start because of interruption and incomplete works, and each new chapter creates its own space that aects you dierently. In the story’s final moments Calvino equates reading with stormy travel. Reading is hard work.

    After your “tempest-tossed” journey, you seek refuge in a grand library. In Calvino’s mind, this vast, public collection of books makes a space that is familiar and warm. Nearly 40 years on, we take our libraries with us. Content is now condensed in a cloud, always accessible, following overhead. I cannot help but draw parallel to the likes of the great jinx Joe Btfsplk who, despite his best intentions, was followed by misfortune in the form of a storm cloud. 8Our clouds have become our personal tempests, and there is no respite. Unfettered access to books builds an uninterrupted space for continuous and distracting or distracted reading.

    Books are meant to exist with other books, and side by side they form our collections. “A group of books is therefore a network … all our collections make an argument.” 9A library helps to convey the identity of its owner. The size of a collection, the space it occupies and creates, are presented for interpretation and judgment. My reading lists are made public, and the whole experience is made more social. Services like the elegant Readmill, a web and native reading app that displays a text with less distraction and better typographic fitness than most other digital readers, allows me to share what I read with friends and followers. This is no dierent than proudly inviting guests to peruse your rows of books.

    Holding a book as you are now, Reader, identifies you as such. Everyone is reading most of the time in a linear, selective, consultative, and/or informative way. 10 You might be so open-minded in defining the term as paying attention to your surroundings. I might glance up at a chalkboard menu with my Twitter feed in hand and switch to The New York Times while I sit and wait for my Americano. If there exists a relationship between this juggled (jumbled?) content, it’s made within the place that reading creates.

    Because “a nonmaterial definition of the book comes hand in hand with a nonmaterial definition of reading,” 11we can be equally liberal when considering the form of a book. Books are amalgams of processes and ideas, collected and displayed. As place, the book is distinct, though not explicit. As you read, for myriad reasons and with varied success, you relate with the space around you, whether lived in or in passing. The book as place establishes dwelling through a reader, reading in space.


    1. Bruno Munari, “Searching for comfort in an uncomfortable armchair,” Domus #202, 1944.
    2. Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” from Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Albert Hofstadter, (Harper Colophon Books, 1971), 155.
    3. Martin Heidegger, ibid.
    4. Ellen Lupton, “Reading and Writing,” in Graphic Design: Now in Production, ed. Andrew Blauvelt and Ellen Lupton (Walker Art Center, 2011), 74.
    5. McLuhan said, “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” And the original, by Winston Churchill: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
    6. Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy (Routledge, 2002), 119.
    7. Katherine Gillieson, “The book abstracted,” in Dot Dot Dot 12 , ed. Stuart Bailey and Peter Bilak (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006), 10.
    8. Joe Btfsplk is a character in the comic strip Li’l Abner by cartoonist Al Capp. Hapless Btfsplk and his ever-present cloud became one of the most iconic images in Li’l Abner.
    9. Katherine Gillieson, ibid.
    10. Gerard Unger, While You’re Reading (Mark Batty Publisher, 2007), 66/7.
    11. Robert Bringhurst, What is Reading For? (Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2011), 17/8.
    Learning to learn
    Javier Lopez

    Most of my life revolved around school, from elementary to graduate school. Different levels of education came with different ways of learning. In elementary and high school, I learned to write by copying, to do math by repeating, and to understand science by memorizing. In college I learned graphic design by analyzing, critiquing, following directions, and proposing solutions—all of this within a system in which an instructor would propose a project meant to develop different skills. I came to see my graduate-school experience as an expansion of my design skill sets. No longer was I restrained by a project guideline like before. This time I was meant to develop ideas and points of view about my personal practice. Continuing through the program, I discovered that in order for me to grow quickly and continuously, I had to develop ways in which I could learn on my own.

    My practice is built on ideas, and a good idea is dependent on the quality in which it, the idea, is executed and communicated through design. I realized that not only do I have to continue keeping up with new technologies and methodologies, but I also must be able to propose ideas while taking advantage of these new elements. I had to learn to learn.

    In the past, the prospect of teaching myself was daunting. For example, I thought I could teach myself how to write code in order to make data visualizations. I bought books and watched online tutorials on how to write code for Processing, a programming language meant to make it easy for designers to make animation, interaction, and visualization pieces. The interface and graphics in Processing were cool, but as someone who didn't know what an HTML tag was, I found that learning the program was nearly impossible. Later, I realized that my difficulty in learning the software program was not because the coding was difficult. I had difficulty because I had unrealistic expectations. I did not have a good understanding of how to teach myself.

    Experimentation as a generative process

    As a graduate student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, I developed my graduate thesis in collaboration with Luiz Ludwig and Young Sun Compton, fellow classmates in the program. Initially, Luiz and I developed a project that existed as a series of design experiments in which we introduced limitations, disruptive processes, and arbitrary rules for collaboration in order to challenge the role of the designer and their creative process. The outcomes—printed matter, websites, installations, and other physical and digital pieces—showed evidence of their creation. Our premise was that the designer enjoyed the most control during the creative process. Designers exercised some control over the ways in which a project is printed, rendered on a screen, or published. However, design was often collaborative, and that meant other people exercised control during other stages of the process. For example, a pressman controlled the printing press, a browser affected how a user views a website, and the means of publication influenced the way a viewer experienced a work of design.

    Relatively speaking, the way in which designers work and bring ideas to life is where we exercise the most control and responsibility over a project. Designers choose colors, typefaces, frameworks, technologies, strategies and methodologies that they find pertinent to a project. Their control diminishes once the designed work leaves their hands and moves to a collaborator, a printer, a colleague, a website, etc.

    We proposed the creation of a laboratory for the performance of graphic design independent of the expectations of real-world projects, such as technology dependency, budgetary restraints, and defined formal outcomes. The laboratory invigorates our creative process by incorporating experimental tactics. It serves as a platform for observation, invention, practice and deployment of our work. As designers, we believe it is in our best interest to be aware of the ways in which we work in order to propose new ideas.

    We see the lab as a place in which we have collapsed the process (from inspiration to dissemination) into a much shorter, leaner process in which us, the designers, exercise more control over most stages of the project, in order to be able to experiment with others such as the point where we involve the audience who can help design the end product, print it, publish it and walk away with it; or the consideration of unplanned inputs that could steer a project in a different direction than the initial plan.

    Inside the lab, we regarded design as a performance in which a designer plans, directs, performs and sometimes deploys a piece. The designed piece, although important, was not as important as the way in which we could work together. The performance in turn could be analyzed and replicated as a working method for incorporation into other projects.

    Systems are made to be broken

    Inside the laboratory, restraints were controlled and adjusted in order to test certain processes and the way in which they were performed. Each performance was a different experiment, and the performers accepted some amount of failure. The failures were valuable because they were serendipitous images, texts, and formal explorations that could be used in the future. Let me give you an example. Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses were two urban planners who shaped the way New York worked as a city. They had completely different ideals of what a city should be. New York City's plan was evidence of those differing points of view. We wanted to find a way for them, Jacobs and Moses, to have a discussion.

    We designed a system meant to force them to hold a dialogue in the printed and web pages through their lives' work. Luiz and I collaborated in the design of a book. We designed an individual book for each author. Robert Moses' book was printed in blue ink, using a vertical-oriented grid, and a sans-serif typeface. Jane Jacobs's was printed in red ink, using a horizontal-oriented grid and a serif typeface. We limited the number of pages each book would take, and after we finished designing the books, we ran each page twice through the printer, once for each book. The result of this printing experimentation was a series of unexpected layouts that were visually appealing. The overlay of colors and the way in which the texts were laid out in opposing directions made the two texts crash against each other, which embodied the way these differing visions for the urban layout of New York shaped the city. While we saw the printed pages of a book as the evidence of the forced dialogue, Luiz and I edited and adjusted the layout to make the collision evident while making the book readable.

    When we thought about the website, we wanted to give up the editorial control we exercised in the printed version. So we let readers of the webpage adjust the size of the browser window and therefore choose the amount of collision on screen. While typically the formal experimentation we performed could be seen as a printing mistake, we planned a system in which the collision was not only evident, but the overlaying tactic became a reductive literalization of a critical disagreement between two thinkers. The technique rendered text illegible and could be adopted for different content that was not unique to the text of urban planners. The tactic could be adopted for opposing viewpoints of any kind and yield visual jokes through the subtraction and collision of content. Under the laboratory, this forced dialogue technique made us accept and encourage bad jokes, reductionism, and failure, because these "mistakes" were sources of viable techniques for future work.


    In the fall of 2012, MICA hosted a visiting artist workshop with Adam Michaels, principal of Project Projects, a design studio focusing on print, identity, exhibition, and interactive work with clients in art and architecture. We were challenged to write something about our thesis and use it to frame and/or make a piece. Luiz and I decided to have a chat using Google mail's messaging system. The conversation resulted in a dialogue about our creative process and the state of our collaboration. We agreed and disagreed about the direction of our thesis and its conception. We found our ideas to be worth capturing as a manifestation of our interest in the creative process in the form of a manifesto.

    The transcript of that conversation became our working content. We decided to create a dramatic play named *Snapshot* that was meant to capture the state of our thesis at the time. The play helped us frame the project in order to create a deliverable printed piece meant to be performed by two designers. The conversation became the dramatic play/manifesto of our ways of working and overall approach to the practice of graphic design. Snapshot helped us frame a project as a form of a creative *dérive*.

    In psychogeography, a *dérive* is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travelers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience. While *Snapshot* is a self-referencing project, it was born out of an unplanned open-ended premise which in turn helped us craft a unique piece that otherwise wouldn't have been possible through a conventional design process.

    Form before function

    Just like researchers test hypotheses, designers can design without aesthetic directives or ideas in mind, letting form guide function. Informed by our own experiments and practice as designers, meaning can be gathered from formal experimentation as opposed to strategically planned outcomes gathered by other collaborators. Asking *what ifs* or *why nots* can lead to unexpected results that in turn could yield meaning or direction to a piece. The act of misusing a material informed this formal exploration.

    When deciding whether our collaboration was going to be a viable way of working on our thesis project for the whole duration of our second year at the MFA program, Luiz and I decided to launch an experiment called Play. The rules were simple. The topic was play, and we picked the subject, halftone patterns, arbitrarily. The objective of the experiment was to explore and misuse the subject without consideration of the formal consequences. We wanted to see each other's ways of working alone and together. Framed as a very loose experiment, the game resulted in outcomes wildly different in format, form, and media. The game enabled us to cover a vast amount of visual experimentation on the topic without reading about it first. Following the logic of the overlay, pattern construction and color combination in which a halftone pattern works, we formally explored the subject. Needless to say, there were a lot of "mistakes." No winners or losers were picked, but it was a great way for Luiz and me to understand the way in which each other worked and made decisions about what formally worked or not. We made motion clips, book structures, 3D renderings, and large-scale graphics. Even though we had no particular project in mind, we saw the need for all these "mistakes" to be documented as ongoing pieces of research. The project needed an identity and framework in the form of a blog, which we called Pinlab. Function followed form.

    Prototype together, own it later

    When we prototype, the first thing most of us do for inspiration is get in front of the computer, check a list of websites, and come up with an idea to flesh out. We imagine a way in which a concept should come to life and instinctively want to gain control of the rest of the project: copy, colors, form, type, etc. We are are trained to control as many aspects as possible in order to convey meaning and drive a message through our work. We, as designers, value and thrive for the control of a project and as many of its elements as possible. Our profession demands us to double- and triple-check a file before sending it to press, color-correct images, press-check books, copy-edit texts, annotate websites, all in the name of perfection. We are expected to deliver perfect pieces consistently, and our response is to control every single piece of a project as long as we can.

    As a response, we developed a performance/game called *Design Ping-Pong* in which designers design a poster about a common topic. For our experiment, we used the phrase "You Only Live Once," most commonly referred to as YOLO. Each player started with one file and, after ten minutes, swapped files with the other player, thus taking turns designing each piece. Players controlled the design of one file, then surrendered control of that file to their partner, who did the same. The results of this process became visual manifestations of different visions of what the poster was and should communicate. The final posters were the results of a combined effort between designers whom otherwise wouldn't have worked together.

    The idea for this performance came from a workshop at MICA, during the spring of 2012, with Neil Donelly, Daniella Spinat, and Mary Voorhees-Meehan. They introduced design table-tennis as a way to generate formal exploration. We focused our attention on the abdication and assumption of control as a performance of graphic design.

    Sometimes the temporary abdication of control doesn't have to be given to another designer. The absence of control could come from the embracing of technology as another element that dictates outcomes. Using long-exposure photography to capture light, Luiz threw a set of Christmas lights and his iPhone inside of an open dryer. The outcome was visually astounding and completely unexpected. While as a designer, Luiz used a camera to capture the movement, the motion of the lights and the phone dictated by the way in which the drier works represented an abdication of control.

    Keywords as ways to frame a project

    There are different ways in which we, as designers, frame projects. We write briefs, we brainstorm ideas, and we create moodboards. We tried using keywords as frameworks for prototyping, leaving open the possibility of misinterpretation in order to explore visual ideas. By using transparency as a keyword for the development of the identity of b-x lab, we started to pursue individual directions. After twenty minutes, we looked at what each other was doing and mashed both ideas in order to make an animated logotype that consisted of the letters b and x passing behind a translucent layer (a “box”) that warped the shape of each letter.

    Designing a plan

    We devised a process called *Designing with Buckets* in which we made boxes for a website. As designers would finish elements that belonged in these boxes, or buckets, they would fill pre-determined spaces inside them. Four designers collaborated on a work of data visualization showing the struggle of growth experienced by the BRICS countries. The piece was developed in 72 hours.

    Design, the outcome of performance

    During our MFA exhibition, we ran an installation/participatory design piece called the Logo Parlor. Participants were invited to rank, from 1 to 10 (one being the lowest and 10 being the highest possible ranking), 20 of the most frequently used attributes used in interviews across different industries for candidates to describe themselves. Participants were also asked to pick one verb from 10 options that best described their occupation. The system was devised so that each number became the axis for a polygon that became a unique logo for each participant, like a blanket with different folds. The verb that participants picked dictated a previously designed pattern that would become the skin for the polygon. The success of the piece depended on the participation of individuals in order to produce a variety of logos during the exhibition. Sixty participants took part in the project, and all of them got a set of ten business cards with their logo and contact information. As part of the exhibition, we designed our class' website that served as a common place where all of us had links to our individual thesis projects. We decided to use this opportunity to deploy a method we call *"Design over your Shoulder.*" The rules were simple. All we did as designers was follow directions and translate the vision of others. In this case, each one of our classmates visited the space, and we made a poster in thirty minutes with a previously shot photograph. All posters were developed around the theme “Graphic Design Kills,” but with different individual perspectives of what the concept meant.

    Experimentation, an ongoing research

    I learn different things in different ways, and I have come to see the process of learning as a way of making mistakes and addressing those mistakes in order to form knowledge. I learn by making mistakes. I see these experimental tactics as an exciting way to make mistakes and incorporate serendipitous findings into my everyday professional practice. Through our laboratory, Luiz and I proposed the abdication of control over some aspects of the design process as a way to generate and embrace unexpected results. Our collaboration was based on an honest admiration for the ways in which each other worked. While Luiz was a strong proponent of the absence of the designer in all of our experiments, I tried to be the voice of control. Today, we continue to have a passion for what we do. Design for us is a fun way of living and working with others. Our thesis experiments were a translation of the ways in which we worked. We are designers sometimes absent, but mostly in control.

    This writing is all about encounters
    Luiz Ludwig

    Some encounters change lives forever. Some encounters are important; some are not. Some encounters happen by chance; some, by appointment. An unexpected encounter can interfere with your decisions or give you an insight. As a Brazilian saying goes, “Life is the art of encounter, though there are many disencounters throughout life.” That’s what this writing is about. I’m writing about the important, unexpected, and unforgettable encounters of my life.


    It is September 28th, 2002, exactly 8.30pm, in Rio de Janeiro. At a cool, graphic-design office, a few steps from the beach, I am working on a big project. For the first time in my life, I am in charge. The project is a collection of five 300-page-books about nature and the environment. It must be at press tonight by 9 p.m. While I export all the files, I can already picture the beautifully printed work in my portfolio, the possible awards and the prestige. I am only 21 years old, but I am determined to do my best. I send the files to be printed with a feeling of pride. Two days later, around 7 p.m. on a Sunday, I receive a call from a strange number. “I’m Joe from the press.” Everyone knows hearing from the press shop is not a good sign. “The books you sent to us are already printed. We have 1,000 copies. I’m just letting you know.” Relief is the best word to describe my feeling that time.

    “However,” the guy continues, “trying to glue the cover to the internal pages, we realized that the cover’s size is wrong. Is that possible?”

    “No. You guys must have made a mistake,” I answer. How can he possibly think I messed up with the work of my life? I can clearly recall I checked the size three times…. Maybe once, but I am pretty sure I did…. Actually, maybe I didn’t check at all. How could I have not checked the cover size before sending it to the press? Oh, my God.

    I sit in silence. I realize my only option is to admit the mistake.

    “I am so sorry, Mr. Joe. It was my fault. I didn’t check the file. What can you do to help me, please? I beg you. There must be a solution. I don’t have money to reimburse the clients.”

    He tells me everything is going to be fine. He is going to see what he can do. Five minutes later, he calls me again saying he figured it out. He tells me the books didn’t turn out perfectly because he had to put some extra glue but the result seemed honest. And he concludes:

    “Mr. Luiz, if you don’t tell anyone about this mistake, nobody will notice.”

    I will never forget Joe’s words. Ever since this experience, whenever I hang out with designers, I hear them complain about guys who run presses: they don’t meet deadlines, and they mess up the colors. I listen to their protests and silently disagree. My experiences prove exactly the opposite. I learnt that sometimes the guy who runs the press can save your life.


    Now it is April 10th, 2007. It is 6-ish, in Rio de Janeiro. At a not-so-cool bar, a few steps from the beach, I’m a sophomore working on my first freelance job.

    The project is due in 5 days and I still have nothing to show for the meeting. The client is a complainer. The deadline is short. I don’t have any ideas. There is no one to blame. To escape from my problems, I usually look for someone else’s problems. Sometimes I wander in the street, trying to hear pieces of conversations.

    Sometimes I take a seat and observe people, wondering about their lives.

    I go to a bar with some friends. People talk bullshit in bars, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to make me forget about my troubles. I fix my eyes on a couple who are at the table facing to me. He is puny, wears a pretentious shirt and a bit of hair gel. The young guy talks about the God particle, Sartre, and the new Woody Allen movie. I have no particular interested on them, but I keep observing just for fun.

    Then he tells a story that would change my life forever.

    A mysterious archer lives in small village in the south of China. Every morning, the villagers find a number of trees with archery targets painted on their trunks. In the center of every bull’s eye is an arrow. Everyone wonders who this amazing archer could be. After much investigation, they discover that the amazing archer is a little girl. How does she do it? She shoots the arrow into the tree trunk, and wherever it lands, that’s where she draws a bull’s eye.

    The pretentious guy summarizes the moral: “Appearances are often deceiving, Baby.”

    The story strikes me. My mind blows up. A number of ethical questions pop up right away. Is the little girl a deceiver? Does the village have to know truth? Why does it matter?

    That moment I realize that the way we do things is as important as the things themselves. Naturally I knew that before, but the story is a clever metaphor that makes everything clearer.

    The Chinese archer’s story has never left my mind. Now, in all my work, I consider the process. I don’t want to deceive people. I see many designers drawing the bull’s-eyes after shooting their arrows. I don’t want to be this guy. Every time I see a beautiful book, I stop and think, “Nice book.... But how was it made?”


    It is 1998. It is 6 p.m., in the countryside. My friend’s father owns a beautiful farm close to Rio de Janeiro. My friend decides to celebrate his birthday by taking a trip to the farm. To me, a farm means smelly horses and annoying mosquitos. I should’ve stayed home. I’m sharing a bedroom with five boys whom I’ve never seen before. I have sleeping problems. Every time I have to sleep away from home, I can’t. I should’ve stayed home. I am really shy, and I don’t know anyone. I’m that lonely guy who stays in the corner of the dining room while everyone is eating, chatting, and having fun, waiting for a miracle to take me out from this awkward situation. The trip will last for 5 days. It’s torture for a timid kid. To make things worse, there are some girls who laugh at me every time they see me. I have no idea why. I definitely should’ve stayed home.

    There is a circus coming to town. We are all going. I’m nervous.

    We get there, the lights are turned on, and the performance begins. Although it is a crappy circus, it entertains me. Instead of thinking about my boring farm trip, I pay attention to the show. Suddenly, the presenter tells the audience there will be a contest. The challenge is to imitate animals. He asks the audience for volunteers to compete for the prize.

    My stomach cramps, my hands sweat, my heart beats faster.

    What I most fear is happening. I raise my hand. I go to the stage to imitate an animal.

    On stage, the presenter asks me which animal I will imitate. I don’t hesitate.

    “A pig.”

    The performance is a success. People applaud. I win first prize. The girls who laughed at me compliment my performance. I don’t know what happened to me. I had a stroke of courage and I was well rewarded.

    That day is the first day I performed in front of an audience. I understood the mixture of anxiety and satisfaction that involves making a public performance. After that trip, I enrolled in drama classes and acted in school plays. Although I am not a professional actor, I apply everything I learn about performance into graphic design. I love to disclose my creative process and show my work. I find valuable not only doing the work for a client but also showing how I work. I love to work with my clients. By that, I mean that the client and I may sit together at the same computer. I’m aware it is dangerous; many experienced designers already told me that. But I want people to get involved in what I’m doing. Not to mention, it is a good way to dispel the myth of the designer as a genius who should be hidden from everyone to await inspiration.

    My only problem is that so many graphic designers are introverts. So many times people call me an exhibitionist, but I call myself a performer.


    These events changed my life forever. To embrace mistakes, to be aware of the process, and to incorporate performance became core points of my everyday design practice. And I wanted to investigate further these subjects.

    For my Master of Fine Arts thesis project, I explored the creative process in graphic design. In collaboration with Javier Lopez, we created B–X Lab, which is a laboratory where we could try, experiment and make mistakes. In the lab, we challenge the usual methodology of graphic design. “What if we had no clients?” “What if the concept came after the piece is done?” These were some of the questions brought up that went against the traditional design methods. As part of the lab, we also investigated how “absence” could be incorporated in graphic design. Strongly influenced by conditional design, we created different sets of rules for each project and asked other people to contribute. We wanted unexpected results.

    Finally we incorporated the performance. The result was Seventeen-day Studio, a full-service design studio that allowed the audience to interact with designers. In collaboration also with Young Sun Compton, the studio was located at Meyerhoff Gallery where everyone could talk to us and share their perceptions of design. We created three main ways of interaction. We had a Poster Machine, a Logo Parlor, and a Book Shop, where the audience could make its own posters, business cards, and books, respectively. In addition to that, Seventeen-day Studio also promoted events where the audience was invited to participate in designing pieces.


    These events changed my life forever. To embrace mistakes, to be aware of the process, and to incorporate performance became core points of my everyday design practice. And I wanted to investigate further these subjects.

    For my Master of Fine Arts thesis project, I explored the creative process in graphic design. In collaboration with Javier Lopez, we created B–X Lab, which is a laboratory where we could try, experiment and make mistakes. In the lab, we challenge the usual methodology of graphic design. “What if we had no clients?” “What if the concept came after the piece is done?” These were some of the questions brought up that went against the traditional design methods. As part of the lab, we also investigated how “absence” could be incorporated in graphic design. Strongly influenced by conditional design, we created different sets of rules for each project and asked other people to contribute. We wanted unexpected results.

    Finally we incorporated the performance. The result was Seventeen-day Studio, a full-service design studio that allowed the audience to interact with designers. In collaboration also with Young Sun Compton, the studio was located at Meyerhoff Gallery where everyone could talk to us and share their perceptions of design. We created three main ways of interaction. We had a Poster Machine, a Logo Parlor, and a Book Shop, where the audience could make its own posters, business cards, and books, respectively. In addition to that, Seventeen-day Studio also promoted events where the audience was invited to participate in designing pieces.


    Writing the credits and acknowledgments for thesis, I realized I didn’t get to this point by myself. I am deeply grateful not only advisors, my family, and my girlfriend but also the pressman, the couple in the bar, and the circus. The encounters that I had in my life made me the guy I am. And they had a profound impact on the way I work. This writing is not only about my thesis but also about encounters: the encounters that changed my life.