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Designer of the Week Federico Rozo is all about challenging himself; as such, he’s produced quite the varied body of work—from graphic design to branding to artwork restoration. Check it out below, and learn more about his unique approach to design.
Name: Federico Rozo
Location: New York / Buenos Aires
Design school attended: ORT Argentina
How would you describe your work?
I need to believe in the projects that I get involved with. I am in a constant search of meaning in what I do, a meaning that provides something to its cultural surroundings. Of course on my way to where I am today I did all the jobs a graphic designer can do, and it took me a long way and really hard work to be able to say that, but yes I try to do something meaningful to me and therefore to the people who I do it for, who are all of you, not only the clients.
To say an example, I consciously or subconsciously like to treat a graphic piece like it was a song, that magic and openness from songs that make you relate it to your own story and that each one of us hears with different personal ingredients from our own lives. It’s not always like that, but I like to have that feeling or idea present when I work, so it’s like I am communicating a certain concept to everyone’s different perceptions.
It is also the adrenaline of challenging myself with something new and different all the time, that keeps me going and searching. That is why I have stretched the graphic design career to different extremes (hopefully), from a branding project to restoring a historic 1875 ceiling artwork. I come from a drawing background.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere, because I think it’s all about composition and communication, and those two are everywhere in every form: music, literature, film, but of course nature in general; or even the unexpected results of something, like a neighborhood vibe or the way someone speaks, which is also a natural composition by alternated facts. That gives me an inspiration on how to build something and therefore its communication in a rational and sensitive way. Of course I had my years of being obsessed with books about art and graphic design, but not anymore for the moment, as I luckily got to this everywhere-source … and it’s cheaper!
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
I first became aware of graphic design with Toulouse Lautrec when I was a very young kid (I drew the famous Ambassadeur poster when I was about 10 years old! It must be kept somewhere at my parents house); then fell in love with Alphonse Mucha; and later, on a more contemporary graphic design aspect I got totally hypnotized by Milton Glaser‘s poster compositions, with whom I had the opportunity to sit down and chat a couple of times in his studio. Cassandre of course; and Sagmeister as a more recent influence. There was a time when Bauhaus and Russian constructivism had me paralyzed watching and trying to understand how they did such geometric pieces but with so much power and feeling.
I also usually say that I became a designer by seeing all the album covers since I was born, which were a huge influence on me: Bowie, Kiss, Stones, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Stray Cats, Talking Heads and many more. And a few years ago seeing Kraftwerk live totally unscrewed my head and screwed it back in a different position!
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
I don’t want to be cliche but I have to say my last one: The Fitzcarraldo mural I painted in an amazing glass house in East Hampton, NY.
It was once again a huge challenge and a going back to the roots by drawing and painting. We can say it’s art, but it’s also design because it’s a mural inside a super minimal and ultra-designed house; and it all needed to live together well. The interesting thing here is that I didn’t even think of the design aspect while doing it. Now that I am writing about it I think that it worked exactly the other way around my design projects work—because I think that when I design I let my “inner art,” so to speak, flow and influence the current design project sort of unconsciously; and this time I worked on an art project and let my design experience do that unpremeditated influence. I wasn’t thinking about the forms and shapes and the house, I just drew and painted and let go; and it brought me some nice surprises: like the painted trees living together really with the real ones outside the glass house, and how they merge with each other.
The mural concept is huge, it’s a tribute to Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo … nothing is impossible … and I took that same concept with me to be able to achieve such a project. I ended exhausted but enjoyed it 100% every minute. A couple of days I painted for 15 hours almost nonstop, listening to music and flowing.
(you can see the whole mural project on the NEW section in my website)
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Without a doubt everything I did for the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, now “Weylin,” a unique events space. This building is part of the history of New York City and it was originally opened in 1875, designed by architect George B. Post and all the interiors by architect and artist Peter B. Wight. We restored the entire building inch by inch: Glass, murals, wood, mosaic, iron, wallpaper, gold leaf, every design and art form you can imagine.
For that amazing project I was in charge of the branding; the new building’s concept; two very important ceilings restoration; the concept, design collaboration and direction of the entire interior wallpaper (four floors of several historic different styles put together, in collaboration with Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers), plus the production and installation direction; also designing several bronze signs for the interior as well as the NSWE letters for the weather vane, to name a few.
This was such a responsibility and such an opportunity to give back to New York, that gave me so much, and to so many people. It was bringing back to life one of its original icons, and a piece of art that was created by people who are no longer here … not one of them. So all of this to me, and to the whole team directed by Juan Figueroa and Carlos Perez San Martin, was something very serious. I worked hard to make sure it wasn’t one of those so many projects that don’t respect the original concept and that screw it up. This was going to be in all the [New York] newspapers, and we won all of the most important preservation and restoration awards for it. I am so grateful for having been part of such a unique experience.
(you can see more of the project on the FEATURED section in my website)
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I don’t know!! (laughs). Well, I would love to design an album cover for The Rolling Stones!!!! Is that too much too ask?! … Mmmm, yes that, I think I prepared myself all my life for that. And of course everything else, keep on challenging myself and do meaningful work.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
I think that even if the world is worse than ever in a couple of aspects, it’s also getting better in some others, and luckily one of these could be design. I don’t say this as a romantic freak of design (because I don’t think I am that) but there are various chances that design “can save the world”! So my advice is to zoom out, be aware of what you do and why you do it; then zoom back in and connect with it in a way you can learn from the surroundings of that piece so you see what part of the puzzle you are creating. Don’t design blindly. Don’t add anything where you don’t have to. If there’s nothing there’s pure harmony; if you are going to fill that space with something, try to do it in a way it merges with that original harmony and that it doesn’t interrupt it.
The traditional Japanese art, which I also admire so much, does this in such a beautiful and mysterious way; it’s like if the artists went below this original harmony and then they elevated it for you to be aware of it through their art, without imposing anything over the eventual atmosphere and nature but enhancing them by merging their craft with that space in the most respectful and gentle manner.
More work by Federico Rozo:
Enter the PRINT Regional Design Awards—now open to both pros and students—for a chance to have your work published, win a pass to HOW Design Live, and more. 2017 Judges: Aaron Draplin / Jessica Hische / Pum Lefebure / Ellen Lupton / Eddie Opara / Paula Scher. Student work judges: PRINT editorial & creative director Debbie Millman and PRINT editor-in-chief Zachary Petit.