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The Guardian Angel of Polish Graphic Design

Rene Wawrzkiewicz is a curator, a co-founder of Mamastudio and STGU, and the guardian angel of Polish graphic design. He has organised many design conferences and is the initiator of the Polish Graphic Design Awards, a competition that selects the best designs from the previous year. During the final days for submitting designs to the competition, we met with Rene and asked him about his evolution from designer to competition organiser, and about what can be gained by taking part in PGDA.

Olga: You started out as a graphic designer. You were a co-founder of Mamastudio, but quite soon you became involved in design-related projects such as the Association of Applied Graphic Designers (Stowarzyszenie Twórców Grafiki Użytkowej). How did you go from being a designer to becoming an organiser?

 

Rene: Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been organising something. I’ve always been drawn to collaborating with other people in the design community. When I was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, I organised events of various kinds.

 

After many years of working as a partner at Mamastudio, I was bored with my daily work as a designer. I had a great desire to change something, I wanted to try something new, but at the same time I was afraid of starting from scratch. Everything happened quite naturally, one step at a time. It began when the Association of Graphic Designers was established, then I created and organised larger events such as the Graphic Knowledge Fair. I began to curate exhibitions of applied graphic design, for example the TypoPolo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Then I became involved in various activities related to the promotion of Polish designers abroad. Recently, I co-created an edition of Slanted design magazine dedicated to Warsaw – Slanted Warsaw.

 

I believe that activities of this type are also a form of design, for they aim to create experiences, provide information and develop networks within the professional environment. In addition, these activities enrich me – both as a person and as a designer. They vitalise me and allow me to keep a fresh perspective on what I do.

I believe that activities of this type are also a form of design, for they aim to create experiences, provide information and develop networks within the professional environment. In addition, these activities enrich me – both as a person and as a designer. They vitalise me and allow me to keep a fresh perspective on what I do.

Olga: I view my organising activities in a similar way. Over time, this designing of experiences and processes has taken the place of graphic design. Are you still able to find time for it?

 

Rene: Yes, graphic design is half of my job. After I left Mamastudio, I began collaborating with the New Theatre (Teatr Nowy), headed by Krzysztof Warlikowski and Karolina Ochab. Those were the very beginnings of this institution – a fantastic, creative time when everyone worked literally at one big, common table. That’s when I started to do a lot of design work in the cultural sphere, and it has remained this way until now. Since then, I’ve collaborated with many cultural organisations and institutions. Currently I’m connected to the Studio Theatre in Warsaw.

Designing for culture allows for experimentation, provides an opportunity to make use of artistic language and is an activity on a different value scale than other types of graphic design. Sales are not the most important thing and you can allow yourself more design freedom. The most important thing is to communicate with the audience, build a relationship with them and convey content that is important for the artistic institution through the use of visual language.

Olga: Some time ago you organised a conference on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Ken Garland’s manifesto, in which I had the pleasure of participating. And posters from your Plakatatak campaign were recently visible throughout Warsaw. You often talk about social and political involvement in design. This is something that is rarely discussed. Where did your interest in this subject come from?

 

Rene: When you start working, you’re faced with mundane problems: how to print something or how to convince a client to buy your designs. After a while, you start asking yourself slightly more serious questions about the importance of design, its social responsibility or even about the very definition of design. With time, I became interested in the political and social aspects of design. 

This is not a popular topic in Poland. Lectures aimed at teaching specific skills or entertainment are much more popular. We do a lot of work, we lack time and it’s difficult for us to find a moment in which to reflect on the ideas behind our work and to engage in a committed discussion. In view of what’s currently happening in the world, we will not run away from this conversation and will have to answer these fundamental questions sooner or later.

Olga: You also work outside of Poland, don’t you?

 

Rene: Yes, I’ve been organising exhibitions, lectures and events abroad for years. Last year we launched the Polish Graphic Design Week project, which aims to promote Polish graphic designers during international festivals and events. Last year we managed to go to several events in Eastern Europe – in Minsk, Kharkiv, Kiev and Tbilisi. Polish designers presented their works there as part of such events as “TypeKyiv”, “KDW Design Week Kharkiv” and “Tbilisi Book Days”. This year we’ll go to Glasgow, Breda, Bratislava and Turin. In each of these places I’ll collaborate with local curators and event programmers, recommending Polish designers as speakers. 

Unfortunately, Poles rarely give presentations at important events abroad. I’m trying to create a situation that will give them the opportunity to showcase their work and gain international clients.

 

For years I’ve been working within a network of organisers of design events. It all began with my collaboration with the TypoBerlin conference. Thanks to this we’ve been able to send Polish students to Berlin for the past five years and present Polish designers at this prestigious event. I’ve presented many interesting designers from Poland there, who have also proved their worth as speakers (Agata Szydłowska, Jacek Utko, Janek Bajtlik, Hakobo, Piotr Rypson, Hipopotam Studio and many others). The organisers of TypoBerlin have discovered that it’s worth inviting Poles to the stage and I’m gradually convincing other international events to do so, as well.

Polish graphic design studios don’t often have foreign clients. We mostly work in foreign companies as anonymous employees or serve as “cheaper subcontractors from the East”. It’s high time for this to change. This is why it’s so important for us to boast about our talents in the rest of the world.

Olga: The Polish Graphic Design Awards has a similar aim. It’s a new competition for the best graphic designs from Poland, which will have its finale during Element Talks in June.

 

Rene: Yes, the PGD Awards is meant as a platform for the promotion of Polish design within Poland and abroad. The idea for the competition arose from the need I observed to create a large competition of international renown that would feature the best and most interesting design projects. In Poland we have a very good design environment, of course there are smaller competitions for posters, album covers and advertisements, but there is no single platform presenting the best Polish achievements in all fields of graphic design. Designers don’t believe that participating in competitions or exhibitions makes sense. However, selecting the best works is not only important for the designers themselves, but also for clients and people from outside the design field who are looking for people to cooperate with. What’s more, the competition may become an extraordinary tool in the development of the Polish design scene.

Olga: It will be a great way for clients to find designers. How do you plan to promote the best designers from the PGD Awards?

 

Rene: Among the event’s partners there are many institutions and industry organisations, such as the Patent Office of the Republic of Poland, the PPNT Gdynia Design Centre, the Łódź Design Festival, the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute and the Polish Chamber of Packaging. Information about the designers participating in the competition will reach all recipients and members of these professional circles. In addition, the award ceremony will take place during the Element Talks, so visitors from all over Poland will be in attendance. 

 

We want to reach international audiences with the competition, which is why I chose an English name for it. 

 

Next year, together with many design organisations and with the help of the City of Warsaw, we will organise the finale of the largest graphic design competition on our continent – the European Design Awards. This event will be like the Euro 2012 Championship for our design community and will help our designers become more visible throughout Europe.


 

Olga: Whom is PGDA aimed at?

 

Rene: The competition is open to everyone. I wanted it to be open even to freelancers and small graphic design studios, hence the very affordable entrance fee. Works can be submitted by designers working for foreign clients. Additionally, with the consent of the designers, projects may be submitted to the competition even by clients, institutions and organisations.

 

Olga: I’ve noticed there are many categories to choose from. Where did this decision come from?

 

Rene: It was very important to me to give some structure to this field. I consulted with the jurors about the categories, which resulted in the creation of many sub-categories. For example, in the typography category there needed to be a distinction between text fonts and headline fonts. We also had to distinguish between practical and artistic posters. We separated small and large visual identities in the same way. I think we have a lot of new and relevant categories. In this way, we wanted to be able to evaluate the submitted works fairly and objectively.

 

Olga: What are your plans for developing the competition in the future?

 

Rene: Above all we want to develop our website so that it presents all the distinguished and awarded participants in the best possible way. Then we will expand it to an international audience. In upcoming years, the jury will include representatives of the design industry from other countries: festival organisers, journalists and business representatives. We want to show our excellent Polish designers to the widest possible audience in Poland and around the world.

 

Olga: One last question – why are you called “Rene”?

 

Rene: That’s a question for my old friend, Hipolit, who nicknamed me “Rene” twenty years ago – it’s what I’ve been called ever since.

Published: Apr 27th 2018

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