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TACKY YET INNOVATIVE

An interview with Johann Freitas

Graphic designer and taste maker Johann Freitas was born in Fortaleza, Northeast Brazil. A fashion graduate from Ceará's Federal University, Freitas has been developing innovative graphic design for over 10 years. 

Start by telling us a little bit about you.

I think it’s safe to say that as a millennial who managed to get internet access at the age of 11 my earliest memory of dealing with graphic design must have been trying to make my own "glossy/glass" icons on windows XP to try to make it look more like Windows Vista (at that time I didn’t really know you could, well, install it illegally).  That was kinda what it first got me into softwares like Macromedia™ Firework 2004 which was recommended by a friend of mine that used it to make gifs and templates for her .zip.net blog about Avril Lavigne. She lived minutes from my house and I would always come by to watch her play Counter Strike or just make gifs layer by layer, and when i first got my computer it was probably the first software I installed on it, then after that I remember using PhotoFiltre a LOT to just mess with effects, and it really helped me migrate smoothly into photoshop since it was just a redux version of it in a way.

By 2007, at the age of 14 I discovered DeviantArt when trying to get more photoshop brushes, which made me aware of the work of more independent and amateur people like me,  and discovered this Brazilian blog called Collecta (run by Brazilian designers Erika Tani Azuma and Rodrigo Disperati) that fed my brain with references until 2011 when they stopped posting altogether. I’m pretty sure i stumbled on that blog just cause I was looking for pictures of Tim Burton’s book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories which they posted about right at the start of their blog, so it just became a ritual of waiting for their daily posts haha. When I hit my 20s deciding which career I wanted, graphic design was an unsure option for me cause the federal university had just created it. I opted for fashion cause I had always been fascinated by the cyclical resurrection of things, and what changes between cycles, what stays, what vanishes forever, so I went with fashion, where I was able to understand way more about it. Oh, also, I obviously love fashion, it’s a very dicey thing to say but my love/hate relationship to everything connected to it is a very healthy sign in the end, I think I’m at a point I kind of respect its existence, even though it has become what it is now.

How has growing up in Brazil impacted the work you create?

Just like my very internet-centered discovering of graphic design, Brazil in itself is a very plural country, for better and for worse. I’d be living in a very countryside-minded neighborhood where, to this day, the only hint of graphic design can be found on a couple of "gourmet" restaurant banners or at street corner print shops. At the same time, I could grab a bus and walk to the fancy part of town and visit the library where I would spend hours browsing through fashion, photography, architecture and art books (mostly from either Taschen or Phaidon) and as an easily impressed teenager I’d cherish how the layout of things would entice me to look more, over and over again. So with all that in my brain I’d just automatically compare what I’ve just seen in those books to the billboards, tv ads, flyers and whatnot that would find my way when I taking the bus back home and of course it became a constant in my life, to always compare and later understand what generates these different levels of graphic design, from the two-color (cyan and magenta) neighborhood newspaper, to the street art that covered my neighborhood’s main school walls, to the steel signs on the front of elite professionals like law firms. I had plenty to observe at all times. 

What references are you looking to what inspires you to create new works?

I’ve been a Tumblr user for a decade now, and before that I would always try to take notes on specific names that interested me and just throw them on google once I was home. Nowadays Its still the same process of seeing what my attention fluctuates to the most and see what else I can find that tackles on that same idea/aesthetic and most importantly try to figure what I could be saying, if anything at all, that would add to it. Other than tumblr I’d say I’m mostly connected to wherever instagram takes me haha, as well as just keeping a not so healthy daily regime of browsing through my bookmarked websites like awwwards, typecache, eyeondesign, typesample, fontsinuse, contemporaryartdaily, pages-spread etc. But mostly I’m always hyper-fixating on specific things I find on tumblr and spending hours trying to learn more about them online, like just yesterday I realised I’ve known the 2000 game Roommania #203  for ages now, but never dug deeper, so thats what I did yesterday, downloaded a few PDFs of Japanese magazines from the time, where it had an article on it, and just browsed everything very carefully, I’m quite obsessed with analysing how aesthetic trends begin and end, if they end at all, so it’s always a joy to be able to browse pages and pages of something from a very specific era and think about their design choices, how, in this case, analog pictures would be scanned so they could be printed again in a magazine and you can clearly see how the texture of the picture differs from the solid 00s orange of the magazine’s page (that is also scanned)… it’s all very messy and layered and I love it, don’t really feel like I’m losing my time doing that.

"When speaking of specific imagery in my work, I tend to go for things I believe people don’t usually know about, that might spark a feeling of seeing something new, even if its old."

What role does image play in your graphic design?

The end result is always an image, right? Even if it’s a product, it will have its picture taken, it will be scanned, it will be downsized then stretched out, it will go through instagrams or WhatsApp’s painful compression techniques, it will be damaged, it will only exist in it’s raw high quality self in my hard drive, basically. So I have to make sure that at the very least the feeling I’d like to achieve translates into its future formats, so that’s when i think about how the final image works, well, as an image haha. When speaking of specific imagery in my work, I tend to go for things I believe people don’t usually know about, that might spark a feeling of seeing something new, even if its old, I’ve been thinking about how "future trends" tend to usually derive from niche aesthetics from the past, that are somehow revisited, so it’s very fun to stumble into an specific look a certain era had that doesn't usually pops on peoples mind as being THE aesthetic of that era, but to a niche they were!

*Malena Foyo campaign - logo made by Johann Freitas

Your 997 logos have been evolving through the peak tumblr era and still to this day. What is your process for making logos?

Every now and then I like to at least once a month (used to be once a week) have a moment alone with photoshop, or illustrator, where I just have fun, I write things on, use it as a ephemeral diary, obsess over how a word is written, distort it, over analyze how the pixels interact once I tweak it too much on CameraRAW. These moments usually have me thinking about how I could implement a new way of saying nine nine seven that I haven’t really done before. Even if its the same template on a different typeface, it can show something new, like on the "face" ones that can looks explicitly like a face, sometimes look just like the numbers being rotated, other times kinda look like an angel, with wings and all haha. So they’re all mostly results of this time I take to just mess around with little to no pressure on me.

You recently did design work for Suave, can you tell us about this process and what it was like designing for print?

Working with Santiago for Suave’s logo was a pretty smooth and incredibly fast process. He has known me for my 997 headers and logos and gave me all the details about what he expected for the Suave logo. Being a designer himself was key, cause by the time I sent him the first PDF with the options I’ve envisioned, the final thing was already there, and only needed to be a bit refined and go through a final process.

"I think since my work will feel dated sooner or later, I try to balance that out with things that are already too dated or even in a timeless style of composition."

You use a lot of textures, pops of colour, and complex typography, What do you want for the viewer to feel or experience when looking at these designs? 

I crave novelty in one way or another. I think since my work will feel dated sooner or later, I try to balance that out with things that are already too dated or even in a timeless style of composition, I think that juggling those things together can create things that don’t feel D.O.A. and that maybe I will cherish it in the future for not being exactly what you expect to get from something from that era, if that makes any sense. It’s always a patchwork of stuff i feel aesthetically compelled to put together but that are borderline not meant to be next to each other, like Miuccia’s Prada, there is a lot of mix and match going on to tackle a very specific sense of tacky yet innovative and daring.

Thank you, Johann.  

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