I haven’t bought one design book in my life.
The creative behind this issue’s selection of digital works is Luciano Foglia, a multidisciplinary visual artist. Luciano has been working in the design industry for over ten years, focusing on interactive design, code-based animations and music. He is currently working freelance as a Senior Interactive Designer for some of the world’s leading brands, agencies, and design studios. His personal time is spent exploring new ways of expression in music and art, working from his studio in Berlin, Germany. Michael Weinzettl interviewed the Argentinian-born allround creative to find out more about his career, about what makes him tick, and the criteria he applied when selecting work for this issue. For a fuller impression of his work, please go to www.lucianofoglia.com.
L.A.: Hi Luciano, as a multidisciplinary visual artist, you divide your time between London and Berlin. Why these two cities?
Luciano Foglia: I lived and worked in London for a long time before moving to Berlin. I mainly work for studios in London, like Unit9, with who I have a good working relationship. So I divide my time between these two cities. I produce my work in Berlin and I periodically go to London to meet the team or, if the situation requires that, for personal management. Lately I’ve extended the working network to include studios and agencies in Paris and Amsterdam.
L.A.: Can you give us a brief overview of your career so far? What was your training like before you got your first job? When did you first get involved in the digital field?
Luciano Foglia: I’m a self-taught designer. I started to work before studying. It’s not a very conventional way of starting out but that was the way things went. I was born in Argentina. After finishing secondary school in 2000, I moved from my town to the city of Buenos Aires. I planned to study graphic design. But while doing the initiation course I made an experiment in Flash for a new restaurant opening in the center of the city. It happened that the owners of the restaurant loved the Flash prototype for a potential website and asked me to work in their ad agency. So while I was doing the initiation course for the university I was already working as a graphic designer. I replaced a former graphic designer while he was on his holidays. It was a massive challenge. It was the first time that I had worked in large-scale print: designing ads for newspapers and big posters for the street. The early clients were international music bands coming to South America to play their gigs. There were also a lot of album releases. It was a very intensive period. In the end I didn’t continue with university, and in 2001 I moved to the north of Spain looking to learn more and get into digital and web. From that moment on, I never stopped working in digital and I moved to Europe definitively.
L.A.: How does your personal work as an artist, your artwork, differ from the projects you do commercially?
Luciano Foglia: My personal work is basically an excuse to experiment, research, or simply test ideas that I have in mind - and to work with people I want to collaborate with. I don’t restrict any of those ideas to any medium. I like to try new things all the time. My personal work varies between music, design, interactive installations, animation and lighting – or any other medium or platform that alerts my curiosity or that I would like to play with.
L.A.: What about online content? Do you think that there will ever be ways of making money from that directly?
Luciano Foglia: I think there is a hope of making digital art and online content profitable. There are some promising projects that are looking in that direction. The goal of many of these is to bring to the user an art experience in digital format. Focusing the attention on collecting the art and being able to resell it. I think the initiative is good. Transforming a home into a personal art gallery by connecting to any of your devices sounds like a good move towards giving value to digital art. As concerns purely online content, there are some new, simple and elegant web-publishing tools which are very interesting. They are typically inspired by the beauty of print and minimal design. One example is ReadyMag, which is featured in my selection of digital work for this issue. You can get started for free or get a Publisher account for a few dollars a month.
L.A.: What, in your experience, has been advertising’s attitude to digital? Do you think that the ad industry has now successfully adapted to the importance of digital and social media?
Luciano Foglia: In my experience, advertising’s attitude to digital has always been the main topic of conversation while working commercially. But digital is much more than just advertising. Not always, but in many cases, advertising principles applied to the interactive world have disastrous consequences. Something I was reading recently nailed this on the head. It related advertising to Sturgeon’s Law, as originally proposed in 1958 by Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer. He concluded that ninety per cent of science fiction was of extremely poor quality. And the same rule can be applied across the board, and especially in the case of advertising. Going back to digital, my vision, as an art director and a visual artist, is that the internet is slowly being turned into what television used to be.
L.A.: Since you’ve worked successfully in several countries and on two continents, would you say this attitude toward digital differs from place to place?
Luciano Foglia: It’s clear that, in European cities, the attitude towards digital is a lot more experimental and advanced compared to what is happening in South America. Working in London, I always felt that I was doing work that was at least five years ahead of what was happening in Argentina. I imagine that gap will get smaller in the future. But I don’t think that the reason for this gap is just about clients pushing more advanced work. It’s a matter of how educated or familiar the users are with online experiences in each country. Some technologies take time to consolidate. And it depends how often people update to the latest technology.
L.A.: How did Tango & Hawaii, your collaboration with Anrick Bregman (who made this selection of digital highlights for our magazine a couple of issues ago), come about and how is it evolving?
Luciano Foglia: The project began as an initiative to create a space to express ourselves in any way possible as long as it represented an artistic challenge, or a desire to learn or understand something new. In 2009, a group of artists invited us to collaborate with CosmicMegaBrain for one of the exhibitions held at Cordy House in London. There, we created the first collaboration for Tango & Hawaii in a formal art event. From that moment on, we haven’t stopped sharing ideas and making work together. We like to create sound and visuals which explore the interplay between the randomized mathematical unpredictability of code and the tangible textures and nuances of real life. Lately, we have been getting together to share ideas that will develop into projects for 2014. We are working on a new body of work that builds on what we have been doing so far. We are in the early steps of creating an interactive documentary made purely in WebGL, and experimenting with motion capture.
L.A.: What would you say are some of your guiding principles in the way you approach work for any client? What are some of the things you always wish to achieve with your work, regardless of the specific challenges to be taken on?
Luciano Foglia: With any project I approach, I always want to achieve design excellence and usability. Sometimes, things that look awesome don’t really work that way. So it’s always important to give some time to think how things work – and not only how they look. I try to imagine in advance what the visual approach to the concept is, and how people will react to it when they experience it for the first time. If possible, I always try to make something different from what I’ve done before. I learn something new in every project. Even in the most commercial projects, there is always something challenging that will lead me to some interesting research.
L.A.: What were some of the biggest projects that you’ve been involved in/biggest challenges you have had to overcome during your time in the industry?
Luciano Foglia: I always like the biggest projects the most because they involve large teams of very talented people from all around the world. One of the most challenging projects was the Doritos Dodgeball Challenge. This was a dodgeball competition that gave a web audience the chance to aim and fire real dodgeballs from specially engineered dodgeball cannons at amateur dodgeball teams playing live for a chance to go to Vegas to compete with the pros. The production company was Unit9. It turned out there were not many cannons on the market that we could adapt for our purpose. So it was a massive challenge for us. The Unit9 tech team in Italy rose to the challenge and engineered a web-controlled dodgeball-firing robot. The live installation ran live every day from 11am to 11pm for a month-long campaign. Another big project I was involved in, and that I really enjoyed working on, was Nike Free Your Run, produced by Random Studio. We created an interactive installation that showed the flexibility of the new Free 5.0 shoe. Our concept was to allow users to control and experience the flex of the shoe simply by moving their bodies. We built a custom application using openFrameworks and a Kinect camera for tracking the users. The application uses multiple layers of high-definition video which can be controlled dynamically in real-time. The interactive installation was in London, Amsterdam, Manchester, Milan, Antwerp, Stockholm, and Barcelona.
L.A.: Which are the projects you’re most proud of?
Luciano Foglia: Sometimes, I’m more proud of small achievements or personal projects than big things. It could be a prototype or a sound design I make just for fun. But, obviously, some commercial projects gave me huge satisfaction. One of the projects I am most proud of was Slavery Footprint. This is an online experience and mobile app that launched on the 149th anniversary of the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation and can tell you approximately how many slaves have been involved in making the goods you enjoy on a daily basis. Unit9 approached me, asking me to come up with the art direction for this very ambitious project. I made a quick mock-up to show the client a new concept based on very simple and geometric illustrations. I didn’t consider myself an illustrator until this project. The client loved the concept and direction. In the end, I made all the illustrations and designs in the experience. I was very proud of seeing this project win a huge number of awards including Awwwards: Site Of The Year 2011 (User Choice), One Show Awards: Gold Pencil, Cannes Lions: Bronze Cyber Lion (Public Services), and SXSW Awards: Winner (Activism) among others.
L.A.: You’ve won lots of awards for your work, including a Cyber Lion at Cannes in 2010. How important, for you and for the industry, are these kinds of awards?
Luciano Foglia: On a personal level, it is always very satisfying to win awards but I never think about winning awards when I’m working on a project. If we win, it’s always a plus point to have recognition for the work done by the team. The reason there are so many, and the reason they are important, is that people want – and need – recognition for their work. Awards help to inspire other people to do their best. They set standards that people strive to match and exceed. They even change how people think.
L.A.: How do you get your inspiration? What do you need to feed your creativity?
Luciano Foglia: I have to admit that I haven’t bought one design book in my life. The few I have are presents from friends who think I may read them. But I rarely open them. My main inspiration is travelling. Maybe I don’t come up with ideas while I’m travelling but it provides the balance for my head and allows me to relax and recharge. I believe many good ideas come by mistake, or as a result of the randomness of life. If something inspires me, it is because I can find a way to improve it. Nothing fully formed can inspire me, because there is no room to grow in it. What I find very attractive is the mixing of platforms and mediums. Taking two things that come from different worlds and putting them together in a digital medium.
L.A.: Can you tell us a bit about the criteria you used when selecting the digital work we’re featuring in this issue of the magazine?
Luciano Foglia: I tried to find sites that not many people know about. I discovered some gems by looking at the work of colleagues, personal work, or surfing the web. I also added some services I use, or communities that I’m part of. It took me a long time to remember all these websites that make a difference for me and which I wanted to share with an audience. I hope you enjoy the selection as much as I do.