Interview of Clementine Carriere,a sustainable graphic designer.

I interviewed Clementine Carriere the founder of Concrete Nature, a design graphic studio focus on sustainability.

What is your background ?

I studied in France, at the Ecole des beaux-arts de Nancy. I basically did the equivalent of a BA & MA in Communication. During this time I also studied in Dublin at the National College of Art & Design as part of the Erasmus program. 

After finishing my MA in France, I joined the Master program at the London College of Communication in London and completed a MA in Contemporary Typographic Media. 

I started my professional career in London as an intern in various places and I joined a design studio as a Junior designer. I worked there for two years and decided to start freelancing to work with different people in different types of environments. After being a full time freelancer for years, I launched my studio Concrete Nature in 2020. 

How would you define your graphic work?

My work has been heavily influenced by different things: the people I studied and worked with, the places where I studied and worked and the overall culture of both people and places. Books and critical writing on curating, graphic design, typography and photography have also heavily nourished my work throughout the years. My work is shaped by the research that goes into each project, might they be personal or professional. 

What do you think is unique about your approach?

The research process and cultural knowledge I own that feed the project I develop. I have built a library of books that act as references for specific subjects (editorial design, typography, ect.), I will dive into them when I start working on projects to activate my brain and get me thinking about the problems specific projects need to solve or to frame better the parameters I am working in. The way we connect things together and the unique knowledge we have is what makes what we do unique because nobody helps does it just the way you personally would. Working on creating your own personal bank of references, reading materials, ect. is essential.

Which graphic designers have particularly touched you?

To name a few Paula Scher, Susanna Shannon, Naresh Ramchandani, Jessica Walsh… To be honest the list is quite long. I think it’s important to be able to read about what’s happening in the creative world, to go to talks to listen to the designers themselves, to learn more about the process of others and to understand the context in which specific work comes into existing. To build a better understanding of your practice, I think that you need to be able to dig deeper in what’s happened before you and what’s happening around you.

What are the encounters that have marked your artistic career?

There are multiple ones that ended up being quite important. Susanna Shannon definitely led me on the path I am now, she shared her expertise alongside incredible resources with me at a moment that was crucial in the development of my practice. The book, magazines or critical writing she shared with me helped me think about design in new ways. Overall her own career has also been a huge inspiration because it showed me you could build something that was personal to you by balancing academia, commissions, self-initiated projects all together. It showed me that you didn’t have to just follow one path or stick to just one thing, which was actually important because it was different to the environment I grew up in for example.

What is the starting point for creating an edition?

It depends if the project is self-initiated or a commission, and what the initial requirements for this commission are. Generally speaking it starts with a combination of questions about the content (what is it? What is it about? Are we going to be working with text, images, both? Who provides the content? Do we have to create the content? Ect.), the budget and the form (will it be printed? Digital? Are they any initial pre-requisites? ect.).

How do you choose the design style or graphic identity you will use?

I start by digging deep into the project I’m working on to understand who it is for (the client and their audience), what it is about, what is the story being it (how things came to exist, what is the unique story of a business, what is the story being a book being made, ect.), how is it going to exist and be used, what is the context in which it exists (the overall markets in which things exists, competitors, partners, the visual landscape of that market, ect.). 

My project always starts by focusing on words. I start with a long series of questions that will help me gain a better understanding to draw an accurate picture of what the project is about, who it is for and what we’re working with basically. The initial material gathered will be used to help me identify themes and specific elements to research or to learn more about and from the research I gather I will be able to start making particular design decisions.

How do you choose a typeface? 

I pick a typeface depending on loads of different parameters: will it be a digital / print / experiential project? Will it be used for small / large text? Comfortable for a long read format or will it need to be read from a distance? Will it exist on top of images / graphics or on its own?

I basically start by trying to understand how people are expecting to interact with the text and how that text will interact with the rest of the content and the form. Once I have answered all of these questions I generally have some ideas of options that could work or that would fit the purpose and style I’m working with. 

The next phase is to test multiple options, if it lives online, see how it reads on multiple devices at different sizes, if it lives on paper, print it out and see what it looks like. If your project mixes digital, print and experimental you need to make sure your typographic choices work across all platforms. 

Another thing to take into consideration is that budget might also be a decisive element in your decision making process based on your client’s requirements, or your own budget if you’re developing a personal / self-initiated project. 

One of the best things to do is to build your own little catalogue of foundries and websites selling fonts so when you need you can just dig into that catalogue.

Do you systematically make a template or do you sometimes take liberties with the conventions?

I always start by creating a grid. The process helps me understand how I want to explore the space I am working with or how the form & content relate to each other for example. Each project is unique and the way you will work with your grid depends on the needs of each project. You can build modular systems, you can use the grid to subvert it, ect. 

When working as part of a team, it’s also essential to have a system in place. It helps to create coherent work, particularly when designing the issue of a magazine for example. Generally speaking, multiple people will be working on the same issue at the same time and everyone will rely on a system of grids to create a coherent piece in the end. It doesn’t mean you can’t take liberties or work off the grid, it’s just good to start with by working from the same system initially.

How do you incorporate the notion of sustainability into graphic design?

Right now I just think that we can’t afford not thinking about how sustainable our design choices are. We are in a position to influence others by the decision and the decisions we make have a direct impact on our communities and environment. 

We can make specific choices at different steps of the process by considering the techniques and the materials we use to produce our work but also who our collaborators are. Additionally it is important to think about the life cycle of what we produce: where does it end up? What happens once it serves the purpose for which it was created? Do your readers / consumers / audience know what to do if anything needs to be discarded?

Does the notion of sustainability force you to make graphic designs?

The notion of sustainability creates limits but also new possibilities. It helps define the parameters in which you’re working and pushes you to interrogate yourself and dig deeper to design new solutions. 

When thinking about integrating sustainable solutions within my projects, I look at what the project need in order to exist: (printing techniques, materials (paper for example), size/format, ect.) and I look at what sustainable options are available for these elements or alternatively what the challenges are and how we can overcome them create more sustainable alternative.

I also look at how purposeful or wasteful the different components of each project can be: will they be used more than once when they are produced? What will the journey of every single element be? For example when it comes to designing packaging, it forces me to interrogate how we can reduce waste to create purposeful items.

In terms of publishing for example, there are different ways to approach the subject, for example by looking at the grid or the typographic system you set up to develop a system that allows you to generate a smaller page counter, by picking FSC approved or recycled paper or by looking at your printing techniques.

How do you match green content with green design?

Let’s focus on images first. The images you use or create are important, they convey different layers of meaning. The materials you choose to use for still life images, campaigns or editorials carry with them particular degrees of sustainability. As an art director, you are for example in a position to use materials that are more sustainable, you decide what is worth promoting. 

Language is important: to put it into perspective for example let’s look at greenwashing. A lot of companies are quite regularly accused of greenwashing because they use a language that makes their audience and consumers believe that their practices are sustainable when in reality they aren’t. The language around sustainability can be very difficult to navigate and being precise in the words you use can have a positive impact on the overall mission of pushing for a more sustainable future.

The choices you make as a designer are essential, even if not necessarily obvious. The images you pick, the way you curate a body of work or the way you walk your reader or audience through specific content matters. Generally speaking most projects happen to be a collaborative experience and you will be working alongside other people to bring anything to life. You will be working within a specific frame and every single time you will establish how sustainability intervenes in it. Most projects aren’t particularly about sustainability so the questions of developing sustainable content doesn’t even come into play, but the design choices you make can be more sustainable or promote sustainable solutions. 

Another important aspect I think is how you also communicate about the work you do. Alongside the projects you develop you can specifically focus on the materials you have used, the design choices you have made or the way you have curated the content in relation to the question of sustainability. For example there are been a lot of research into the fact that customers now want to be able to make better choice that have a less detrimental effect on the environment and their communities so as a designer you have the possibility to help them do exactly that by designing things that will inherently integrate sustainable solutions regardless of the content/purpose of your project.

Clementine instagram : @clemintea

Concrete Nature studio instagram : @concretenaturestudio

Website : https://www.concretenature.studio/welcome

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