Žarko Dumicic and Vaishnavi Mahendran graduated of the Parsons AAS Graphic Design Program in 2012.
Vaishnavi completed her Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Mumbai and has a Masters degree in Marketing from the UK. After her Masters, and finishing a summer school course at Central Saint Martins, London, Vaishnavi was urged to apply to Parsons, by a former boss while training at design firm Red Lion, Publicis, in Mumbai. Her boss cited Parsons as one of the best schools for design, as well as mentioning that, being located in New York City, one of the most exciting cities to be a creative in, it would be an excellent choice for her future career aspirations — her boss was definitely right!
While completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics in Zagreb, Croatia, Žarko was introduced to the New School after a brief encounter with an inebriated Polish man in Sydney, Australia, who after a short discussion about their interests randomly urged him to continue his education there. Realizing that the New School has a strong design program and with the prudent advice of this friendly stranger to embolden him, Žarko applied and was accepted into the Parsons’ AAS Program and moved to New York. Despite the fact that his path to Parsons was less than traditional, it was clearly one of the best decisions he has ever made.
Vaishnavi and Žarko met at the second day of school waiting for a class to begin and the rest is, as they say, history… They both credit much of their design success to the comprehensive and challenging curriculum at Parsons.
After graduating and working in New York, they recognized the strong potential and opportunities for design in an emerging market such as India, Vaishnavi’s home country. They currently work together between Mumbai & New York through their new design studio, BLŌK, and are presently designing for a number of local & international clients. The Studio’s work spans a number of different mediums, from visual identities and package design to commissions by companies to curate the spatial design both in and outside of their offices.
In addition to their corporate work, Žarko and Vaishnavi have completed a variety of very exciting and creative self-initiated side projects over the course of their partnership. During the summer of 2013 they created an alphabet series constructed by projection mapping typography onto cardboard building blocks. Each of the 26 letters were made into a poster and subsequently hidden in bookstores, libraries and art galleries around the world. All of the posters contained a small description of the project, as well as their contact information. As these posters were located, they were able to make connections with fellow designers around the world, some of whom they are still in contact with.
While many of their projects have been highly conceptual, they also take as much care and use as much creative intuition to the more practical projects they have designed. When faced with the challenge of the limited availability of typefaces in Hindi, they simply created their own!
The geometrical typeface that the studio uses for Roman letters was re-appropriated for Hindi use. It is this kind of attention to detail, recognition of gaps in the design market, and creative problem solving that has made Vaishnavi and Žarko a dynamic design team, and Parsons is undeniably the vehicle that has guided their passion.
The interview was conducted and edited by Kiel Guba
Žarko & Vaishnavi were also gracious enough to answer some questions, below are the transcribed questions and answers:
Q: What was your inspiration to go into the design field…
V: Growing up I loved to draw and paint, but I think it was through music that I really discovered design and wanted to pursue it as a profession. I used to play drums in bands during school and college and it was during that time, that I fell in love with vintage vinyl cover art & poster design. From iconic works like Milton Glaser’s Dylan cover, Klaus Voormann’s Revolver album cover, to handmade typography of Fillmore posters from the 60s, the visual aspect of music inspired me to begin exploring graphic design.
Ž: I knew I wanted to go into the design field the moment I discovered the work of the French graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude – especially his collaboration with Grace Jones. Another endless source of inspiration is the brilliant Russian graphic designer Alexey Brodovitch.
Q: Share some of your experience from classes at Parsons…
V: Our Tamara Maletić’s class on Typography really opened our minds up to experimenting with form and function in type. My class with Juliette Cezzar (GD2) was an excellent experience and I remember her advising our class once, on growing as young designers, to challenge ourselves by taking up a variety of design projects that may sometimes require new skills that you may not be totally confident about at first, but will end up learning over the course of the project out of practical necessity, with the results often being pretty rewarding. This really resonated with me and has helped in times of doubt as a working designer.
Ž: Our Graphic Design + Silkscreen class with Katarzyna Gruda and William Morrisey was incredibly important and has solidified our typography appreciation and expanded our skills in composition and color. Katarzyna Gruda has also helped me a lot during school and post-graduation in finding internships and work in the city, which was essential for developing my overall skills as a designer. What is also great about Parsons is that we were also able to take classes in other creative fields that went beyond the core graphic design curriculum. We both took Photography as Expanded Media, Projected Environments and Experimental Video, and collaborated on art installations in these mediums.
Q: How has your perception of design changed as a student and after graduating?
V: I definitely see that the process of learning never ends, even after finishing design school — and more importantly that it should not end. As a designer it’s extremely important to keep challenging oneself. Once you get out of design school, you’re suddenly very aware that you don’t always have your professors to keep guiding you to push your limits. So it’s been a conscious effort to remind myself to keep doing so, which is critical to stay relevant as a designer.
Ž: Also I feel it’s incredibly important to generate both artistic and commercial pieces for your portfolio as a student—it shows that you are a well-rounded designer. While studying I was actively denying to produce designs for the mainstream, but working on projects in the market that you assume you won’t like, can be one of the most rewarding experiences—it requires a lot of effort and design thinking to create something that works in the mass market and that is also aligned to your personal aesthetic and comprehension of design.
Q: Now that you are in the design field, what do you feel is the most important advice to interacting with your clients?
Ž&V: One of the essential aspects of working with a client is to include them in every step of the design process. When you include them in the conversation from step one, the final work you present is stronger as a result of truly understanding the client’s desire and vision.
Q: What would your advice be to current and prospect Parsons students?
Ž&V: One of the best things about being in this industry, and its design community, is the fact that it’s so open and collaborative. We would urge students at Parsons to collaborate with their peers, as well as seek advice and feedback from established designers in the industry. We’re always grateful for the advice and guidance received from other designers that we consider our mentors, and some of whom we’ve worked with, such as Katarzyna Gruda, Mirko Ilić, Jan Wilker & Hjalti Karlsson, Tamara Maletić, Julia Gorton, Thomas Bosket, Alex Lin, Langdon Graves.
Editig: Katarzyna Gruda