Cris Mascort on her career journey, working around the world and the importance of your health
Cris Mascort is an independent brand designer, product designer and art director with more than 15 years of experience in the field. A creative polymath, she has worked across a range of industries for clients like Converse, Tom Ford Beauty, Givenchy, IKEA, Nike, Google, Beats by Dre and Open. Born in Barcelona, Cris’ career has spanned multiple major cities, and now divides her time between New York and Barcelona. We caught up with Cris to find out more, and in return, she gave us an honest insight into the lasting impact of these cities, and revealed the lessons she’s learned from her creative career thus far.
PT Hi Cris! How are you?
CM I’m good, thank you :)
PT You’ve worked in several different cities – have any of them left a lasting impression on the way you live and work?
CM I think all of them, really, and for different reasons: Barcelona is my hometown. I was born and raised there, and I’ll always have it in my identity as a person and as a designer. London was my gateway to experiment and shake up my life on all levels. My experience there was undoubtedly a catalyst for my career: I discovered product and brand design and shifted my career.
I think New York was where I grew immensely, personally and professionally. I solidified most of my craft and process (I’m still learning) and met incredibly talented people, from colleagues to clients, from whom I learned so much. Cities make an impression on you, but I believe it’s about the people and experiences you encounter in your journey. I feel very grateful for the people I met and worked with, in both cities.
New York was intense (wouldn’t be New York!), and the energy you get there is contagious and unstoppable, but Barcelona will always be my healing and healthy place. It gives me the space and peace to process everything I learn; that’s a luxury. Today, I get to have the best of Barcelona and New York simultaneously as I’m bridging my life between these two amazing cities. I’m lucky to call them home.
I’m not productive from 9 to 6 (no one is!)
PT How do you think your approach to work has changed over the last two years of the pandemic?
CM It changed immensely because I started working remotely and independently.
When I started working independently, I got to think more about my filters for new business – which is something I have been craving for a long time. Think about the clients I was working with and their mission (and mine). It’s been a year of testing, for sure.
Remote work also had a significant impact on the way I work. There is still a lot of testing on this too, but I have the freedom to organise my work based on my creative process and metabolism (yes, that’s important) and not because of strict office hours. I have creativity peaks during my day; I’m not productive from 9 to 6 (no one is!). For example, I need constant breaks when I’m on my period. Now I can go to doctor's appointments in the morning or exercise when my body needs to. I get to organise my day freely; I get to eat healthier because I have time to home-cook. My productivity and creativity levels are higher than ever.
Also, the world has opened up. Time zones are more important than cities. I get to work with people that are not physically where I am more than before, so we have access to more talent and better projects. It’s exciting to see clients embracing this more and more too.
PT What was the catalyst behind your decision to work independently?
CM Just before the pandemic, I was more aware of the impact of our work as designers and the clients I was working with. When COVID-19 hit, we all went through a period of adaptation with remote work, working more hours than ever, and trying to keep up physically and mentally with everything. At the same time, the terrible death of George Floyd hit us all, and the Black Lives Matter movement raised its voice. We all wanted to contribute somehow.
At that point, the thought hit me, and I started wondering how I could contribute as a designer in a more meaningful way, on a micro or macro scale. I wanted to start picking different initiatives and companies and help with creative power.
At the same time, like so many people, I was burned out. I was exhausted, extremely sad, and with no drive or passion for design – that was scary. So I quit my job to freelance for a bit. While figuring that out, a start-up called Open from Los Angeles reached out, and I got really engaged with their project. Open is a social platform for meditation, breathwork, and yoga that combines practice, technology, and design to explore a more significant collective presence and awareness. I decided to park my independent journey and try the in-house experience. I joined them for a while from New York as Head of Design. I learned a lot from the experience and the team, and I felt I was contributing to something meaningful daily.
In the meantime, I also felt I needed to spend time in Barcelona with family and friends. Unfortunately, when I landed, I went through a rough period of health issues, including surgery, and had to stay in Barcelona for longer than I initially planned. At the same time, US embassies were closed (I was updating my VISA), and there was no way for me to come back to New York anytime soon. Call it serendipity or destiny, but I found myself back on my independent journey.
PT Is there anything that you miss about working in-house or with agencies? Anything that you’re happy to leave behind?
CM I miss not working physically with a team. I believe hybrid models are the way to go. I recently joined a creative community workspace to be with other designers, architects, and people from our industry. It had a positive impact, for sure.
I also miss the mentorship process with the junior members of the team. It’s very gratifying to see them growing and be able to support them. I had incredible mentors myself and learned a lot from them by being side by side every day. It’s hard doing this remotely.
I don't regret anything I experienced in the past because that led me to the decisions I made to be where I am today. But I’m seeing the benefits of not being in more complex corporate structures (for now, at least) that sometimes can go against creativity and productivity for the reasons I shared before. I’m aware this is easy to say when you only manage yourself or a small team, for sure.
Digital forms of design are incredible, but they can feel too ephemeral.
PT Is there anything that you would change about studio culture, based on what you’ve learned from your experiences?
CM I’ve recently learned about my colleagues at Fictive Kin in New York and their interesting business model. It’s inspiring the way they approach revenue growth which essentially, they are not strict or aggressive about it to protect the team’s motivation and workload.
Agencies and studios could democratise new business too. Some already do it, but I think it's important they consider what type of clients, industries, and projects the team wants to work with.
Probably this happens more in big agencies: I would empower junior team members more, especially in scoping decisions and client-facing meetings and presentations. Isolating designers from production, finance, and new business feels wrong to me. They will be the ones doing the work and know how long it will take them to do it.
In bigger studios and agencies, we definitely need to reduce the number of meetings. Less talking, more doing. I remember finding myself in the past in meetings all day with no time to design or do work.
Last but not least, we all have a lot of work to do around unconscious bias and diversity. Building diverse teams, allowing hybrid models for parenting and remote work for everyone, and stopping having strict 9-to-5 office hours (at least internally, not client-facing).
PT What are your favourite mediums to work with? Are there any disciplines/materials that you would like to try out?
CM Brand identity projects allow me to think holistically across any touchpoints where the brand will manifest. I primarily work on digital-only brands, where the focus is mostly on screens. I’m fascinated by using technology to create unpredictable outputs a human could take too long to make. I enjoyed past projects where I was building and conceptualising brand systems using generative design and partnering with engineers or developers: you can get complex graphic systems, motion, 3D, and interaction all at once and faster.
I also have a fetish for books. I think I unconsciously collect them, so one of my pending projects is around editorial design. I'd love to design a book and do more packaging as well. Digital forms of design are incredible, but they can feel too ephemeral. There is something very romantic about a physical object. The more senses are involved, the more real and the more we can relate to them.
PT Your project for ESCAC was created pro-bono, why did this project stand out for you?
CM ESCAC it’s a big institution in Catalonia and Spain and one of the most prestigious filmmaking education institutions. When my good friend and colleague Marc Sanchez asked me if I wanted to help out, it felt like a dream job: creative freedom and a streamlined stakeholder approval process. We also worked together in the past, so I didn't hesitate much. And I love cinema.
Since I started spending more time in Barcelona, I have wanted to contribute more to local and design culture, as I was part of a group of creatives that left in 2008. Now I spend more time in Spain, but I keep working abroad – I wanted to balance that out.
PT What are you looking forward to this year?
CM First of all, I’m looking forward to keeping my health up. I took it for granted before, and it’s hard to keep up with the rest without it. Also, now that the pandemic is slowing down and borders have reopened, I hope to balance out my time in both New York and Barcelona.
Also, I'm in the trenches of opening my studio practice, which is exciting. It is a challenging process, but my friends at Super Keen and Santos Dilone have been very supportive by providing insights and information, so I feel I’m making the right steps. I can't share more spoilers because I’m still in the trademark process, but I hope to launch this year.