The Designers: Marion Bisserier of Two Times Elliott on travel, learning and collaboration
The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For the twelfth interview in the series, we spoke to Marion Bisserier, a designer working at Two Times Elliott in London.
EM Hey Marion. How are you?
MB Hi Elliott, thanks for asking! As for many other people, this year has been full of ups and downs. Lately the good days seem to be taking over the bad ones so I am enjoying that positive energy.
EM Can you think back to when you first developed an interest in graphic design?
MB I can’t remember a specific moment in time or piece of work which sparked my passion for graphic design. Now that I think about it, I see it more as an incremental, natural progression. As a child, I was always sketching stuff and was fortunate enough to visit loads of exhibitions in Amsterdam. Where I went to school in Holland, there wasn’t a graphic design subject per se that I could pick. However, I did have art lessons which I enjoyed a lot and was always interested in languages. It wasn’t until I entered my art foundation at LCC and was inducted to the letterpress workshop that I realised the two things I loved could fit into each other so perfectly. It sounds deep and poetic when I say it like this, but really the first piece I printed on the letterpress was a linocut I made of broccoli with ‘Broccoli’ set in Baskerville for a project I was doing around supermarkets. Unfortunately, I don’t think much critical thinking went into the typeface choice at the time, but there was something in language becoming so visual and tangible through the manipulation of led type that really appealed to me. My tutor Christian Granados showed me how to set it up on the press and after printing my broccolis I kept coming back to the workshop. The last thing I printed on this press was my Good Girl type specimen in the final year. Looking back, the broccoli prints were probably a good move.
You have to adapt to make new connections wherever you go.
EM Do you think your exposure to different cultures and places has impacted your approach to design?
MB Definitely! Although my background doesn’t stretch further than Western European cultures, growing up in different countries – France where I was born, The Netherlands where I grew up and now the UK where I studied and currently work – has undoubtedly been one of the biggest privileges and learning experiences in my life. The first thing you realise when moving from one country to another, and even more flagrantly as a child, is that your ordinary is not everyone else’s ordinary. People don’t eat the same food, speak the same language or even laugh at the same jokes as you. You have to adapt to make new connections wherever you go. I think this awareness of differences and their importance have convinced me pretty early on that much like life, design is not a one-size-fits-all discipline. No designer can ever be knowledgeable enough to be able to find that one suitable solution for everyone else. Being a good designer and a good communicator in my opinion also comes down to this awareness of plurality which I try to keep all along my design process.
EM What does your journey to Two Times Elliott look like?
MB Full of amazing experiences and inspiring people. When living in Amsterdam, I worked for two summers at the advertising agency Cloudfactory which opened my eyes to the different disciplines within a creative studio and challenged my conceptual thinking. While I was studying at LCC, I had the opportunity to complete a year out in the industry. I first started this gap year with an internship at Artworklove in Paris, where I got exposed to print design and image-making. Afterwards, I joined Marina Willer’s team at Pentagram for six months where I gained significant knowledge on visual identity as well as experience working in a great team in a bigger studio. Before going back to university for my final year, I was lucky enough to join the Typography Summer School led by Fraser Muggeridge where every day a different debate around typography was taking place. After graduating, I freelanced at APFEL where I put my type design skills to the test with the development of their new foundry and learned more about book design which I had been a bit clueless about until then. Then COVID-19 hit so I continued freelancing occasionally while looking for work until I was invited for an interview at Two Times Elliott. Looking back, I feel so lucky to have already experienced so many different environments. Every single one of them has shaped me as a creative and got me to where I am today, not only in terms of skill set but also in my wider understanding of my place in the industry.
EM Can you highlight something you’ve learnt during your time there?
MB One of the valuable lessons I have learned from my first three months at Two Times Elliott is that pro-activity in making the work you want to do more of, is key. You can spend your life waiting for the perfect client opportunity to arrive and finally steer your business in the direction you’ve always dreamt it to be. But the chances are, unless you show some degree of initiative, that opportunity will never arise by itself. What I love about the studio and the direction under the founder, James Horwitz, is the passion and focus on self-initiated and collaborative projects and everyone’s eagerness to not only think, but actively create amazing opportunities for the studio.
EM For you, what is the work you “want to do more of?”
MB More collaboration! Which is partly why I made the switch to working in-house and was attracted to Two Times Elliott in the first place. We’re a studio that looks inward as much as outward, which means we seek partnerships within the team but also exteriorly by regularly reaching out to independent creatives with our ideas. I believe this outlook is hugely beneficial for young designers like me to learn from others and grow, which is ultimately what I am focusing on right now – learning and meeting people. Alongside this, I want to keep the dialogue between my type design and graphic design practice. I see them complimenting each other and I like it that way for now.
Pro-activity in making the work you want to do more of, is key.
EM Who would your perfect client be?
MB Hmm that’s a tricky one. I’d say a type of industry I haven’t worked with so much yet but would love to design for is the food business, like a local restaurant or a farm. Cooking is an important part of my life and I admire farmers and chefs whose passion for food drives them to make it a career, even more so in this particularly challenging time for them. However, I’d say the perfect client can’t be found in one particular industry but rather in their attitude. I feel like back at uni we were often fantasising about working for really cool galleries or edgy music venues. But now having worked for clients on different sides of the spectrum, I’ve realised you can get very traditional people in culture just like you can get very brave and inquisitive people in the commercial sector, and interchangeably. As long as the individual is passionate about their field (whatever that is), open-minded to your creative input and positive, they will most likely be a joy to work with and that relationship will inevitably be felt in the quality of the design outcome. The rest is just details in my opinion.
EM How have you found working during the lockdowns?
MB I’d say the two lockdowns were very different experiences for me. During the first one, I was looking for work and freelancing back home with my family. There was much more time for my brain to wonder and worry about the future but at the same time, I was in my family unit. The second one happened for me when I had just joined Two Times Elliott and moved into a new place with two friends in London. It was a big change! While I was so excited to be working with my new teammates, I found that starting a new job remotely can pose some challenges in the adaptation time. When you’re all sitting in the same room, it’s relatively easy to share your progress or ask a colleague to look at your screen for a few minutes. When everyone is working remotely, you have to be a lot more vocal and soliciting to get help, which can be daunting when you’ve only just started. Luckily, my team has been super supportive which boosted my confidence to reach out and therefore learn more.
EM What does your setup look like?
Creativity is not just an output but a continuous state of mind.
EM How do you approach days where you don’t feel creative?
MB Although much easier said than done, I try to show self-compassion. In my experience, good ideas have never erupted as a consequence of being hard on myself. It took me a while to understand that creativity is not just an output but a continuous state of mind which we’re all capable of practicing and stimulating in our daily lives. I try not to label my day as bad or uncreative just because I haven’t produced a design. That’s an unhealthy way of approaching creativity I think. Instead, I try to remind myself of multiple alternatives where I can channel my creativity. If that’s through a piece of design work then that’s wonderful but it shouldn’t restrict itself to this. Sometimes that can be through cooking a nice meal or simply reading a great book which sparks my imagination for a project further down the line. And some days I don’t feel inspired at all and that’s okay as well. I think if there is one thing I’ve learned during lockdown, it’s to not underestimate the power of rest in creation – paradoxically, it can do more wonders than you think!
EM As a result, do you think designers benefit from not being confined to a 9-5 schedule?
MB That’s a great question. From my point of view, it’s important to stick to a 9-5 routine for mental health and a balanced lifestyle. After all, design is a job like any other and to some extent, should be seen as such. I feel like there’s still a bit of a taboo in the industry around designers allowing themselves downtime and an overall pressure to conform to this frenetic hustle culture. I think it comes from this assumption that if you do something by passion and creativity, then you are somehow expected to devote your entire self to it. That hard work equals designing non-stop. Not only do I think it’s a false affirmation but I also think it’s unhealthy. Whatever schedule works for you, sticking to regular hours is important to maintain sane boundaries with your design work and protect your mental health.
EM With your Good Girl typeface, why did you choose type design as the medium to talk about female underrepresentation in the design industry?
MB When I came back from my gap year into final year, I chose to study type design a bit closer for my self-initiated project. While researching type design interviews, books and conferences, I realised there weren’t many women representing the field. However, when I checked the ratio of men and women who studied type and worked in foundries in the last ten years, it was relatively even. That gap between representation and the actual demographic in the type industry really intrigued me and I wanted to react to it. Designing my own typeface Good Girl as a response felt like the appropriate medium to express that, beyond just being vocal about it, I also wanted to contribute somehow.
EM How did you learn to draw typefaces? And what advice would you give to designers who’d like to, but haven’t tried before?
MB So far, I’ve been a bit of an autodidact in type design. More in the sense that I didn’t follow a proper type design course rather than in the sense of learning completely alone – because I’ve always felt supported. I was hanging out a lot in the letterpress workshop as a student and there was another student called Tom Baber who was often around too and designing his own typefaces. My instructor Christian Granados knew I was keen to learn type design and suggested that I chat with him. I met up with Tom, asked what software he was using, started watching Glyphs tutorials and learning from the online community. While I was writing my thesis about type design and Unicode, I had a fantastic tutor called John-Patrick Harnett who pushed me to contact type designers for interviews. I met Nadine Chahine and Toshi Omagari, two brilliant type designers, who on top of enlightening me on my thesis, gave me very thorough feedback on Good Girl as well. That combined with releasing Good Girl to a foundry standard by myself really pushed my technical skills in type design. If you’d like to give type design a go, maybe start on a revival project rather than drawing letters from scratch. It’s a good opportunity to get familiar with the relationships between the letterforms, it trains your eye and you still end up with your own typeface. But most importantly, reach out to foundries and type designers with questions and don’t be shy to ask for feedback (I know it’s easier said than done).
EM What skills would you like to learn that you haven’t yet found the time for?
MB I’d like to get more familiar with manual hinting and getting my typefaces more pixel-proof. Not that I ever aspire to become a font engineer or be able to hint all my fonts perfectly, even though I think it’s a really cool job, but more because I’m curious about the process of font optimisation and how our technology influences type and its rendering. Outside of design, I would love to pick up the piano again someday. I had lessons for five years then dropped it to focus on my uni application and portfolio, which was a real shame because it was a great outlet and we were just getting started with the more jazzy stuff. I’ll find a way to make space for music again, beyond just singing in the shower!