Filippos Fragkogiannis on freelance working and designing independently, methodically and freely
Filippos Fragkogiannis is a freelance graphic designer and art director based in Athens, Greece. With a type-driven and contemplative practice, his work spans numerous creative outputs, from brand identities and typography to editorial and printed matter. In our conversation, Fragkogiannis details the influences and philosophies that lead his independent practice, working on his Masters Degree, as well as the opportunities and obstacles that come with the freelance lifestyle.
PT Hi Filippos! Can you tell us what led you to establish your own practice?
FF Hi to you, too, Poppy. I am delighted to be given the opportunity to have this conversation and to share aspects of my background with you and the readers of The Brand Identity.
Going back to my first steps as a creator, I was enchanted by creativity’s autonomous and self-evident nature. As I understood it at the time, the field of visual arts contained something more substantial than apparent freedom of decision-making.
Visual art, for me, was an escape from the limitations and rigidity of the material world in an attempt to reinvent self and identity. And, of course, this transition would not be something shallow and superficial but profoundly emotional and experiential, like an enlightening experience.
When I graduated from college, I was curious to get involved with the professional side of the major, so I pursued getting involved in teams and collaborative settings. I can tell you that after a while, I actually found out what I don’t want and don’t need in my visual communication practice. I desperately needed to have my own perspective on my own terms.
Having my own practice, self-contained and unbiased framework – in which I could formulate my own approaches, conduct research, and shape my works – was vital to me. Furthermore, by evolving within an independent framework, I have internalised important principles of self-reliance, such as strongly relying on myself, trusting my judgement, and protecting my ideals.
In my opinion, independence in creativity helps maintain the enthusiasm, self-confidence, and impulsiveness that the creative act requires, essential elements that converge to create images that radiate beauty.
Having a shifty work schedule keeps my spirit active.
PT What do you enjoy the most about working freelance?
FF What motivates me as a freelancer is the freedom of not being limited to a single manifestation of professional life. Having a shifty work schedule keeps my spirit active and challenging. In addition, taking on complex responsibilities has familiarised me with the manoeuvres required to be effective in demanding situations.
I believe that despite the price that freelancing entails, such as having all the details and contingencies of the projects resolved on your own or being totally exposed, including unfair competition practices and non-transparency from third parties, freelancing also offers many opportunities. A freelancer has the capability to expand their knowledge and professional circle, use their stamina on essential matters, and integrate new elements into their work directly. Non-functional ideas are abandoned and replaced by new ones without delay or interference; thus, there is always room for more experimentation.
Equally important, as an independent designer, I can enjoy my privacy, maintain my trade secrets securely, and protect my copyright and ownership of my work more effectively. Furthermore, any arrangements and successes that I achieve remain my property and are a guarantee for my future. Finally, what I enjoy about freelancing is that I can create new professional or client relationships and, accordingly, dissolve these relationships when they cease to be functional and profitable.
PT What areas of freelance life do you find more challenging to navigate?
FF For me, the most challenging thing in the daily life of a freelancer is finding and maintaining a satisfactory balance between work and personal life. To be able to disconnect from the competitive pace of work and truly enjoy the natural environment, family, and the joys of life is quite tricky.
In addition, our profession is technological and closely related to new technologies and the use of software. I bet there isn’t a graphic designer, even a student, who hasn’t spent countless hours in front of a computer screen and has not been deprived of many things to realise their creative plans.
Especially nowadays, where the smartphone is an extension of our hands, it is pretty challenging to ignore social media updates or leave an email with professional content unread for a long time. As a result, the boundaries between work and rest become indistinct. However, I have found a way to deal with this issue by providing myself with a corresponding frame of absence from the office for every achievement of a goal or successful completion of a task. Even so, I rarely stop thinking about my next step, the following composition, and the design choices that will shape it.
In freelancing, there is no such thing as holidays and weekends free of obligations. So even if I’m not working for a client, I’m probably researching a topic, drafting emails or preparing a new presentation, adding content to my website, or doing marketing or networking.
I admire the stability and permanence of the written word.
PT You mentioned to us that you love ‘expression through the written word,’ how do you think this has impacted the way you approach design and typography?
FF Indeed, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of graphic design is a non-verbal communication composed of letters, words and sentences. And all of the above will form the bigger picture, interspersed with symbolic and cultural codes. I admire the stability and permanence of the written word, its increased responsibility for the content itself, in contrast to the fleeting influence of the spoken word.
The fact that I love the classicism and timelessness of letters and that I’m really blown away by the talent of the designers and the great typefaces they create is only a part of what fascinates me. The alphabet is an extensively important good for humans, wholly connected to language and how we communicate and prioritise our thoughts. Moreover, I genuinely admire the complex system of grammar, the playful world of metaphor and literalism, and I study the virtues of ambiguity in awe.
I will consciously seek to use words and expressions that introduce layered meanings into my designs. I am interested in the content, the pronunciation, and the acoustics of the terms, elements that make up the intended effect on the reader.
The polysemy of words and their emotional impact can ignite the reader’s interest, magnetise them and make them get more involved with the content, even wanting to make it their own. Conversely, thoughtless or prohibitive use of speech can cause hate and disapproval, weakening the design’s argument and putting the articulated message into question.
Combined with the ever-growing and revised range of typefaces and varieties of writing styles, the necessity to find the ideal combination of content and form makes the field of typography an endless source that produces new content.
PT Do you have a favourite piece of research or insight that you regularly come back to?
FF I genuinely avoid maintaining long-term admiration for specific objects or works. However, if I had to name one, it might be studying Jodorowsky’s films’ mysterious imagery and unorthodox dialogue. Reading Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle and Baudrillard’s The Consumer Society was also fascinating. Furthermore, I collected excellent visuals, with the outstanding aesthetics of director Todd Haynes’ films Safe, George Lucas’s THX 1138 and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
PT For research-driven designers, a master’s degree can be a wonderful way to explore topics in great depth and detail. Can you tell us a bit about your reason to pursue an MA, and what you gained from the course?
FF Attending a master’s degree in visual communication was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was undoubtedly a demanding process, but it gradually made me become a better version of myself. I would say that initially, the reason I chose this direction was not one-dimensional.
This choice was motivated both by personal ambition and my appreciation of academia and by the belief that an additional academic degree would give me a competitive advantage in the job market. However, I soon realised these thoughts were of lesser importance: the path of knowledge was not over for me.
Two years after obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I enrolled in the master’s program, knowing I wanted to re-enter a development path and deepen my knowledge in my field of study. During my studies, I had the opportunity to focus on issues that concerned me personally and professionally. As a result, I got to know myself better, my interests, and my preferences in the profession, while I better understood how I could frame and support the direction and results of my work.
After a particularly demanding course involving many assignments and writing thousands of words, I received my degree with distinction. For the following four consecutive years, I have been invited by the faculty to present my thesis to incoming students, which I find very flattering and tangible proof that I managed to convince the academic board of my research’s good intentions. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank my tutors at the Vakalo Art & Design College for accompanying me on this journey consisting of ideas and self-awareness.
Looking back a few years after completing the course, I can confidently say that it provided me with handy tools, contributed significantly to working with discipline and specifications, properly controlling my time, prioritising my actions, and developing effective working and research methods.
Graffiti helped me draw lines, directions, styles, and images with my personal gestures.
PT You’ve had decade-long involvement with graffiti in the past, where did this interest first begin?
FF It is a fact that my occupation with graffiti was a significant period of my teenage years and accompanied me throughout my adulthood. It was the starting point of my engaging in visual arts, to get to know letters and their form, the meaning of style, and the interventionist artistic gesture. It also enabled me to better understand the impact of placing creative work in the public space and getting into the habit of collecting a photographic archive.
The reasons I got involved in street culture and art were not so personal; it was a direction my group of friends at the time was taking, and I was drawn into. I didn’t want to stay away from such a unique process composed of special communication codes, night strolls to places I would otherwise never visit, and dense competition between groups in the city. It was definitely a decade that taught me the value of taking action, the importance of timing, and taking proactive measures, i.e. implementing an organised plan to achieve the result under fluctuating external circumstances.
After the first few years of graffiti, I started to edit photos I took on the computer and experiment with typography on posters. It wasn’t long before I saw these posters in print or posted online, communicating messages to an audience. Graffiti helped me draw lines, directions, styles, and images with my personal gestures. After all, this is what I find attractive in the world of expression and aesthetics: that man, through artistic gesture, can transmit and capture elements of his personality.
PT Outside of design, what do you think is an essential skill for a designer to have?
FF I wish one was enough (laughter)! A communications designer will significantly benefit if he possesses sharp judgement, a liberated spirit, organisational skills and knowledge of semiotics. A designer’s essential qualities are attention to detail, sensitivity to stimuli, and heightened social awareness. A progressive designer is a person who can clearly understand visual information, read its details and interpret the overall direction of an image.
To answer your question, I believe that a graphic designer should be drawn to evolvingly understand and comprehend our society and its diversity, the power of ambiguity and stereotypes, and the scandal that communication sometimes creates. They should learn more about how the sense of seeing works or the dimension of spectacle and illusion. In short, to gain knowledge about what methods have been utilised in consumer propaganda. To immerse oneself in the context of methodically designed communication, as well as the role that the arts have in it.
PT What project are you most proud of?
FF I feel satisfied when a project has fulfilled its primary goals, meeting the correct specifications and incorporating multiple design virtues. With that in mind, I will say that the project I'm most proud of right now is the most recent one I’ve published.
On September 8, 2022, Richard Mandona and I released Vercetti Regular, a sans serif font freely available for use in personal and commercial projects. Vercetti’s overall look is quite rectangular while preserving balanced proportions. Discrete ink traps contribute to the clarity and readability of the glyphs, even in narrow blocks of text.
It is genuinely satisfying that I made this idea a reality. All the font’s details were carefully drawn and corrected with a fine finish in mind. As a result, Vercetti is an efficient good, directly accessed by the creative community and the general public.
PT If you could build your own dream workspace, what would it include?
FF The primary material in its interiors would be wood, accompanied by tones of earth colours, with white as a secondary colour. This place would certainly be away from the city’s noise and would have parking available at the entrance. It would also have a high ceiling and be flooded with soothing, natural daylight.
I wouldn’t say I’m interested in having my works or posters decorated in my workspace, nor an extensive library. An espresso machine, a comfortable chair, and my iMac would be the necessary accessories for this ideal workspace. Finally, being a lover of beautiful smells, which stimulate the mood and create an essential condition of elegance, this space would also include some scented candles.
Above all, I would pay attention to the choice of the city where the building will be located. Not a few times have I imagined housing my practice in an old and historical area. Operating in such an environment would allow my imagination to expand, to draw inspiration from local history and mythologies lost in time.