The Freelancers: Julia Miceli Pitta on freedom, flexibility, and facing new challenges in her work
In our interview series, The Freelancers, we dive into the challenging world of self-employment; discussing the highs, lows, and day-to-day requirements of freelancing at different design studios and brands as a career choice. With a passion for questioning the status quo and exploring new cultures and languages, the work of Julia Miceli Pitta is characterised by its multidisciplinary approach and refusal to adhere to a specific way of doing things. Her background in architecture and photography informs her practice, which spans brand identity and exhibition design. Here, in our tenth entry of The Freelancers, she discusses her work as both an educator and independent designer, and how she maintains flexibility whilst working globally.
PT Hi Julia, how’s everything going?
JMP Hi Poppy! I’m doing very well, thank you for having me. How about you?
PT All good here, thank you! What led you to set up your own independent practice?
JMP I’ve always been a person who questions everything, and creating my own studio gives me the space to keep doing it. I always ask – is working a medium of exploring? Indeed. I love my job and it’s not just about the result.
Plus, there’s something about the excitement of – what’s next? I’m very organised, but that doesn’t mean that I follow a formula. I refuse to have a specific style, or a specific way of doing things. I love exploring new languages, working with different clients and developing self-initiated projects.
For example, this year we launched a new brand identity for an art and performance centre in New York, Nijad Dance Artists. I’m also working with a fashion label, which is focused on reshaping the way we think about fashion, such as with garments without sizes in Barcelona, as well as working on a visual identity in London called Song Athletics, a creative studio with a focus on music, technology and culture.
It’s amazing when a client or studio comes up with an idea that is totally new to me, and that is where my interest in design lies! I think the clients who contact me can read that in my work; the fact that I don’t do things just one way.
I teach what I exercise every day.
PT What skills would you say you’ve developed through teaching? Also, are there any tips you’d give to designers thinking about teaching?
JMP I teach what I exercise every day. I try not to delve too deeply into formal abilities, but rather encourage students to think critically and experiment fearlessly. I’m interested in a more horizontal education focused on communication, tolerance and self-doubt.
My advice to other designers would be to create a place that fosters a sense of curiosity, exploration and play, while giving value to illogical ideas.
PT How do you approach finding new clients or work?
JMP A big part of my job is finding amazing people and studios to work with. A lot of times I just send an email saying hi, other times I go straight to the studios... I once took a workshop just because I wanted to work with the team behind it, and it worked!
Also, many clients contact me because they’ve seen some of my work on social networks (so yes... we have to keep sharing our work on Instagram even if we don’t want to!).
PT What is your favourite thing about working independently?
JMP I once had an Italian teacher who was also a filmmaker. Her classes were a mix of cinema, language and history. She made me realise the value of being in-between things, and having multiple interests. When we can cross diverse intentions, professions or ideas through our work, the result tends to be richer in content.
When working independently, one is constantly in between things, so you are always learning something new while working or collaborating with people from diverse backgrounds (you can’t do everything!).
Furthermore, I like to face new challenges. For many creatives, when they find their niche, it becomes difficult for them to get out of it… And I get it, because we all have those moments. Learning is not easy, because it makes us confront our own limitations, but it will always invariably offer rewards.
I’m constantly trying to push my work towards a more multidisciplinary practice – from creating a visual identity, working with 3D, making some animations, editing, and photography, to imagining the design of an exhibition. I also started illustrating and selling some posters!
PT If there’s one thing you could change, what would it be?
JMP Time! There are not enough hours in the day.
PT What kind of work environment speaks to you the most?
JMP Collaborative, flexible, and a space where making mistakes is not a bad thing.
I love working with other designers or teams; last year I had the chance to work with some people from The Mill, in the UK, and it was great to understand how they work and be a part of that. When I do solo work, I try to make it as collaborative as possible with my client. I also like to work from different locations remotely as well as travel (if possible) to work with my clients. Last but not least, I enjoy a space which allows me to make mistakes. When we have everything under control, there’s nothing new to learn (and is always boring!).
PT What is your current work set-up?
JMP It’s always different, now I’m on my way to catch a plane! I’ve been travelling and working since March. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made this year; being able to live in different countries has given me another perspective on what I do. Understanding the people, culture and design of each country is the most important thing when working on a project.
Also, finding a balance between work and free time is non-negotiable. I don’t need to do 9-6 to work efficiently (although, I might work longer hours on some days, haha).
PT You’ve worked a lot within the world of architecture through both your photography and branding practices. Can you tell us more about that?
JMP Well, before opening my own studio, I worked with an Italian book publisher for five years, where most of our work consisted of making books for architects and photographers, so it was very likely that my first clients were related to architecture. Nowadays I still work with architects but not as much as before.
As for photography, what interests me most is the social factor: how people inhabit spaces.
PT A lot of your work is laced with a sense of restraint. How important is the act of editing in your creative process?
JMP I think the important thing to ask when creating an identity is: how do I say the same thing, without saying the same thing?
And my answer to that question is to understand how the project works. Understand when you are going to use one logo configuration or another, colour palette and type of composition. It’s easy when you have a lot of elements, because anything can work. But what happens when you have fewer elements? How do you create a visual language without having to constantly resort to the same graphic decisions?
How do I say the same thing, without saying the same thing?
PT How do you manage your finances working globally?
JMP If I think about budget, it always depends on the client and their context. Each project and budget is different. Which is good because it allows me to work with different types of clients.
Regarding my finances, I had to learn a lot and there are many things that I still don’t get… I’ve been in Europe/UK for a couple of years now but I was born in Argentina, and things are very different there!
PT What are your preferred ways of communicating and collaborating with your clients?
JMP Presentations as well as discussing ideas are much easier if we are in the same place. If this is not possible, I usually try to have one call a week during the development of the project, it is a good way to get on the same page.
PT Do you think you would like to return to in-house or agency work in the future?
JMP I never close the door... If there is a proposal that challenges me, I would definitely think about it.