Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies

Collaborations: MFA CD Blog

Talking vision and collaboration with Olivia Güthling

I sat down with Olivia Güthling (MFACD ’15) to talk about some of her experiences at this year’s Design Week Portland. Here she shares her views on what it means to be a Collaborative Designer, and the importance of talking about the vision that drives your design.


You come to the program with previous experience as a graphic designer. What do you think Collaborative Design is, and how do you see it changing your practice?


Collaborative Design is a wider kind of awareness for different things beside graphic design or other specific disciplines of design– it gives an understanding of the whole. Now, I see the patterns more– I was aware of patterns before, but now I am learning how they become the drivers of my work.


Understand patterns will improve the way I understand graphic design and communication design; in a way that is able to address stakeholders, clients, customers, and to make graphic design more important and having a greater impact. Something I was struggling with was whether the design was keeping people’s attention, does it really have impact or meaning?


I’m not a fan of saying, “Let’s change the world!” because I believe I cannot change you. But I can make something that has an impact, and we’ll go from there.


You cannot initiate a project with the idea to change the world– but you can be fascinated by something. I was always fascinated by Awakening, throughout the entire process. It was crazy, and I had a hard time, but I loved it. And the fascination I had was the reason why so many people participated. The fascination is what enabled me to keep going throughout the whole process– vision, spirit, and the whole picture. A nice looking design is meaningless without content.


It worked in the collaboration. I want to learn to work with a lot of people, all together around one vision. Maybe that’s the leadership thing— how to explain it, and make others fascinated by something. That’s a talent of very few people.


Tell me about work you’ve done prior to moving to Portland.


I did a project called Awakening. I worked on it using a similar process to what we’re doing in Collaborative Design. I did lots of research, wrote papers, and then went to Nepal for a research journey. I created the book, and I collaborated with so many people— motion designers with my performance, book-binders to discuss what would work the best way, musicians and dancers for the performance, and others.


My approach includes these ideas that all the time, and the CD program is giving me a wider understanding of what I’m actually doing.


I started with a very rough concept at the beginning, and I had slightly different idea in mind before I started designing it. The main idea was continuously there. How can I transform something personal to something public? Why should a person be interested in reading my stream of consciousness– that could be really boring, actually. But the transformation through art made it accessible, and I tried to find the big story beyond. The book and the performance are telling a story. In order to tell the story, it was up to me to figure out what the story was.


This is a great way of working for me. I love networking, and meeting people, and bringing so many talents together. It was amazing– I was so inspired and it helped me so much. This is collaboration: an impact on so many people.


Last week was Design Week Portland, and you were able to participate in several events. What stood out for you?


The event that left me most inspired was “Unthinkableism Is Now”, at JDK. It addressed people and was a talk about visions and the reason why we do design. And about the power of design. Another panel I attended, the “Perspectives of Creative Leadership”, talked about their work and less about their vision. There wasn’t a unifying theme, and I felt there was a missing point. It was nice listening to them, but nothing remained in my memory.


Does the idea of sharing vision rather than work resonate with your studies in Collaborative Design?


As a communication designer, I’m always asking what remains in my mind after seeing something, or listening to something. This is the information that is so accessible that it’s still there. We can use it, transform it, and I can embed it into my own life and practice.


Talking about your own work is important, but for an outsider, it’s hard to relate to the work. Vision is accessible to everyone. It keeps us going. The work is just the last part of a long process. I am more interested in the process.


I had the idea with Awakening, it was so important to stay true to my guiding vision for the entire process. Like being honest– so much so that it was almost painful at times. The honesty was so important to keep, because without honesty there’d be no output. It’s one thing to talk about the output. The vision is about seeing the whole picture. It’s about trying to understand it’s about the process– not about the techniques I use or people I involve; it’s about why. This why is easier to talk about for an hour.


What did the presenters want to share? Was it more just about showing off? The audience might be impressed. But the other approach is to share visions and personal stories and experience. Sharing the process means articulating the lessons learned along the way, which is empowering. In the end, it’s sharing the value of producing things, and it makes things real.


Do you have ideas for what kinds of projects you hope to work on during the next two years?


Not a project, but an interest. It’s all in the process. At this point, there’s not a project I think is worth sharing now. What is interesting is the vision, and the big engine that drives projects, and how people feel and how they work to produce things. As a designer, I feel very strongly about integrity. For example, how can I do a project about healthy living when I am not taking care of myself? It gets bigger.


One thing that is so present is that I really like what I’m doing now, but I also want to like it in the future. I have to find a way not to stress myself out. To know why I’m doing something. And also to keep healthy, to keep distance, and to be able to leave in order to return. You have to do other things, rather than getting overwhelmed and siloed. Is this type of work possible in an agency? I would be interested in having a business where that works. I don’t know if it works, but it works for me.


What have you learned about collaboration in the first couple months of this semester?


It’s hard to focus on what we are really doing in the program. It’s not about becoming a designer for something particular. The CD program is about working together and seeing the different talents of people, and bring that together to one thing. We have to figure out how we collaborate and find the best ideas within this group of a wide variety of people.


As Collaborative Designers, we should know how to network and communicate with people to realize the available solutions and resources, but not to do everything on your own. That’s the importance of this program.

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