SpearTalks: Federico Slivka

Posted on October 5, 2007 Under Design

Federico Slivka Lederer is well-traveled and well-worded. He is a graphic designer (with whom you may be acquainted with, particularly if you’ve been to a little site called TreeHugger), an art director, and an interaction designer. He is also an amazing photographer — a skill he won’t mention himself, but one that is easily discernable after glancing over only a few of his penetrating snapshots. However, after talking with Federico about all the things that he so decidedly is, one of his occupations seems to fit the young Barcelona resident more than any other: Federico Slivka Lederer is a teacher. I say this only in partial reference to his actual position teaching students at the Barcelona Film School, because the ways in which he fills that definition seep well through the walls of his classroom. In this interview, you will notice exactly what I did: Slivka Lederer is the type of person that is nice to listen to; the type that should be teaching, because he says what is worth hearing. Or, in this case, reading (and hopefully more than once).

JoshSpear.com: Tell us about your upbringing…

FS: I was born (hyperactive) in Buenos Aires in 1974, the same year the Football World Cup was played (and won!) in Argentina.

I was raised with joy and health in a small medium-class family. Nine months of school, three months of holydays"¦ what else could I ask for?

My Czech grandfather used to visit us every weekend, and brought us a little Matchbox car; one for me and one for my brother. While my brother played with them and broke them after five minutes, I took them carefully out of their boxes, arranged them and exhibited them with accuracy.

At home there were always lots of pens that belonged to my father, who is an architect. And while my brother used them to paint on the wall, I used them to draw on paper the characters I saw on TV.

Then I started cutting photos out of the Times and Newsweek magazines, then I did the same with comics and Sunday-magazines, and then with postal stamps"¦ obviously keeping all this material perfectly organized, and building with it my own collection.

And so I started University, with my collections of Matchbox, drawings, photos, comics and stamps. After five years, my personal files had exponentially grown. Now I had lots of them (even some digital ones) with colors, fonts, shapes"¦ And before I had finished my degree, I started working in the design world, and also at my own University, as a professor’s assistant.

I stayed in Argentina combining my work as a designer with my work as a teacher (just as I do nowadays) until the year 2000, when I was invited by a firm in Madrid to work with them. I was doing fine in Buenos Aires, but I didn’t hesitate, since this was a great opportunity to keep on collecting new things, don’t you think?
In Spain I’ve worked for consultants such as IconMedialab, and for agencies such as McCann Erickson, and soon I was also offered a position as a teacher at Barcelona’s Film School (ESCAC).

Meanwhile, bit by bit, I began to contact new clients to do specific jobs, and for the last two years I’ve been working freelance, as an Art Director & Interaction Designer, with clients in Latin America, Europe and The United States.
I really can’t complain at all. With my 300 Matchboxes and my hyperactivity, I’ve gone quite far"¦ But I have still a lot of collections left to complete, I’m sure about that!

JS: When were you first exposed to design?

FS: Maybe it was while I was sitting at the back rear of the car, reading up all what I saw on the way, both post signs and ads that were on the streets filled up with visual pollution. Or maybe it was when my mom left me at my dad’s work once a week.

Over there all his workmates got me on a drawing table, in front of a large sheet of paper and lots of pens, and they told me to draw (and not to disturb!).

At that time, my dad was working as an architect at the Town Hall’s Housing Department, and everyone was convinced that I was going to follow his steps.
I really don’t know, if it was either as an attempt to diminish the visual pollution of my city, or to go against the insisting comments from my dad’s workmates. I really can’t tell.

JS: You’ve worked from many different countries. Has the design (production, etc.) experience varied much from place to place? And if so, in which ways?

FS: Nowadays, all the cities with a significant design production share the same technology and the same tools. In general, everything’s very similar.
According to my perception, what is different is the importance that design has for society and for the market.

In Latin America, things are less defined, there’s less control and everything’s wilder; the strongest wins, there is more room for improvisation. Everything, who knows why, tends towards chaos. On the other hand, in Europe everything’s clearer and better organized. People have more time, money and resources to develop complex and long-term projects. There is a tendency towards stability. In the United States, time and money rule (as in Latin America and Europe), but it doesn’t matter how and when you do your project: as far as you reach your goal, everyone’s happy. In this case, everything tends to speed.

JS: You’ve got quite a diverse skill set — do you prefer to work on any one type of project, or do you like it all?

FS: What I like to do is to design. This could be the slogan of a design school, couldn’t it? Rather than being a graphic designer, I like to see myself as a “graphic conveyor,” as a “visual communicator”. As in any other discipline, the tools, channels and your own preparation to handle them will determine the result and the efficiency of the solution. I got to understand this just when I graduated from University, as I saw that job offers often required knowledge of tons of different software. So, a little bit because I was in need of a work, and another little bit because I found it easy to learn new programs, the list of software in which I could be proficient with grew fast. Nevertheless, I think that being able to handle tools efficiently is important, but not essential. To hammer in, of course the best tool to use is a hammer, but you can also do it with a stone, isn’t that true?

I find tools less and less important, and the same is true for channels. It is not that they don’t matter, of course you need to pay attention to them, but if you look carefully, the essential is somewhere else.

When one handles tools and channels well, it is easier to enjoy the process. That is why I find equally enjoyable to design on a sheet of paper and online, even if they’re quite different.

It is like learning to drive: once you’ve learned how to change gear, you can start to enjoy driving across the way.

JS: Where are you currently finding your inspiration?

FS: You’ve got to differentiate between inspiration and comparison.
I look for inspiration all the time. I find it very precious. I always keep an eye on it, but without making it very noticeable. I look for it everywhere, at all times, day and night. While I am awake, I look for it in what I see; while I am asleep, in what I dream. Being inspired is a hard task and it doesn’t have to do with reasoning, in my opinion. It’s difficult to explain, since it’s a state and it constantly changes.

Lately, I force myself to go first to the dictionary, to go to the source, to the word. I start from there and from its etymology, because the word represents an idea. And then I just try to find a visual representation of this idea.

Comparison is something different. Even if you are lucky enough to find inspiration for each project, it is necessary to go through comparison. You need to find and compare your “inspired creation” with existing things in the market and from there, to enrich it to make a difference. To ignore the power of comparison, without understanding the context and the universe in which your sign will coexist, is to depend on your own and particular inspiration. I still don’t consider myself to be a genius, or a wizard or an artist to do so.

JS: Have your feelings for design changed from the beginning of your professional career to where you are now?

FS: , they haven’t changed much. Maybe just some aspects.
When I first started, I wanted to work a lot and in any type of thing, almost as a robot. The important thing was to work, to get started, to get involved in the professional world of design. But then I realized that the key was not that. Of course I can say this now, after ten years of having started with my working life! Not everything in life is about work; other than a designer, I want to be a son, a brother, a friend, a husband, a future father"¦ I still have so much to do, and many of those things will have nothing to do with work, or at least that is what I hope for. I say “I hope”, because in my daily life routine I spend a lot of time designing, and I don’t even notice. This makes it harder to combine the passion for design with other aspects of life (which also require passion, and time).

JS: You’ve been teaching classes at the Barcelona film school (ESCAC) for a few years now. What’s it like being at the other end of the classroom?

FS: Well, I guess it’s like being on the other side of the mirror: you are like a reflection; or better said, you are the “image” and the students are the reflection of that image.

It’s fun. Or at least I try to make it fun, which does not necessary mean that it’s not difficult and serious at the same time. I’ve developed my own methods, dynamics and even some tricks. Each week, during some hours, I lock myself in a classroom full of young people, and try to share with them the few things I know, and the many things I know that are important to know. I try to encourage them, to motivate them, to cheer them up.

JS: Do you think you’re a good teacher? (You can have one of your students answer that if you want :)

FS: This is hard for me to answer; I really hope so, but I don’t know. What I do know is that I have been doing it for years, and that it’s certainly one of the things I enjoy the most, professionally speaking. And, of course, it’s not enough to like it; you need Universities to keep on inviting you to teach, just as it happens with design. You don’t design just for fun; that would be art. You need to have someone who requires your services. And about being bad or good as a teacher, you should probably ask my students. The only think I can tell you is, that it is enough for me if they chat to me outside of the classroom and if there is someone every now and then that says “thank you” after class.

JS: Talk to us about TreeHugger!

FS: TreeHugger is great. I’m very proud of being part of it. In a couple of years, it has become something really “huge”. It’s probably one of the most popular and prestigious projects I have developed so far, but it is not just for this fact that I feel proud and happy; believe me! I feel proud because it’s really hard to find a product for which you don’t need much of an effort to emphasize its virtues. You don’t have to make use of the usual “design tricks” to fool or convince anybody; to show the public how good it is. In addition to this, the team is great, and working with a guy like Graham Hill, the founder, you get to learn a lot.

TreeHugger has opened the doors for me to the “environmental world” and to the American market, and I will always feel thankful for that, too. Winning prizes and being recognized for your work is always rewarding; it helps to feed that part of yourself called “ego”. But Treehugger has certainly given me much more than that!

JS: Any final words of advice?

FS: Be careful with repetition. It’s not good, from any point you see it. Go away from repetition, because it has a power that attracts us, that seduces us, even though we try to escape from it!
For this reason, you have to be careful; when you find yourself driving through the same streets every day to go to work, when you find yourself doing the same jokes, or stumbling at the same stones, doing the same mistakes"¦
We are all a bit “condemned” to repetition; having that in mind, it may be easier to fight against it, to run to the other side.

Systematic, automatic, mechanic"¦ the world we live in tends towards repetition. It’s the most normal, even if we don’t realize. Or is it that we don’t want to see it?

Repetition is a sickness in some way, but fortunately it has a cure. As you can see, I still don’t have it, since I’m repeating myself a lot"¦ I still haven’t found it, but I suspect the answer is in the dictionary. So I’ll be right back with the solution. If I take too long, you call me, ok? Now you know where to find me. Thanks!

(We found Frederico at Behance; his portfolio is here. We are finding it to be an invaluable resource leading us to all sorts of goodness. Thanks, guys.)