French designer Simon Renaud speaks about his career and inspirations.

What is your story?

After graduating from the ESAD in Strasbourg, I went to Poland for a year in a post-diploma program at the Fine Arts of Krakow. The following year I decided to team up with a friend [Jérémie Nuel] who came from the same school in Strasbourg and we set up our studio [A is a name]. We worked together for almost ten years on various projects without having a defined specialty. We were doing art direction in a broader sense. At the time we also worked a lot in the field of web. Ten years ago this was a good way to make profit in order to simultaneously work for small structures of artistic or cultural areas. It was ten years ago. Last year, for various reasons, our paths have separated. Our personal cravings/desires had obviously changed after all these years and I wanted to deepen the things I had begun to undertake alone in the past. I had already made projects in parallel of the studio, and I wanted to go back to that. It’s been about a year now that I work as a freelancer.

Your work and your career are varied, between your work as a designer, teacher but also typographer. Was it a will to take on so many facets ? Has this become a reality of the profession today?

This has always been a true desire to be both in the field of graphic design and to open myself to all the fields related to it. Creating layouts and at the same time teaching it. To have really different facets and cover up things as much as we can, it is something that settles. That interests me. It can be good sometimes not to stay behind his computer and to go teaching to students. I also took parts in workshops. It’s quite different from teaching, both temporalities are interesting. I sometimes enjoy giving a same subject — with obviously different ambitions — for a semester and a week. The outcome is always interesting because sometimes, a lot more can happen in a week. I remember some of the workshops I had during my studies. That was when we produced the most quickly, we were in a bubble and did nothing else.

I like to challenge myself to say ‘I never did that’, as long as it stays in the same areas of expertise. I enjoy testing new forms. It is cravings I always have.Nowadays, we can’t become a poster expert as we used to be in the 80s. Now it’s on another level. We aren’t technical experts anymore, but more specialists in the way that we are going to bring our own vision. The opening of our jobs takes us away from the rigid status of the technician. The fact is that graphic designers are recognized as technicians and computer graphic designer — which is not a bad thing since we all are — but we can move away from it. We are not, for example, only poster or publishing experts anymore, we can bring our singular view on the job. I think that is good for the craft. When you see for example some architects or photographers able to write articles, able to say things…there is a lack of that in our field. Some architects are interviewed on the same level as scientists.

Graphic designers have things to say, they just aren’t invited to express themselves. It is certainly in the process of setting up, but I find that there is always something missing. I don’t know if it is limited to France. In protestant countries like England or Germany, I think you feel less the difference. Designers seem to be more easily brought within projects. Here, and I still can experience it with clients, we can feel like we simply are the executants of what they can’t do. It’s infuriating because we are not always in the loop. We must go toward it and put ourselves a little forward. It will be good for everyone.

Poster for the Musiques Volantes festival in 2011
Poster for the Musiques Volantes festival in 2011

What are your references in terms of creation?

Two things. A first thing rather pragmatic: observing how other design studios operate. Watching how they react to such type of order, how they rebounded, where they have gone, where do they arrived… Then my other references are rather bookish. I read a lot. I am thinking of magazines like MCD on digital cultures, or to people who work on new media like Friedrich Kittler or N. Katherine Hayles. I also read several books on cryptology, everything that relates to writing particularly interests me in my work these days.

I am also thinking of manifests such as B42, which are among the only translations into French. Therefore, I combine a whole applied work to the observation of other studios around the world — it’s pretty easy today to watch their work online, which was not the case when I was studying, at the time it was rather through three books vying for attention — with further references, more literary.

What are your upcoming projects and desires for the future ? Do you think you still have to learn the craft?

I still have everything to discover. The more you know, the more you realize you do not know much. I think it’s a good thing to be aware of, always feed our practice. I made the observation, particularly in terms of education, that there is a real gap between the generations. We need to question ourselves continuously. What is interesting, is to understand the practices as they are applied in reality, more uninhibited, the current treatment of typography for example. I learned things during my studies which are now completely obsolete.

I am now looking to find a global positioning, an operating of my own. I always try to keep this entry by typography or alphabet, either by experimental designs at the limit of readability or, on the contrary, typographical designs like monospace type or a more traditional sans serif. I try to give myself an application rule. This is also why I created a blog on writing systems, this allows me to feed my practice and at the same time to re-inject it into my work.