Yes, I think. Because I was always surrounded by all these materials and objects—having machines to cut photos and make funny little photo frames, different types of papers, packaging, stamps, colors. And of course, many designers used to draw a lot when they were kids, and I was no different. That was basically my initial interaction with creativity.
I guess I never really set out to make a career in design, it just sort of happened—by coincidence or accident, or maybe even luck. I went to a very typical Austrian high school ‘Gymnasium’—which was mainly focussed languages, I learned Latin and French for 5 years.. They weren’t specialized in design and the arts—and that was pretty boring to me.
After that, I studied art history for one semester. I went into it thinking that I could draw and paint, but it turned out to be very classical and academic. They thought us ancient history and archeology, but I wanted to be more hands-on and wanted to create something. I went with my mom to another university for an open-day, where they invite students to come visit the college campus. The course I was contemplating was called information design or communication/graphic design, which was typically more hands-on more practical—in other words. I only knew how to use Photoshop at that time, but had no idea about illustration and even the difference between a vector and a raster. Gradually, I had to learn all the software, and the technical side of things. I fell in love with the idea of helping to create brands—not unlike a universe—and then make collaterals around the brand. I loved the freedom they provided us over there and the fact that we could come up with our own ideas, and basically just make it happen. No matter if it was a website, or a print or a book or a film—the university would let us experiment with all sorts of mediums. We always had the option of specializing later on and figure out whatever we liked best, and then eventually complete our diploma in our chosen discipline.
I always wanted to go to Fabrica, which is design school in Italy. They offer a one-year residency program, and you have to be under 25 to enroll. They take a limited number of graphic designers, and involve you in a number of different projects. I always thought at the back of my mind that I was going to attend Fabrica after college. But at that time, the city that I lived in was starting an artist residency program where they would give you a workspace for free for a year. It was in a really beautiful, design-y building and the studio space was incredible. A photographer friend of mine asked me if I wanted to apply for that space together with her. I was a bit hesitant at first but the fact that all my friends were there and the prospect of not having to move to another city really enticed me towards it. So I decided to do the artist residency program instead of going to Fabrica in Italy.
Luckily, we did get in. We were in this space for about a year and we utilized it to kick off our freelance practices, and at the same time came up with experimental and artsy side projects to fill the space. Through this experience, I became a freelancer right away. It helped me build a client base and manage a small business own my own. Things started to pick up pace and I found myself undertaking a lot of web projects. I don’t even know how I did it, but I just learned on the job. I felt really satisfied at that point because I had a well-managed business all to myself in a nice space, plus with friends. And to top it all off, design was gaining a lot of support locally as well as internationally.
After a while, a couple of my friends started a freelance collective that was called En Garde they also had their own studio space and then asked me if I wanted to be a member of the same. It sounded like fun: we were all like-minded friends with a passion for design. I was in my 20s and it sort of felt like the ideal setup for me. So we started collaborating our respective client bases as well as all our networks—which spanned across Austria. It was a great deal for us at that young age.
It taught me a lot about the other side of the business: managing finances & taxes, and managing my time. Thanks to that experience I wasn't scared of the formalities of business in the future. These days, a lot of people are scared to make that jump because they're so embedded in the comfort zone of their full time jobs where everything is taken care of.
I feel like I have more energy when I work by myself and for myself. So yeah, I did that with my friends at En Garde from around 2008 till 2010-11. It started off with just the three of us and then eventually moved to another space and we kept growing in size and in clientele as well. We expanded our client base and got a big fashion retailer (kind of like the Bloomingdales of Austria) and the local theaters as well. Eventually we moved to an even bigger space, which had two floors and merged with two other small studios—increasing our size to 25-30 people. There came a point when we had to change the legal status of the company—which would increase my responsibilities as well as my liabilities. At that point I was around 25 and started to feel that such a big responsibility will weigh me down. Plus, the work that I was doing started to feel a bit saturated, and I wasn't feeling creatively challenged anymore. I felt like I could do much better. The Fabrica thing popped up in my head again because it was the last year that I could enroll, but eventually decided not to go ahead with it.
After En Garde, I wanted to do a stint abroad for about a year or so and New York was on my mind from the get go. I set my mind to work in museums like the Museum of Modern Art because I was gravitating towards exhibition design—but never heard anything back from them. I had this nicely handcrafted physical portfolio that I also showed around and I thought about sending it to Stefan Sagmeister from Sagmeister & Walsh, including other studios. And to my surprise, Stefan Sagmeister was the first one to reply to me: "We received your portfolio book, would you be interested in coming in two months?"
I found out that I was really lucky, because usually they are totally booked out but somebody fell out, I think. It also helped my case that even though I had a couple of years of work experience, I still applied for an internship—which I think was also kind of practical for them.
So I went to New York but I had no intentions of moving there, because I was very well settled in Graz. I even thought about subletting it for about 3-6 months depending upon the visa I get. The time in New York went by very fast and I quickly realized that I loved being in the city.
After working for Sagmeister & Walsh, I sent an email out to Pentagram. They offered me a freelance job, so I spent the rest of my time in New York at Pentagram, which I thoroughly loved and enjoyed.
After my stint with Pentagram, I really wanted a full time job and moved to RoAndCo. Everything just happened so quickly and moving to a new country was an interesting experience. I'm comfortable with English but was not well versed with the work-terminology bit, so I ended up learning a lot of terms, and the difference between the metric system and imperial system (chuckles).
I eventually got settled in New York, found friends, and life just shifted to New York.