One may furrow their eyebrows when asked about communication design. It cannot be explained through its literal meaning. Yet Austrian born, Martha Riessland, has a clear-cut answer about its basic function.
She said design is not fixed in any formats as long as the message is sent and it “communicates to people through design.”
“A good design should help support your idea/message. Just trying to make things beautiful is often too shallow and not a long lasting solution. Get to the bottom of it [the design question] and find the most suitable way of getting the message across.”
Originally having knowledge in Graphic Design, Martha possesses a dream to transcend her understanding and make greater use of her creativity by addressing the “design question” with an interdisciplinary approach.
Communication design aims to discover more about human beings. “I want to create a positive experience for the initiator, audience and myself. If possible, with a little bit of humour,” said Martha.
She especially likes IDEO, which is a design and innovation-consulting company, which focuses on the needs, behaviours and desires of humans. IDEO is involved with designs in over 30 categories.
Martha’s Masters degree thesis at Central Saint Martins was about interactive and creative life at the office. “Work is a great part of our lives that I am very interested in. Maybe all working environments should change into a more creative working space,” she said.
Her project consisted of two parts: “tea-bag comic” and “planning tree.” Both encourage breaks for workers during their office hours. “It implements physical tools which are at the same time, playful,” said Martha.
She particularly likes “tea-bag comic,” not only because she has fun experiments with different kinds of paper, but she also enjoys discovering images from tea stains and illustrating them with creativity.
“I love going to museums because it has always motivated me to produce something of my own. Travelling is another source of inspiration because it helps me to understand that there are many approaches to a single problem,” she said.
Martha added that it is a challenge when a designer is not actually part of the design’s target audience. This is because it takes more time for them to switch roles and step into other people’s shoes in order to make something good for someone else.
“One should really get into the subject area before starting to design. Otherwise it could either be designed well, but with no good understanding or badly designed with suffering ideas.”
Martha said she learns a lot from different areas and projects, which enables her to immerse herself into new projects and jump into new roles. “It’s like being an actress,” she said.
“There is no fixed concept for me, but research is always the most important step to start,” she said. Aside from research, Martha said her work requires listening and understanding.
Martha mainly works with paper as she feels “more at home” as a classical graphic designer. She has also tried Arduino, an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software.
Communication design has an important mission: to improve the way we live.
One example is the health sector, said Martha. “It can help understand an illness and show possible solutions of how to cope with it. The idea of communication design is to get the core message across in a simple way.”
Simplifying complicated things may sound easy, but it isn’t if you’re doing it in a professional manner.
Martha said as a communication designer, a certain problem and/or theme should be identified first, followed by an investigation without knowing what the outcome may be. The more you research, the closer you will be to finding a solution to the problem.
She admits it is a challenge to stay simple and not to overthink the problem. From her own experience, she found feedback from others very helpful or taking a step back and looking at the design later.
“Be open to going new ways. Don’t be afraid to kill your darling,” she said.
About the future
Martha has high hopes for her future. “I hope to always get surprised in a positive way with new projects,” she said. “I am looking forward to collaborating with interesting and inspiring people.”