“Everything has quite a big impact on my work. My mood, the music that I am currently listening to, my surroundings. So I think I would describe my style as fluid”, says Mateusz Zieleniewski. With an open mind for new ideas and inspiration, the graphic designer developed a unique and expressive visual language over the past few years – and even turned a supermarket leaflet into a theater brochure. His friends being his main source of inspiration, it is no wonder that collaboration plays an important role in his design practice. “Exchanging thoughts, laughing together, creating really absurd concepts. I think thats my favorite part of a collaboration actually”, he tells us. And looking back on his past projects, that is probably the reason why his work seems to be so carefree and playful. Besides his self-initiated projects, he has worked on several projects for cultural clients so far, including the STELLWERK theater or Canti Spazializzati. In this interview, we talked with the designer about how the calligraphy skills of his mother inspired him to study design, his most recent collaborations – and about throwing dinner parties. Let’s get started!
First of all, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your background?
Hate talking about myself. I was born and raised in Wrocław, Poland. I studied there but also in Halle in Germany. Currently living in Germany. Love spending time with my friends and throwing dinner parties. I like to party (vengaboys– we like to party 🎶).
How would you describe the aesthetics of your design?
I think it’s really hard to describe it in a few words. Everything has quite a big impact on my work. My mood, the music that I am currently listening to, my surroundings. So I think I would describe my “style” as fluid. I also like to try new stuff. A brand new pen 🖊 or a recently discovered photoshop effect can be a trigger for new ideas. Therefore I can’t really describe my style. It is constantly changing :^]. But If I have to, I would call it silly.
Where does your fascination for graphic design and typography come from?
My mum has serious calligraphy skills and I remember that I was always WOWed by this as a kid. I guess that is the earliest memory that could be seen as connected to design. My dad used to do some sick ass line illustrations using a beamer. That was another moment when I thought: “DAMN THIS IS CRAZY COOL”. So maybe this is something that could be considered as “planting a seed of design love” LOL.
How would you describe the creative scene in Wrocław and how did it influence your work later on?
I guess the city where you grow up and the people you have around you at this time have a major impact on you. Wrocław is seriously beautiful (everybody is saying that it is the most beautiful of polish cities) but it can also be weird and dodgy which I always found cool. Even in the old city, you can see the very hardcore contrast between renovated super old buildings and some socialist-brutalist block of concrete right next to each other. That’s why I also like those kind of clashes in visual design. Wrocław also has quite a “western” vibe but it is still Poland. So it is quite a cool mixture.
Where do you turn to when you are looking for inspiration?
This definitely depends on the project. Sometimes, you just right away have an idea in mind – boom! – and that’s it. And sometimes, even though you love the project, the process is HELL. You cannot find any idea or inspiration. So it really varies. As part of my inspiration gathering process, I definitely make mind maps (lol) which helps me to organize my ideas. To be honest, the people that I work for are really inspiring. Just simply talking to them about the project opens your mind big time. I’m also talking with my non-designer friends to get some different kind of input. And I’m also doing some design-recycling :^] which means going through my archive of stuff I didn’t use or finish. Obviously, I also look at books and magazines but only if I’m in an inspiration crisis and really have no idea WHAT TO DO. But mostly PEOPLE AND FRIENDS!
You have worked on several collaborations with Karolina Pietrzyk in the past, for example the posters for Canti Spazializzati concert. Can you tell us more about this project?
Working with Karolina is always lots of fun! Our process is quite messy, we don’t have one specific way of working. Chatting on facebook or on the phone, sending each other very random photos, meeting and talking, partying. This is basically our design process. For the Canti posters, we always have a different approach as the venue or artists change. We are often influenced by coincidences and simple stuff around us. And we always talk a lot about “how it’s gonna look like” over a beer and get overexcited hahah.
You two also created the visual identity for the ODJAZD/TRIP exhibition in the BWA Wrocław and worked on a brochure for the gallery. How did it happen that you started working for the BWA Wrocław together?
It was because of Karolina! Once we were having a drink and she asked me if I would like to make the brochure for the gallery with her. I never say no to a collaboration! Especially with some crazy minds!
Can you tell us more about the idea behind the visual identity for the exhibition? How does it visualize the idea of the leitmotif “TRIP”, in a sense of making decisions/staying in movement?
We had few sleepless nights working on the identity. We created TONS of options but nothing felt like “THIS IS IT!”. We constantly circulated around the subject of trip. That’s why we decided to take a step back and also think about the iconography of the gallery which is now based near the main train station in Wrocław. Train station, green lights, pigeons, split-flap displays: All of this started to create a more cohesive and logical story. So we went fully into it!
Another collaboration was the brochure for STELLWERK theater with Sébastien Millot. How would you describe the aesthetic of this work?
Supermarket leaflet. That was our goal. Big and flashy. Aesthetics = No Aesthetics. I think that’s always my motto hahah. Whenever I’m designing I just like to throw some stuff into InDesign and play around. NO RULES, NO AESTHETICS.
What was the overall concept you had in mind? What effect would you like to have on the reader?
Basically the effect we wanted to achieve was simple: WOW, XXL, BOOM 💥. We wanted to make it a bit funny and awkward at the same time. The format of the brochure already gives you the WOW effect as it is basically the size of a daily newspaper. We obviously knew that it will be hard to read but that was the idea. We wanted the reader to feel a bit overwhelmed and bombarded with informations. Just like when you are in the supermarket or watching YT videos with millions of ads.
What role does typography play in this project?
MAJOR. We really wanted to be YOLO here and be like “LETS USE AS MANY FONTS AS WE POSSIBLY CAN”. For any of my projects, I guess typography plays the biggest role. I mean, WORDS are the ultimate form of communication for me. Even if somebody is not interested or does not understand the image, he will at least read the words. That’s why I pay big attention to typography. Not even to the single letter shapes, but how impactful it is in the whole layout.
Your projects often revolve around art or other cultural fields. What are the challenges of working for cultural clients? What are the main advantages?
I think the biggest challenge is always the timeline. These are always ASAP projects. But that is a small disadvantage compared to how many advantages you get in return. Working for cultural clients gives you freedom in your creation because people involved in art have a better understanding of visual communication, I guess. They trust you and consider you as a designer, and not only as a tool. Working with artists is crazy inspiring. You learn so much new stuff and get to know so many people. The biggest challenge is to meet the expectations of an artist. To understand them and create something, that will really add value to their work rather than existing just next to it. The best compliment that I got lately was when I did the catalogue for the Sebastian Krok exhibition. When we met at the release of the catalogue, he told me “I think finally people will understand what I wanted to show through my work”.
Tell us more about your design process! What are usually the first steps of a collaboration?
It depends how well I know the person, I am going to collaborate with. If I know them really well, most of the time we would meet for a beer and just talk. You always need to catch up, talk about your life, show some cool new YT videos and stupid photos. And this kind of takes you naturally to work. But in the beginning, it’s always “blablablabla”.
I also love to sketch and draw (as most of my friends that I’m working with). The problem is that nobody ever has a notebook, so we need to draw on some stuff we have on us. Actually, that is how the concept is born most of the time. Then we meet and work together, looking over each other’s shoulders and being like “damn thats cool! Or maybe if we gonna do it like this?!”. So it is always a process. Being in the same room also helps a lot, as you can interact and react, validate what you are doing, exchange ideas and InDesign files :^>.
What does “collaboration” mean to you?
Getting together and opening each others minds haha. Working together, not side by side, but kinda holding hands (not as a control but as a unity).
What is important to you in a collaboration?
Exchanging thoughts, laughing together. Creating really absurd concepts. I think that’s my favorite part actually. To create crazy concepts that you both know won’t probably work for your client but you are so pumped you keep pushing them anyway. Working with somebody always pushes you to do stuff you normally wouldn’t do. It gives you the possibility to see solutions that you maybe would not think of. You need to adapt your way of thinking to somebody else’s mindset. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it might be more challenging, but it only brings out good stuff in the end. Two heads are better than one! The final result will always be more exciting as it would be done by just yourself.
How important is it for you to collaborate with other creatives?
I think collaboration is the key factor of any project for me. It’s so natural for creatives to share ideas and thoughts. That’s why collaboration feels so natural for me. Before, when I was mostly working by myself, I thought of design as something very strict and defined by many rules. Collaborations always add something new to my personal perception of design. It’s like going on holidays and discovering new places! And who doesn’t like to do that?
Do you have someone in mind with whom you would like to start a collaboration?
Omg to be honest, there are so many people I would love to work with that I cannot name just a few. Collaborations, no matter with whom, are very fruitful in general. It’s an opportunity to learn! I would definitely like to collaborate more with illustrators. Creating some online ping-pong zine (send something and get something back and so on) would be so cool!
Do you have any collaborative projects in mind which you find inspiring?
I love the new Charli XCX album! Basically, it consists only of collaborations, therefore I find it so fresh and unique! Like so many crazy creatives mixed together. BOOM! I love it 💕