Romanian born, London based Ana Grigorovici is an ambitious graphic designer who works hard and dreams big. After freelancing and working as an in-house designer for almost a decade she founded her own graphic design studio, Uncommon Goods, with friends Callum and Joana just before the pandemic in January 2020. The creative trio is currently involved in a community-building project, designing the identity for the Southwark South Design District as part of the London Design Festival. The district is the latest addition to the well-known design festival in London, aiming to showcase amazing talent within Peckham, Old Kent Road and Camberwell and aims to attract and inspire the next generation of creatives that may go on to change the face of the industry. The trio is also passionate about bringing design to the public sector to make the most of causes that truly benefit society.
In her interview with Wishu, Ana tells us about how design is crucial to the fabrics of society (no pun intended) while enlightening us about the importance of shared values, creative relationships and taking big jumps before you’re ready.
Wishu: Was there a particular age or moment where you realised that you truly are a creative?
Ana: Yes, definitely. Growing up in Romania, I was also encouraged by my parents and the school to continue creative extracurricular activities. From the age of 4 or 5 I was the kid making the posters for school fairs or creating the Christmas window displays. I was an academic child and there definitely was difficulty balancing the two especially later into my teenage years but when my family moved to the UK when I was 17 I found myself able to hone in more into creativity. I decided to study a BA Hons degree in Graphic Design at Kingston which led me to working as an inhouse designer and artist’s assistant.
Wishu: You’ve recently taken the jump from freelancing to founding a studio, Uncommon Goods, with two collaborators. How important are relationships in a collective and would you say that you share the same background, values and experience?
Ana: Within our collective trio our backgrounds are similar and dissimilar at the same time, I would say. Joana and Calum are also designers, but our backgrounds are diverse. Joana is originally from Portugal and Calum is from Scotland. We all finished creative degrees but had different experiences in the industry. Joana followed her BA with an MA in Publishing Design and Calum worked in music previously. He is now lead designer for the Design Council. We all have retained some of the work and relationships we established previously as freelancers and full time designers.
Wishu: Ah so you that similar creative and academic tension but Joanna chose an academic degree and you a creative. Where did you guys meet?
Ana: We met at a networking event in south London – it was actually my partner who waved across the room to introduce us. Joana introduced me to Callum and it was sort of a lightbulb moment.
Wishu: Were you already thinking about setting up a design studio and leaving freelancing?
Ana: No, not at all really! When my partner introduced me to Joana at the event she suggested the idea immediately because she wanted to stop freelancing. A week later we sat down to workshop the idea of starting a studio.
Wishu: So, were you ready to stop freelancing there and then do you think? If not, when was that moment do you think?
Ana: Honestly, had I not met Joana and Callum I don’t think I would have been ready there and then at that precise moment. It’s funny, you sometimes don’t know when you can do something until someone gives you permission to. It was Joana who asked the question as to if freelancing was still the best thing. I was definitely starting to feel disillusioned by clients who didn’t share my vision for the future. Had I not met Joana I think I would have probably been ready a year later but having someone else’s input was great because I didn’t get much guidance from the university. Meeting someone who shared my values allowed me to dream bigger than I was dreaming at the time.
“Ultimately, the shared value is to provide the third sector with better design. None of us wanted to design for things that weren’t helping society or the environment.”
Wishu: What would you say are those shared values?
Ana: All three of us wanted to establish the studio as a collective, not a hierarchy and make that distinction between studio and agency. We wanted to democratise the process of collective decision making. Ultimately, the shared value is to provide the third sector with better design. None of us wanted to design for things that weren’t helping society or the environment. We also wanted to co-design with clients who also design so that we help others find a solution for something beneficial.
Wishu: Some people may not understand how exactly design has the power to help the public sector or society? Could you explain how it can?
Ana: I think it’s to do with defining design because, well, everything is designed! Every interaction is designed, our outfits are designed for different occasions from interviews to parties. Someone told us that different types of clothing are fit for certain occasions etc. From technology to architecture to fashion, these are the fabrics of society and they are all designed. Asking why design is important is like asking why water is important – our lives are made of design! In our practice we do design thinking and design doing. The thinking is everything before you put pen to paper aka market research and conversations about needs. The design is the literal making of a logo or poster etc. This shapes culture and behaviour so we want to demystery the fact that a logo itself brings value to a customer but it’s actually about all the thinking that happened before that point. It’s the process that changes society, not just designing in itself.
Wishu: Wow that’s so insightful! Finally, do you have any tips for other creatives/young creative to move from freelancing to taking a bigger jump?
Ana: Start before you’re ready. You don’t have to have a perfect portfolio or business plan because you’ll never get it right. Give yourself a soft deadline to when you want to start contacting and networking to start a new project. It will never be perfect before or after you start so just go for it! Also be prepared that it’s hard, it’s like falling without a parachute. Nothing happens overnight so don’t be afraid to step into the void. If you fail you can always go back to what you were doing before. For those just starting freelancing don’t quit your day job until you have a stability net.
Southwark South Design District
Opens 18 Sept. 2021
Southwark South Design District & Follow IG @Southwarksouth