#33 The Graphic Designer

While Piera Wolf might not be a household name, many in the fashion, design and art worlds are familiar with work by the talented graphic designer. Piera was born in the small town of Chur, Switzerland, but resides in Brooklyn—studied at The Basel School of Design and then The Bern University of the Arts. Since, she has worked across the world and it's the fusion of her upbringing and later experiences that makes her work so distinct. She's currently Creative Lead, Design with General Assembly NY, where she is responsible for GA's exciting phase of the brand development. You can view her work here, here and here.

I met Piera through my friend Marianne and was instantly taken by her thoughtfulness and attention to detail. Here's what she has to say...

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt over the last year?

I learnt that a big part of what makes a designer successful is people management and communication. For a long time I thought it was s all about talent, staying hungry, curious, passionate, and the hard work one puts in. It’s undeniable that this is the basis of most success stories, but people management and communication skills are essential qualities that help build a solid career. I strongly believe in the power of communication in person, especially in the digital age, in order to build relationships and teams that have chemistry and last. This is one of the reasons why I keep a certain degree of separation from my personal to my virtual life.

Now, one could argue that the necessity of having a portfolio online can enhance the chances of meeting people one-to-one and build lasting relationships. I don’t have my work online (yet) and I don’t want to define my entire persona through my work alone. The output of a designer’s daily work may be the projects you see in a portfolio, but the fuel to get there is a process where personal relationships, people management and communication are essential. It is these skills that drive whether or not a team has chemistry and produces brilliant work. I’m trying to build a website as we speak that’s curating my portfolio in a way that encourages an audience to get in touch with me in real life and build strong relationships.

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What’s your burning question of the moment?

I’m mystified by what becomes iconic these days. Born and raised in Switzerland, now based in New York where the rate of change is extremely high and one easily loses track of time, I often times wonder what design projects leave traces in peoples hearts. It’s a big challenge producing good work that lives on not only in a city where the pace and energy level is seemingly unstoppable, but also when surrounded by Swiss mountain air. Often times it’s hard to predict whether or not a project will strike and live on even when learning from the past and trying to gaze into the future. I’m constantly pursuing to produce good work that lives on. But what’s the magic ingredient that makes a project timeless and touches its audience? 

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?


A dear friend and well respected colleague of mine recently shared Brené Brown’s TEDxHouston talk, The Power of Vulnerability with me. She is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She studies human connection — our ability to empathise, belong and love. Brown’s talk connects many pieces. Her studies make sense on so many levels. Brené Brown poses questions: How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so the we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognise that we are enough — that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?

Why was this TED talk so inspiring to me even though it’s not specifically addressed to designers? I don’t think engagement in our daily job as a designer can happen without embracing vulnerabilities, and I definitely don’t think it can happen without the whole heart. The word courage derives from the Latin word cor meaning heart. We can’t know things like courage, love, belonging, creativity and joy without vulnerability.

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It’s hard work to learn to know oneself better as well as understand humanity, but it’s worth going on that awakening journey for a more balanced professional as well as personal life. That may sound very deep, but I strongly believe that the birthplace of creativity, joy, love, courage … is vulnerability. It’s important to love with the whole heart even though there is no guarantee. Brené Brown’s talk is one to share.


What would be your one piece of advice to students out there?

It’s hard to encourage students with ONE piece of advice only. For me design is an ecosystem of relationships and many dots that connect.

Design is relationships. Design is a relationship between form and content.

— Paul Rand

 

One set of advice I could give students is to always be true to yourself, be authentic and real, humble, stay hungry and pursue work that you love. Design with your heart and stimulate, nourish the soul. It’s important to use your hands and step away from the computer at times. Fear is paralysing. 

In my new leadership role as Design Lead when guiding a team of designers, I’m in the process of learning everyday. It’s a journey that’s very exciting and challenging at the same time. I have a human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I’m trying to improve and hold space for them. To truly support people in their growth and transformation I cannot steal their light or take their power away (ie. try to fix them), shame them (by implying that they should know better), or overwhelm them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). I have to be prepared to step to the side, so that they can shine, make their own choices, offer them love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes. This closes the circle again with where I started from. A big part of what makes a successful designer at the end of the day is people management and communication.

You can read the rest of the interviews here: 

#32 The Design Graduate

#31 The Service Design TV Host

#30 The Change Maker

#29 The Learning Designers 

#28 The Human Interaction Designer

#27 The Full Stack Strategist

#26 The Design Writer and Doer

#25 The Behavioural Designer

#24 The UX Leader

#23 The Behavioural Researcher

#22 The Service Designer

#21 The Local Government Designer

#20 The Start Up Designer

#19 The Human Centered Designer

#18 The Strategy Designer

#17 The Interaction Designer

#16 The UX Designer

#15 The Data Designer 

#14 The Experience Designer

#13 The Design Teacher

#12 The Creative Technologist

#11 The Creative Generalist

#10 The Hyper Island Designer

#9 The Conscious Designer

#8 The Business Designer

#7 The Networked Designer

#6 The Speculative Designer

#5 The Digital Maker

#4 The Craftsman

#3 The Storyteller

#2 The Dreaming Maker

#1 The Go Getter