Interview: Michael Azzopardi

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A quick browse through Facebook and his blog, a few messages and emails and here he is, Michael Azzopardi (24), from Marsascala, for REDWHITEmt ‘s next interview. With the ampersand as his favorite shape, Michael is one of the local graphic designers who moved to London to intensify his studies. He is currently reading for an MA in Graphic Design at Kingston University.

What do you most enjoy about graphic design?

Graphic design gives an incredible level of freedom to communicate visually. There aren’t many other ways you can do this for a living. Graphic Design may trigger a smile, a laugh or even shock, concern or induce awareness. All this can be done using the most fundamental mediums: words and pictures.
 Creative communication is what I most enjoy. This of course comes with a level of responsibility, as it does give a form of ability to influence. Communicating the right message is in everyone’s interest.

Along the design process, I love generating ideas and giving them robustness and enough validity for me to develop them visually in the most interesting way possible: sketching, taking notes, observing, and then filtering all that into a juicy project!

What’s your source of inspiration?

A designer needs to be inspired throughout the whole design process. Inspiration is the key for a good idea to develop, materialize and be communicated.
I usually head down the usual alleys – magazines, books and the internet. I am a big fan of design magazines and books, partly because they look good distributed on a shelf, but mainly because they provide a calm interaction experience which a website rarely offers.
Having said that, I do spend a lot of time on some of the many design sites out there. I am very fond of sites like ffffound, Cargo Collective and Designspiration. They offer a networking feature, making it easy for a designers around the globe to share their works.

However, my main source of inspiration comes from the streets (of London ex), and long conversations with like-minded people, not just designers but other creatives, and people from different scenes too.
A good idea can evolve and change shape, grow and mutate into something beautiful and interesting just by communicating it to other people. Online social networking for designers is becoming increasingly popular due to this fact. Sharing ideas with others is one of the main ways to improve your work and mature in the graphic design field.

A  highlight so far?

In my first week in London, Burson-Marsteller employed me to work on an up-market brand which manufactures ‘luxury products’. On my first day at work I found out the client was De Beers diamonds – the biggest diamond manufacturer on the planet. During my first week I had to develop 2 creative routes for a pitch. The job was the design of an internal motivational campaign for De Beers, aimed to inspire their 5,000 or so workforce and get their mind off the recession and possible layoffs. If De-Beers liked the work, Burson-Marsteller would land a 3 year design contract with the firm.
 Luckily, one of the two proposals was chosen on the spot.

That was a great moment and a very good start for myself with the team. The 3 year contract was secured and we spent the following 4 months developing this idea into what has been my biggest branding job to date. Trick there was having enough time and support to develop the ideas, and a good working environment.
 A major highlight in my MA course is that I am being tutored by Vaughan Oliver; one of the main figures in graphic design scene in London.

Give a short comparative description of the design world in Malta and London?

London is massive, which can be great as well as daunting. Design here evolves violently through the corporate life, changing, growing and morphing rapidly. Economic recession aside, if you take graphic design seriously, this is a good place to be. It’s not easy and competition is fierce, but design is highly respected and is given great importance. London is also very inspiring – a designer is spoiled with galleries, design shows, events, talks and the like. Your interest in the subject can reach a very inspiring peak. A great city for the ambitious.

On the down side, the stress levels can be a bit much to handle sometimes. The big city tends to get cold, in every sense of the word. So living and working here means giving up the cosy sensation of living on a small mediterranean island. Also the city isn’t cheap, especially rent and leisure, but a designer earns a decent wage which can climb up to be very good in some years of work. A permanent Midweight scoops up £30k on average, freelancers can make £200 – £250 a day.

Malta is, well, small. I used to hear this everyday, but I never really understood its entire meaning until I set foot in London. Malta is small in every sense: geographical and economical and this creates limitations but thanks to initiatives like REDWHITEmt , and agencies with a proper vision of what needs to be done, things are moving forward. Malta is an amazing place to live in and I really hope that one day, sooner rather than later, Malta becomes an active design hub.
The authorities are definitely distracted and not doing enough in this regard. We need more events based in Malta, design awards, foreign speakers, more design books in our libraries, design courses at University level, more of everything. We are still behind, and I don’t think we know it yet. A very important way to improve our industry is to attract foreign work to the island. This will expand our market, improve work and yield some exciting results.

I believe London (or any other big city) is a stepping stone which any ambitious Maltese designer should hop on.

Do you think a designer should be a pleaser?

Yes, and no. This depends on what ‘pleaser’ suggests.
 We, as designers, aim to communicate some form of message/emotion. We strive to please the client’s brief yet be faithful to good responsible design.
 In graphic design the communication of the idea is key. If the idea is profound, relevant to society and visually intriguing – then by all means one should unleash it upon the world.
 On the other hand, a pro who is made to execute something that goes against his/her understanding of good design intention, should not follow through with the project.

A self-respecting designer shouldn’t just produce work for the economic gain. As they say, “You will only be remembered by the worst thing you do”. Definitely these are subjective arguments which are worth looking into to help the industry move forward.

What is a dream you’d like to see happening in the design world?

Excitement is in the core of that world, so I don’t think much about what will happen. Still, i do hope the worldwide industry would turn it’s heavy head and notice the Maltese potential. Some great designer friends who are being nurtured by London agencies and universities will make this happen, I’m sure. The new generation is shaking things up.

Special mention to any Maltese colleague?

Kris Vella Petroni (BRND WGN) was my first Art Director when I first joined the agency some 3 years ago. He gave me indispensable tips and day-to-day lessons on design. Having worked in the UK himself, he is definitely one of Malta’s finest. Oh and he also thought me the art of saving constantly, backing up and adhering to a folder system.

Visit Michael’s blog at
Visit Michael’s portfolio at:

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