When I daydream about all the cool careers in our community, Design Director at the creative agency Mother New York is at the top of my next life list. Alex Proba has this coveted day job, where she gets to refine innovative visual communications. But it’s not the only gig on her roster. She’s also the founder of Studio Proba, where she somehow finds the time to create A Poster A Day. Alex says that, for her, “Design is more than just a daytime vocation, it’s a way of existing in the world.” Now heading into her fourth year of this daily project, it has become more than just a daily routine for Alex, “it’s [become] my personal diary.” Involving social media followers in the project came naturally, and now devotees can submit questions in hopes of receiving visual responses as daily works. Read on to hear how Alex balances agency life with her many extracurricular pursuits. —Annie
What was your career path like?
I am from a family of doctors. When I was about sixteen years old, I studied as an exchange student in Ohio where I learned to appreciate art and craft. I started drawing, painting, and experimenting with materials and objects. I felt something special when creating. After I came back home to Germany, I didn’t stop creating. My parents thought of my newfound creativity as a hobby – but I didn’t. But when it was time to decide on a career, I initially chose the expected route to become a doctor. After spending some time in the sciences, I started to explore the world of spatial and graphic design, as well as product and furniture. And I feel so incredibly fortunate to have chosen the path that’s right for me, and I feel very lucky to be able to do work I love. But what actually happened was that I started my career by getting into med school. Very quickly I realized that medicine wasn’t the path I truly wanted to take, and so I took my chances and followed my heart by applying for design school in Hamburg, Germany. And then it just fell all together from there. It was the best decision I’ve made.
What did you study in college?
I studied spatial design in undergrad, which was a mix of architecture and graphic design. And then I went to study contextual design (furniture and product) at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be something creative — I was just unclear about which type of creativity. I could have seen myself becoming a baker, florist, or a even a coroner. But I’m still dreaming and am not letting becoming a baker and florist go just yet… :)
Image above: The Mother New York office and team
Can you describe a typical day?
My day now starts with a pretty long commute. I live in Bed-Stuy and the Mother office is located on 44th Street and 11th Avenue in Manhattan. I use the time commuting to answer my studio mail and get my thoughts together. Then at Mother, I usually start my day by checking in with my team on how they are doing and what the to-do items are. Then I come up with a plan of action. Some days are filled with internal and external meetings, and some days I just sit in front of my screen and design. As a design director you have around 3-5 accounts at the same time, and sometimes it is hard to foresee what the week will look like. When I get home, I mostly do my poster a day and then continue on working on my personal studio projects. But I try to not do it every night.
What’s the best part of your job?
Making. And the people I am making things with.
And the hardest part of your job?
Time. Being able to give 100%+ at Mother and then at night and weekends at my own studio.
What else would you love to do in another field, perhaps related to your additional expertise in graphic design and illustration?
I am finally getting back to working with ceramics. And I’ve decided to become a member in a Manhattan-based ceramic studio so I can go in whenever I feel like it and throw some things. It calms me down and helps me relax.
What’s the holy grail in your field – what’s your Oscar?
The moment I receive a reaction from someone to a specific poster. I feel like I made them happy, even if just for a second. But also important for me is to stay true to myself, being happy, and continuing to work on meaningful projects for greater than aesthetic purposes.
How do you stay inspired? (And where do you get your ideas from?!)
I think that life, our day-to-day, gives us the inspiration we need. At least it works for me.
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on? Or one that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of my A Poster A Day project, which has been going on for almost two years. A Poster A Day started rather spontaneously when I was working on a project late at night and felt extremely uninspired and stuck. Usually I would take a break and start reading a book, or go and start watering my plants to get my creativity flowing again. But instead of doing the usual I started to play around with images. I just created beautiful graphics by playing with random shapes and colors and without thinking about what I was actually designing. While having fun with shapes, lines, and imagery, I realized how happy it made me to create for the sake of beauty. I asked: “Could this become a new routine?” To challenge myself, I decided to make one poster every day, with just one restriction — time. And that was the start of A Poster A Day. In the first year, the rule was that I was not allowed to spend more than 30 minutes on each poster, as this, to me, was the only way in which the project could succeed. Without overthinking the process, and with no limits or restrictions. At one point I realized that it was more than just a daily routine — it started to become my personal diary. When I look back at my posters, I can exactly recall what happened the day I created each one. It restores my past and that is magical. When I was close to finishing my first year of A Poster A Day, I knew that I wanted to continue, but also add a slight change to it. I decided to turn the project away from myself and my personal life and make it about my community, the people who look at my posters every day. The second year was about You and it is called Yours — A Poster A Day. People around the world were submitting their stories to me daily, and I would take them and translate them visually. This was such an incredible year for me to work so intimately with humans I would normally never have met. I was overwhelmed with the amount of stories I was receiving from all over the world. Every story is unique and they are all so different — they vary from sad to happy to crazy to unbelievable, etc. I feel like I am doing something more purposeful. After Yours, I still wasn’t ready to stop the project, and so created the third year – Ours. Now it’s a conversation between me and my community. They are able to submit a question, and I answer it visually. Today marks day 976 and I am actually planning the fourth year. This project is also my favorite one because it has made me who I am today and led me to many interesting, new creative endeavors.
What’s coming next for you? Are there any projects coming up you’re excited about? Or dream projects you’d like to tackle?
I have a bunch of exciting projects planned for 2016. A Poster A Day will live on as my daily project, but my focus is now more on the transformation of graphic design to furniture and products. To give you a sneak peak of my launch list for the new year: a second edition of my textile rug collaboration with Aelfie in the spring, a furniture collaboration with the talented gentlemen from Bower, custom ceramic tiles, and much more.