“My work is constantly evolving,” Stockholm-based designer Joanna Burai tells It’s Nice That, “it’s kind of hard to say in terms of pure form because my designs have always been so varied.” When we first spoke to Johanna back in 2016, it was the “jack of all trades and master of all” qualities demonstrated in her portfolio that impressed us so much, and which continue to today.
Criticality and political discourse are elements which have always played a role in Johanna’s work. Her graduation project, World White Web was an activist website promoting equality in internet search results. While at the time it received attention from Al Jazeera, BBC, The Independent and many more, it has since gone on to create even more buzz. The project was exhibited at ArkDes, a part of The Modern Museum of Stockholm which “was a really big deal for me,” Johanna adds.
Now studying for a masters in visual communication at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design, Johanna is continuing her pursuit of evaluative design. “I’m in my first year now and the programme is norm creative, which means I have the opportunity to challenge and deepen my graphic design practice in relation to a broader social, cultural and economic context,” she explains. The course has a “take-off point in norm criticality” and allows students to examine how identity, norms and borders formed through the landscape of visual communication, and how artistic methods can be developed to expand individual practice as well as the overall landscape.
The impact of these studies can clearly be seen on Johanna’s output, where she embeds these ideas in what could otherwise be considered fairly commercial projects. A recent book Silvana is one such example and the culmination of a year’s work with Silvana Imam. Silvana is one of Sweden’s biggest music artists, “she is a rapper and an activist in anti-racism and LGBTQ rights,” Johanna explains. The publication consists of photos, her own stories as well as her song lyrics. These stories and lyrics are presented in all-caps throughout Silvana and in a strong, sans-serif typeface, often repeated on the page. This hard-boiled approach to typesetting gives Silvana’s word precedent, drumming their meaning into the mind of any reader.
When designing the cover for Making Change, published by Nordicom, Johanna again employed typography metaphorically to translate her opinions. The book is used as course literature for The Teacher Education at Konstfack and discusses gender equality in film and television. “I wanted to use a typeface that connotes femininity,” she remarks, “as well as raise questions around why that is connected to lower status than, for example, Helvetica which we often read as a masculine typeface with higher status.”
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