ÉCAL graduate David Massara honours the rich history of graphic design in his research-led portfolio


Not happy with just creating impressively slick design work, ECAL graduate David Massara approaches every project he embarks on as if it’s a puzzle he needs to put together. A designer who fully adheres – and clearly feels comfortable within – the structure the creative discipline of graphic design imposes on its practitioners, David begins every project with a lengthy research process.

The result is projects layered with context, whether he’s building a website or creating a doorstop of a book on his love of jazz music. This early research informs his impressive design choices and attributes too, with each project carefully selecting the right typeface, the right colour palette, and the perfect layout too.

A designer destined to shape the graphic world around us in the years to come, David’s passion – although restrained – for the medium displays a graduate honouring the rich past of the medium to inform his future.

It’s Nice That: Can you tell us why you decided to study graphic design?

David Massara: The reason I feel attracted to graphic design is because it’s the right balance of being creative and resolving problems. I think it just works with my personality from the beginning. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing arts with total freedom and it’s this balance that I appreciate the most. It’s not only about feeling, but also about understanding the purpose of the project, how people think and will react to it, the goal to obtain and the imposed rules.

"If I wasn’t a graphic designer I’d be a psychologist"

David Massara

Many will have a different point of view about what a designer should do, but it’s what makes it interesting. There is no right answer but, we have the chance to make it match with our personality and that is why I’m attracted to it. If I wasn’t a graphic designer I’d be a psychologist.

Before coming to ECAL I studied four years part-time at ERACOM and in an agency. It was a great experience in terms of the technical knowledge, however, I did not have much of an opportunity to experiment. Throughout my studies at ECAL, I had been inspired to search for myself what a graphic designer should be. Being surrounded by talented professors and having the chance to work on projects with students from affiliations was a great experience.

"What I find myself interested in is learning process"

David Massara

INT: All of the projects on your website display a lot of research; why do you think this is an important component of being a designer?

DM: I’ll say that for me the research you can see on my website is the willingness to work in every aspect that graphic design can offer. The part that I’m enjoying is the process of learning new tools that give access to new possibilities to create what I desire. What I find myself interested in is learning process. To be able to control, or the possibility to understand, each part of the process for the project is the reason that led me to work on as many different projects as possible.

In my point of view, the line between a graphic designer and other disciplines is starting to get thin. Many clients will ask you to do stuff that in the past was reserved to a specific profession. Now a graphic designer has to be aware of it and be able to understand and work in many different applications. Knowing how to code, animating, or working with 3D have become essential to stay in the present. You should not focus on mastering on just one aspect of the equation.

INT: Music too seems to be a point of inspiration for you, can you tell us a little bit more about this interest and how it inspires your practice?

DM: Similarly to many other people, music has always been an everyday need of mine. Besides the various genres, I started to get interested in jazz music when I was a teenager in particular. As a huge anime fan, I discovered jazz from the work of Shin’ichirō Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop. Similar to graphic design, it was only about feeling. I got captivated by it and curious on its history and the envy to play it. When I got the chance to work on this subject I decided to make my thesis about it.

My project, Jasi-Jass-Jazz was a great opportunity to resemble the connection of jazz music and graphic design.
Even though I know that jazz music is not as popular now as it was in the past, like any other music it’s important to understand where it came from. Knowing about it, it makes you understand why this music is so important. And it is the same with the arts. They’re both about what it makes you feel but, you need to understand where it came from to be able to see it through.

INT: Is there someone in particular who inspires you or has shaped your creative outlook?

DM: Many designers/studios give me inspirations or motivations to continue to work in this field. If I have to choose one in particular in graphic design, the first one who comes to mind is Samuel Bänziger from Bänziger Hug. I have never been into over-designed work. Some people can call that “boring” but, I appreciate timeless design that requires more of a technical mastering. For me, his work is always done perfectly in this aspect. It requires a lot of experience and knowledge to make it look simple, that’s why I like this kind of production.

On the other hand, in typography, I highly respect the vision of Matthew Carter’s work. His interest to improve typography is a huge inspiration for me and led me in the direction to develop my diploma project, Ripley. I had the chance to see Matthew Carter’s conference during my studies at ECAL and I would recommend anyone interested in typography to watch his TED talk. Even if now the improvement of typography is not as problematic as it was in the past, I think variable fonts can go much further, if you use them intelligently instead of a playful tool.

In terms of others, I appreciate the works of Colophon, Grilli Type, Ines Cox, OK-RM and Zak Group, and I hope I’ll have the chance to work with them one day.

INT: What would be your ultimate dream project, and what can we expect from you in future?

DM: I don’t tend to think about a particular client, but I’d love to develop or create the full identity of a big company or brand and have full control. For the rest it’s more like a constant, I hope I’ll be able to reach a point where I’ll be working on a variety of projects and collaborations where I can develop and gain new skills.

As for the future, my colleague and I have been working on the idea of opening a studio together. We are currently doing freelance work as this will take some time but in the end, but this is our goal.

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.


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