Design is not decoration: Advice from Pentagram partner Marina Willer

Marina Willer tells us about how film can be cathartic, why you shouldn't give up hope and shares some wise words from Dame Margaret Calvert.

Ahead of her Design Indaba Conference talk in March 2017, we get to know London-based Pentagram partner Marina Willer. A skilled graphic designer and passionate filmmaker, Willer has a set of diverse skills. Her inspiration, she says, comes from her colleagues, her children and her RCA tutor and graphic design titan, Margaret Calvert. Here, Willer shares some of her ideas and advice on working in design. 

How do you describe your work process?

As a designer the solution always comes from the purpose of the job. Design is not decoration, it’s a problem solving process. I always work collectively with my team. We all are hands on and we all help each other out. With each project we try to understand what the task is, what we are trying to solve and get to know the problem really well. We then we create scenarios of what role the design solution (like an identity) could play, how it could and would work in all kinds of media and contexts, how it would help shift things for the client and what impact it would have. 

We always take inspiration from the world around us, especially outside the design realms. We go out, to museums, parks, playgrounds and anywhere else that we could find inspiration. We also work closely with the clients, hosting workshops that explore what kind of behaviour a design solution would encourage and what kind of personality the brand has. A purposeful design solution always reveals itself through this combination of research and thinking. 

What important lessons have you learnt along the way?

I learn from looking at the simple everyday things in the world around me. Most importantly, I learn from my children and feel inspired everyday. The more you grow up the more you forget how to draw, dance, sing, make stories, do all kinds of crazy things, and mostly ask questions - they teach me everything.

What great advice have you received (and from who)?

My wonderful tutor Margaret Calvert gave me courage. Our conversations were almost from another planet, which helped me to leave behind all my old commercial habits and start again at The Royal College of Art. She taught me to question everything and to always look at the world with fresh eyes. It's only then that you can do something exciting, which I guess I have. The RCA changed me and I thank Margaret forever.

Any particular favourite projects?

Tate because it was one of the first identities that can be ever-changing. I think it helped change identities and to introduce a new type of behaviour in branding, not only for museums but for organisations everywhere. 

If you can name just one thing, what does a good brand identity need? 

It needs to help organisations create positive impact.

What do you understand your purpose to be at work? 

To help change the world for better through design.

What motivates you?

I love what I do, I love the people who work with me, and Pentagram. Plus I have hope in the world, despite how ugly it all looks right now. 

What do you enjoy about film as a medium?

Film is extremely compelling as a way to tell a story, you can combine many narratives to create one. Aside from all the pleasure and beauty it can bring, it can also help make us deal with issues together, to share joy or pain and remind us that we are not alone.

Marina Willer will be speaking at Design Indaba 2017. Book Now. 

Watch the Talk with Marina Willer