Emiliano Ponzi: “Design is a performance: you get it wrong or you get it right”

For the illustrator art is a mission

“Mine isn’t a life choice, it is a mission”. Just a few, very clear words: “A mission because I am almost like a priest. I wake up at 6 in the morning. At 10 I go to the studio and I leave at 9 p.m.. The people around me know that”. Emiliano Ponzi is one of the most famous illustrators in the world. He works with the New York Times, Le Monde and Moma, among others. A contributor to LINC with his covers, which explain without any need for text, Emiliano always manages to meet expectations. Which are high. He explained what a designer’s work consists of during a meeting in Milan. He answered the questions of those that follow his work constantly as well as those of editor Serena Scarpello. A look at his work suggests that the well-known designer enjoys drawing. But when the question is put to him he replies: “I have fun in other ways. For me work is not fun. It is gratification and satisfaction but not fun. Nowadays design is a performance, you either get it wrong or you get it right”. An answer that catches you unawares, but his sincerity is refreshing. It also takes nothing away from his illustrations. Emiliano Ponzi sees and transmits sensations and sentiments. Easier said than done. He has designed the cover of the various issues of LINC Magazine. The cover of the ManpowerGroup magazine does not have headlines. Emiliano’s illustrations are enough to understand what is inside.

2-Las Vegas 2 casino
Seven Magic Mountains.2jpg
Twentynine Palms
Seven Magic Mountains
2-Las Vegas 2 Seven magic mountains
Death Valley 2
5-Modern oasis 3
7-a Monterey 1

During Design Week he presented a collection of suitcases that he designed: “As Massimo Vignelli used to say, ‘Design is one’. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, there is no difference between designing a house or a spoon. Designing on paper and designing a suitcase is much the same. You start from zero. You only have your instincts and afterwards you understand which of these will lead nowhere. It is a process of fusion”. Who is the designer? “Being a designer is more of a rational process than an emotive one. The way in which you are able to manage your instincts is important”. And he also had to manage his emotions when Moma rejected his ideas: “They didn’t like my project. I thought, ‘I’m here and I may never get another chance like this’. So in 20 minutes I wracked my brains to come up with a presentable idea”. This is how ‘The Great New York Subway Map’ was born: “A book for children and adults. It is based on the New York subway map designed in 1972 by Vignelli. I wanted to present Vignelli without using the cult of the ‘superman’. People need to know that these things can be done. I wanted to show how the previous map was a labyrinth and how the role of the graphic designer is to solve problems, to simplify. To speak to everyone you have to get rid of the clichés that only interest those in the industry. You have to speak as you would do normally”.

A lot of hard work and rules go into designing a book of illustrations: “When you propose a book there must be multiple lines of narrative. There must be very strong visual metaphors. It is important to set yourself some basic rules before beginning a project, and then stick to them. You sleep for 3 hours a night and design for 55 hours. The things you draw must be aesthetically pleasing and conceptually perfect. The rule is that you leave your instincts on the back burner as they could take you down the wrong path”. And after nights spent drawing you have to promote the book: “The way you present it is crucial to your ability to establish a dialogue”.Emiliano talks about everything, good and bad, observing modern trends: “Beauty has also become populist. The things we like are beautiful, and this is also a consistent answer to all of the social media where, perversely, ugly things also become popular. For me, things that also have an artisan quality are more beautiful. I have also become populist in the last few years. I don’t waste time looking for things I don’t like. It’s a personal choice”. Text first then image? Do illustrations always have to be accompanied by text? How long does the text need to be? FAQs: “The image comes second. The text always comes first. The image helps you to express yourself”. His work is easily recognisable even if his unmistakeable style has changed over the years: “After years of having a quite rigid style I don’t think you can change your style overnight. Major revolutions have always frightened me. They have to be gradual, carried out step by step. Battle after battle”.


Carmen La Gatta

Carmen La Gatta Giornalista dal 2010, Laureata in Scienze della comunicazione, ha poi frequentato il Master in Giornalismo a Bari. Videomaker per Alanews e IlFattoquotidiano.it, ha scritto per Il Giorno e condotto su TeleLombardia. Attualmente collabora con Radio24 e con Startupitalia.eu