Savaş Özay, a multidisciplinary graphic designer, has been working in İstanbul for nearly 13 years. Having lived in London for a year, he has a wide spectrum of work ranging from user interface design to typeface design, even videos. With his innovative and inspiring designs, he works from his own studio in İstanbul for brands both in and out of country.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a 32 year old graphic designer and art director. Depending on the time of the day, I may also become a digital product designer, user interface designer, creative director, front-end developer, typeface designer, etc. I have spent nearly ten years working full-time for agencies. I’ve been working as an independent designer the last 3 years.
How did your relationship with design begin?
Like many designers, I started drawing when I was small and never quit. In my early ages I was into caricatures and then graphic novels. I met graphic design when my Macintosh operator/designer uncle took me to work and let me contribute to some of his packaging work, when I was 14. Working with a computer, designing, seeing the prints arrive from the printing house, touching them really had an effect on me. From that day on, I was never interested in working on another field.
What do you think about the art and design education in Turkey? If you had a suggestion, what would it be?
From my own experience of Graphic Design, Faculty of Fine Arts, Marmara University and from what I’ve heard from friends who graduated from other universities, I find it rather unsuccessful. The weirdness of the selection process, an old, badly prepared curriculum, and 4 years spent with mostly ineffective teachers. As a result of these, a mass of untalented but certificated designers. Of course, this is a generalization. There are talented individuals who have improved themselves. But the mediocrity of the system is so widely spread that they are the minority. I could suggest the existent system to be discarded and renewed. The candidates should be chosen not by their drawing skills but by the level of enthusiasm they show towards design. They should be valued on their level of creativity, technical skills, originality, experimentality, interest in new practices, cultural level on modern design and graphic design, portfolio presentation skills, etc. As for the education process, the curriculum must be internationally equivalent. Short-comings should be determined and fixed. Education should go beyond the completion of required homework. Students should be encouraged to work independently and collectively. Their discipline, motivation, originality, professional skills should be improved. At the same time, courses such as basic business management should be opened for students who want to start their own business. Of course, we need many more qualified educators. Right now the number of qualified educators can be counted with the fingers of two hands. The teachers in these fields are mainly old mediocre designers who somehow landed a job at the university or those that use their academical titles professionally and/or for their egos.
How was the agency life for you?
I’ve had the chance to work at a number of agencies from a 3 person small atelier to a 60 people agency. I’ve seen small teams turn into big agencies. I have also seen those that refused to grow bigger and continue with a small team(Of course, this was in England. I haven’t seen a studio resist growth in Turkey).
With this experience, I can say that I was more comfortable in studios with teams of 5-6 people. When the team is small, you have no choice but to work with effective people who will deliver high quality work. The relationship between the team is more sincere. With the unnecessary crowd, hierarchy and meeting rooms eliminated, everyone knows what the other person is working on. Instead of creating mail clutter, you have the advantage of calling out to the other desk.
You lived in London for 1 year. How did this adventure begin and why did it end?
I have always wanted to live abroad. But the legal process is beyond your control so I couldn’t make it happen. When the conditions were right, I finally got my permit to live and work in England. I returned mainly because of personal reasons. But professional reasons contributed as well. Frankly, my full-time work experience in London was a disappointment. I had the chance to work for an advertising company, whose work I had followed with admiration for years. But the inside story wasn’t what I expected. The majority of mainstream projects focused on making money reminded me of my days in Turkey and disturbed me. I went back to freelancing. But the problems I faced, the client feedback with a low intelligence level again reminded me of my days in Turkey. I had no reasons left to stay in London, no motivation to make the effort.
So how do you like İstanbul now?
The extremely crowded and chaotic city structure might be inspiring for some people, but for me, it’s hard to endure. As someone who gets annoyed with anything that isn’t beautiful or doesn’t function well; the closer I get to İstanbul, the more it hurts. So I try to keep my distance from it.
How do you spend an ordinary day?
Freelancing requires certain time management skills. So I try to work within a system, even if it’s not very strict. I try to get up before 9:30 AM, have breakfast etc. in 30 minutes and get in front of the computer around 10 AM. Depending on the job, I work at most 6 hours daily and finish up. I’m not behind the computer much after 4 PM but because of our time difference, this is when my e-mail traffic begins. I usually read and answer e-mails until I sleep.
What are your plans for the future?
I have plans for jobs that the clientele consists of designers. Trying to appeal to all, constantly compensating and being forced within limits gets tiring after a while. I’m interested in focusing on a group of whose expectations and ways of thinking I know and can relate to. Therefore, in the long term, typeface design and design-based publishing seem appealing.
Savaş Özay's Recommendation
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Apart from these, I have 30-40 resources that I follow on a daily basis. If you’re interested, you can download the OPML file here.