Designer Pavel Fuksa & Prague City Hall reveal first in series of new public posters

Photo: CTK

Pavel Fuksa is a highly respected graphic designer and creative director who this week, together with City Hall, unveiled new posters addressing various changes in the capital, including the sidewalk ban on Segways. Fuksa has worked everywhere from Japan to the Middle East and in 2012 he was included on a list of the 20 Best Young Graphic Designers by Computer Arts. He has also done work for the Obama administration, as you’ll find out.

Photo: CTK
I began by first asking him about his project for the city.

“I was given a list of topics to be addressed in poster form, one of which was the Segway ban. That is the only one aimed at not only locals but also foreigners, since they probably use the service the most. So this poster was to make clear that changes were underway and that it was no longer possible to use the vehicles on the sidewalk in historic areas. The message was also for the tour operators themselves to take the ban into account.”

What were some of the other topics?

“Well only two other have been revealed so far, the rest will be made public later. Once was for the Prague transit pass, sort of like the oyster in London, and the last was about an area of Malostranské náměstí being turned into a car-free zone. I used a bit of humour there, having the cars ‘disappear’ with the wave of a magic wand.”

I guess for this kind of poster the aim was to keep things simple?

“Yes, I didn’t want anything that would be too complicated or over-polished that viewers would have to decipher. So I tried to cut it down to the basics so that the message would come across clearly.”

“Czechoslovakia had a very strong graphic design tradition. Even before 1989 it was on a very high artistic level.”

I read that as a designer, you appreciate a lot of old school elements… What is the root of that for you?

“As a child I experienced what was still Czechoslovakia, which had a very strong graphic design tradition and I think I absorbed many of the images which were around in the public space. Even before 1989 these things were on a very high artistic level. I think my fascination comes from then.

Even more important about the old school approach was the way of thinking about graphic design: today almost anyone can get a computer design programme and come up with posters. But the thinking should not be about putting out 80,000 copies. What I am trying to connect with was a time when you had to really think about what you were doing. The problem is that design has lost all touch with the intellect, lost touch with thinking in advance since you can always go back and undo. That is one of the effects the computer has had and there is a lot of bad design out there now.”

Pavel Fuksa,  photo: archive of Pavel Fuksa
Does that mean, to you, that designers starting out should perhaps begin with something which is personal to them? I ask because I know you have done some beautiful images for things which don’t exist: films which were never made, album or book covers…

“There are two reasons for that. One, as you say, because you have a connection to something and you wanted to make your own version of it, and the other, which is strictly pragmatic. This is my advice to starting designers: when you are starting out, you don’t have much to show, there isn’t much in your portfolio, so this is one way of building up work to show to people who may eventually hire you later. You can’t just rely on the few jobs you get but work on building up a wide selection of work. The beauty is that there are no limitations, no pre-set conditions set by a client, so in fact there is room to show off.”

You have a lot of images up on the net and it makes me wonder when you get it all done. You must be thinking visually ‘all of the time’…

“Well I am very critical of my own work and of others. I keep all my ideas in my phone, I write down everything so I can return to them later and develop them further.”

“When you are starting out, you need to build a portfolio, so that was one reason I designed, for example, covers of books which don’t exist.”

So are you always designing? Or is there a point when you can turn off and do something else?

“I can honestly say I find it very difficult and the last six or seven years there wasn’t time to turn off. I know this is something I have to learn to do.”

You have worked abroad in some very cutting-edge environments…

“I worked in Dubai and also in Egypt where we worked on a huge pitch for the Egyptian tourism agency. At first I was unsure about going over, but after I was in Cairo for a month I enjoyed it very much. It was a very international team.”

Often mentioned is that you did work for the Obama administration – what was the project?

“That was in 2012 when the president was to give an address to the nation over youtube with the possibility for viewers to ask questions to which he replied later on Google Hangout. So I, along with others on the administrative and marketing team, I was in charge of creating the online environment.”

Photo: archive of Pavel Fuksa
And that went well?

“Yeah, however I wasn’t given a signed photograph!”

Ah, that was what I wanted to ask: how far you got along with the White House hierarchy…

“No, no. I have several emails from [facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg’s sister! That’s the highest I got!”