Sid Lee New York designer on the relationship between technology and traditional design
Guillaume Vaillancourt is the son of two designer parents, so perhaps it should come as little surprise that he is one himself, nowadays at Sid Lee’s New York office. But with the evolution of technology, the role of the designer is wildly different from when he was growing up in the suburbs of Montreal. But while getting to grips with the latest technology is something that Guillaume both excels at and enjoys, he isn’t shy to the importance of ‘traditional’ design in our ever-evolving world.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with him to find out more.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
GV> I spent most of my childhood in the suburbs of Montreal. It was a quiet enough setting to allow me to get lost in thoughts as often as I pleased. The whole neighbourhood was one big empty field for a while. I remember that sense of wonder as I explored houses under construction. I was a really curious child and it was the perfect playground for me at the time.
LBB> Did any of your childhood traits stick out as a signal that you’d make it good in the creative industries?
GV> I was fascinated with knowing how things worked around me on a mechanical level. My first contact with the arts was through music and that paved the way for design later on.
LBB> How is it that you came to work as a designer at an agency then? Was it always the plan or a bit of an accident?
GV> I was certainly aware of the agency world, but I wouldn’t have imagined making the move to New York this early in my professional life. That took me by surprise. When I got the offer to come here, it felt like I couldn’t pass on it.
LBB> Where did you learn your craft?
GV> I grew up in a household with two designer parents so I got accustomed to fiddling on computers quite early on. There were always tools around when I needed them. In that way I was very lucky. I was also fortunate to go through two great schools in Montreal that taught me most of what I know, Dawson College and the École de Design de l’UQÀM.
LBB> How is the evolution of technology affecting the role of the designer?
GV> I think the designer has a role to play in bridging the gap between human and technology. As the latter gets seemingly more complex, a certain sense of menace can quickly emerge from it. It then faces the risk of people being too wary of it to make it a part of their lives. Since the designer’s armed with the tools to simplify and communicate he should be best positioned to think of ways in which new technology can be made more accessible. And we simply can’t deny emerging technologies as their potential for storytelling is too rich to pass over.
LBB> Technology is something that you’re keen to get to grips with and explore. Two of the projects that you’re most proud of are personalised experiences that alter a narrative dependent on where a user is standing and looking at the screen. Why do you see this as a powerful form of storytelling?
GV> I like the idea of a narrative that can be shaped by the user, and allowed to stray away from linearity. In design, you always need to be wary of how someone’s going to interact with your work. And with interactive installations, that notion couldn’t be truer. It calls for a sensibility, an ability to project yourself in other people and try to anticipate their behaviours. There are thoughts of what will fascinate them or make them lose interest. I find that human element truly exciting.
LBB> Which other pieces of tech are most exciting you in your job at the moment?
GV> I see a lot of potential in augmented reality. For me there is a certain poetry that lies in adding layers of digital information on top of the physical world we know so well. Since it is an additive medium, it retains that sense of familiarity we have with our surroundings, and because of that I see it as being more accessible than VR. I especially like the idea of bringing people to a room where they couldn’t physically be otherwise. AR certainly needs a particular design sensibility to get right and designing a user interface in three-dimensional space is a whole new world. It’s an interesting problem to tackle.
LBB> What are your views of ‘traditional’ design in this world of constant technological evolution?
GV> There will always be value in things created by hands with traditional materials, if this is what we mean by ‘traditional’ design. I think the further we delve into technology, the more we start to crave a certain human presence in a piece of work. We want to see imperfections. There is something that just feels right with natural materials, that tactile feel, that rawness, that can't yet be replicated by a digital medium. I see technology as yet another tool that can enhance a fundamentally human piece of work. In that way, traditional design isn’t that different from newer aesthetics.
LBB> Who and what are your biggest influences?
GV> I look up to a Spanish designer called Eduardo del Fraile. His work is really clever and has a unique sense of playfulness that few could pull off the way he does. There’s Irma Boom, for her work ethic and eccentricity. Saul Bass who I admire for making such a significant impact on cinema. There’s also Lino, a Montreal illustrator, who taught me the meaning of poetry.
LBB> When you’re not working, what do you like to get up to?
GV> I’m mostly writing music in my spare time. I’m also reading a lot about cinematography lately. These are two of my other secret passions.