Mathieu Cieters (°1985) is a webdesigner and graphic designer who lives and works in Ghent. In 2014 he started his business Studio Studio. He also maintains a blog, Another Graphic. In his office space - which is a part of his living space - we come to learn that Mathieu is a hard worker, that he lives of his passion, but that his actual name should have been Mathieu Pieters.
The first thing we notice is a poster on his website that says “P.E. was not for me, graphic design is”. When we ask him about it, he tells us that it was the beginning of his career as a graphic designer. On mum’s and dad’s suggestion Mathieu first got a teacher’s degree in Physical Education and Computer Sciences. But still feeling more attracted to the graphic arts he started a degree in Graphic Design at the K.A.S.K. (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) where he completed his master’s degree. The above-mentioned poster was one of his first projects he ever made at the K.A.S.K.
However his classes Computer Sciences still came in handy. It was in that period of time that Mathieu learned more about Photoshop, which he then further explored. He soon made posters, invitations and business cards for others. He also took an interest in the art of graffiti, which stimulated the development of a distinct style in his future as a graphic designer. Typography graffiti especially fascinated him. “There is always a difference between people who draw a picture and people who make texts, who write and who focus on the shapes of characters.”
Minimalism and typography characterize Mathieu’s style as a young graphic designer: “Those two key concepts are very applicable to me. But what I also like to do is to experiment and to bore people a little bit, not in the sense of putting them to sleep but in the sense of getting under their skin. So I play with legibility, or optic illusions. That’s the sort of thing I like to do.” Mathieu shows us numerous examples, projects he has worked on in the past.
From those examples we can indeed make up that Mathieu does not always make it easy for the viewer to immediately grasp his work. “If you present something completely finished, you won’t keep your viewers’ attention. If there is is no challenge to my work for the viewer then neither for me. For the attentive viewer my work has just that little extra, something more than meets the eye.” It may not be surprising that in Mathieu’s work hidden messages are key. For example, he showed us an appendix of a monthly magazine he worked on which contained some obscure messages such as “Dikke Tuur is nen baas” (“Fat Tuur is boss”), a little joke that went unnoticed by the client and reader.
Mathieu wants to bring the manipulation of images by media to the viewer’s attention and at the same time show how media have the power to focus on or omit certain things. In this, Mathieu sees an important role for the graphic designer. As such he made a socially critical book about mass hysteria in which he brought together manipulated images and texts (this book is also for sale on his website). “I think the ability of manipulating images and texts and show this to the audience is the strength of the graphic designer. Plus the graphic designer has a great freedom in doing so. But he also has the responsibility of setting boundaries. Do I push the limits? Can I do that or can’t I? That’s what I find interesting. There are also people who didn’t finish the book but I don’t have any problems with that. The reader or viewer has to decide for him/herself what he/she wants to read. Of course people record what they want, still it is fun that I influenced their view in one way or another.”
Mathieu finds it important to preserve his identity in his work but also to capture his client’s identity. As such he tries to include the client’s identity in work that is also conceptually strong. Furthermore, Mathieu made the book The Graphic Nomad in which cultural identity plays an important role. “The Graphic Nomad was a research project that investigated the influence of globalization in a cross-cultural manner. It turned virtual networks into physical ones, using graphic design as a medium on an international level. Thanks to modern possibilities of mobility and connectivity a journey through Europe was undertaken in search of local graphic identities. Multiple projects were initiated on multiple locations. The project involved meeting local graphic designers, which made the project so challenging and groundbreaking. Strong cultural identities and local styles were identified and used to construe graphic concepts.”
When we ask if there are any other activities keeping Mathieu busy apart from his work as a graphic designer the answer is a decisive “little”, accept for sports and cultural activities related to graphic design. And quickly Mathieu steers back our conversation to his passion for graphic design. It is clear what his true passion is. “Graphic design is not strict to me. It is not only printed materials, but it is also a well-made, proportionate website or a great photograph accompanied by a beautiful text. As long as the proportions are right then that too is graphic design to me.”
Mathieu wants to be self-employed to keep a certain freedom in his work. He has his own ideas, goals and vision that he wants to push through. But he also loves to work with other people and for clients. “Of course it was a risk to become self-employed. You graduate and you have to start on your own. But you have to remind yourself that it is possible as long as you have passion and give everything you have. I eat, sleep and breathe my work. So I absolutely made the right decision.” Mathieu does not think of graphic design and webdesign as just work but equally as recreation. Every day he works with pleasure and he says that is exactly what you need to succeed as a self-employee. “Likewise you have to be a 100% sure that it is what you want to do. It is furthermore sensible to gain some experience at another business before you start up yourself. However this can also obstruct your own creativity, you have to be careful to keep an open mind.”