Introducing Alexandra Proba: Design Director at Mother and the girl behind the A Poster A Day project. Alex originally started A Poster A Day as a personal challenge—to create and publish something within 30 minutes max. She produced posters within this criteria based on her personal, daily life for a year, before opening up submissions to the public. Now, having just started her 3rd year of posters called Ours, she can receive up to 60 stories a day (most of them sad, surprisingly), asking to be turned into something beautiful. It’s an experience that has influenced Alex’s own story, which reminds us that it’s about process, not perfection.
“At the start of my career, I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do—I had this weird hybrid background of graphic design, architecture and spatial design. I first came to New York for an architecture internship in 2008, but soon learned that architecture wasn’t for me. Everything involves a long process and you’re often designing for a vision that might not happen. I realized I wanted to make something and see it. So I went to the Netherlands to study product and furniture design, but soon ended up back in New York working on a project for my old boss. During that time I was introduced to General Assembly. I started on the brand team when they were still a small co-working space, and went through the whole transformational process as they developed into an educational center, building out campuses across the globe. Following General Assembly I joined Kickstarter as their Art Director, and recently moved on from that role for Design Director at Mother.
Working with start-ups, I’ve realized how important it is to keep the community in mind when designing. When we freshened up the Kickstarter brand, we did color research for each of our categories, from art to technology. There are so many studies on why technology is blue, for example. So we changed the brand colors, and the community (which is close to 20 million people) freaked out on social media, saying Kickstarter had lost its brand! I was pretty much crying in the corner and going to quit. But it goes to show that when you create a brand driven by community, those people really care about what you do. With every decision I have to think about the greater picture and the people. That sense of community is important to maintain—it makes product more honest, in a way.
Having experience in that start-up environment is inspiring—it’s wonderful to see how people help each other. We need that support. Personally, I can be like the little mouse who will run and hide, and my friends have to encourage me. My posters, for example, only really kicked off when other people started interacting with the project. The first year was just a personal diary about my life, and at day 100, I was like why am I doing this? But at day 150, people started becoming interested. When I opened up submissions in the second year, I began receiving the most magical, fascinating stories from all over the world. These people don’t know me, but they tell me the saddest stories of their lives—sometimes happy, but not often.
I try and pull something positive out of every story, in hope that the person can use it as an escape or as some kind of tool for happiness.
People engaging with the project is what keeps me going. When that started happening I realized I was doing something that had greater meaning. Since starting, I’ve done a poster every single day. There have been a couple of fails when I was drunk and posted them pixelated. That happened. But I always posted them. And people react to that, they’re like, ‘Are you drunk? What happened?’ Sometimes I really can’t be bothered, especially on weekends, but it’s easier once you’ve built the habit. The whole thing started as a personal challenge to create something in 30 minutes and put it out there. In any creative field, you can work on something for years and never be happy with it. None of my pieces are perfect, but I’ve never been aiming for perfection. Almost the opposite:
it’s been about building a skill that makes me OK with not being perfect.
And I think I’ve succeeded in that. I dislike about 50% of them. But people will email me wanting to buy the posters I don’t like, and you start to see how people are drawn to different things. And who am I to say what’s good and what’s not? I’m just another human being. If I only produced in my style, perhaps my work would appeal to a lot less people.
The project has made me a better person. I used to complain a lot about dumb stuff, as we all do. For instance, I’ve been trying to get back into running. Last summer, I went out for a run really early in the morning. All I could do was think, ‘Why the fuck am I running?’ I complained the entire time. When I arrived at work that morning, I had an email for a poster story. It was from a 29-year-old Swedish woman who had lymphoma cancer, and been undergoing chemo for the past few years. Her last day of chemo was the day before her 30th birthday, and she was totally positive in seeing her 30th as a new life. Her last sentence was: You know what? All I wanted to do during those years on chemo was go for a run with my dog.
It’s so easy to forget what we have.
Whenever I was sick, my mom would always say ‘well, there’s someone who is sicker than you.’ But it’s hard to think like that at the time. These stories are a constant reminder for how good I’ve got it. I have both my legs, I’m healthy, I can do what I want. I check myself more often now, thinking, is this really worth complaining about? Professionally, it’s made me realize that while quality is important, when you’re improving a skill it’s also about quantity. How much you can produce in order to figure out what you’re doing? A bad sketch is not a bad sketch, it’s something that will only bring you further. The start is the hardest, but I’m not sitting down every day to make something perfect. I’m sitting down to make. And even if I have to trash a bunch of files, it’s the making itself that will help me reach my goal.”
Photographed by Amy Woodside
Artwork courtesy of Studio Proba
As told to Amy Woodside, April 2015