Anagricel Duran – Contributor

One of the most important parts of any kind of brand has to be its creative directors. The main thing that anyone remembers from a brand is aspects of their design. The Coca-cola logo and polar bears, Instagram’s specific layout and logo colors, even Google’s ever-changing home page that correlates with different holidays. This the work of the creative teams, and without them, marketing and advertising would not exist.  

I sat down through Zoom with Lionel Taurus, a French Caribbean interactive art director who has worked with many prestigious companies, to discuss what it is like being a creative director during a global pandemic, racism, and managing to stay hopeful during such unprecedented times. 

Anagricel Duran: What made you decide to enter the world of interactive art as a person of color?

Lionel Taurus: Well, I will try to keep it very simple, my older sister is a designer. She used to be an art director too and then a teacher. When I was younger, I was always checking her drawings and looking at all the things she was doing. I knew that there were not a lot of people coming from my island because I’m from a small Caribbean island called Guadalupe. I knew that there were no other people doing this type of job and always been attracted to anything that is drawing illustrations and all of that. That’s what really drew me to do this. 

Taurus’ work for Speak Your Mind, a cola between Squarespace and Secret 7 to “bring awareness to the importance of communicating about mental health and to give people a platform to speak their minds.”

AD: You’re currently a judge for the FWA awards. FWA’s mission is to “showcase cutting-edge creativity, regardless of the medium or technology used.” How have you as a judge included diversity in your choices?

LT: You mean in the way I’m judging or in the way I judge myself in my own projects? 

AD: let’s discuss both

LT: Well, I would say in the way I’m judging, it’s a little bit hard because you don’t really know most of the time who is behind the project. So it’s super hard to know, like, OK, maybe this person should be better represented or do some other things. There are some countries that are underrepresented. I would say like even in the submissions that are underway. It’s hard sometimes because there is a difference in culture. What we consider has sometimes good design for us is not necessarily the same good design that they think causes them either so perhaps to be neutral and to think “all right, I’m going to leave a chance to this person that is being from this remote country that no one knows about. It is doing this amazing thing”. Maybe for them, it’s amazing. But for me, it’s still a bit hard to judge so much of the time. I’m trying to take that in consideration and to think even with the project, like, OK, if this thing is. The best for its categories and the best for what the problem of the project was, and I’m trying to judge depending on that and not just to make things clash with each other, because that’s where you prioritize things more than others. 

AD: So what about your work? How are you trying to focus on that diversity and kind of step out of the certain boxes that there are? 

LT:  Well, for me personally, it’s a little bit different because I’ve never been attracted to trends and I’m pretty bad, actually, at keeping myself up to date with trends. Most of the time, I’m just trying to give a part of myself in my design rather than trying to replicate things that I’ve done and trying to improve them. I’m mostly focusing on my own little things, for example, right now I’m doing my portfolio and I thought that it will be cool if I had a marker or something that I could leave in my designs all the time, something to show that I’m coming from the islands so, I designed a little coconut tree and I was like, that could be a little hint that I’m not someone that is coming from a big place. 

AD:  You’ve worked with some of the biggest brands and companies such as MTV, LG, Google, Longchamp. What’s been the biggest challenge with working with these huge names? Because I am sure it can be very daunting to be presented with these projects to work on.

LT: I mean, most of the projects I’ve worked on when I was working for a company called B-Reel, were for Facebook and Google. It was nice because these are companies that are so big that they cannot do everything themselves, so most of the time they just externalize all the work and they ask smaller studios to kinda come up with some ideas and new things to do. 

The cool thing at B-reel was B-reel is a Swedish company and The Swedish are very open-minded about bringing a diverse group of people to work together just to make a bunch of crazy ideas that are completely different. So I think it was not too hard to work for them because they’re very open-minded, but what it was was actually diversity. That’s what they want at the core of their business. The fact that they let us do pretty much whatever we wanted to do was actually amazing. 

More of Taurus’ Work

AD: That’s the best right, being able to use your creativity without having certain restrictions.

LT: Yeah, Yeah.

AD: So how has the pandemic/current state of the world affected your work and creativity?

LT: It was quite hard to be honest because at the beginning I didn’t know if I was going to keep my job especially because I have a visa and it’s not something that I take for granted. It’s something that I can get just through awards, recognition, articles, and a bunch of other stuff. 

“The only way I got through this was because I was focusing on my work and I was trying to actually push a little bit more and work on myself”

I really felt like shit! like if it’s happening to me, maybe I’m going to have to move because it’s easier to get rid of someone that is not a native or that is not coming from another state. So it was kind of stressful at the beginning and the only way I got through this was because I was focusing on my work and I was trying to actually push a little bit more and work on myself with my portfolio and redesigning everything. 

The interesting thing was that this happened at the same time as the George Floyd/ Black Lives Matter movement. It was actually crazy because I got so many people asking me “hey! do you want a Job, do you want this do you want that” and it felt weird, to be honest because some of them I felt like it was genuine but some of it wasn’t really because it was almost like, oh, like now we’ve got to make an all-inclusive company so, “Hey, do you want the position?” And I’m like, you never contacted me before, and uh why would you contact me now? Like, is this because I’m Black or what? 

If you just contact me because of a catastrophe or whatever, I don’t want to be part of it. I would rather you contact me for my work and none of that. I completely 100 percent agree that companies should be more diverse, but they should not be taking advantage of these types of events to start doing things, to make changes. 

AD: Has there been a project or a moment that you’ve worked on where you felt that you were being boxed in or being used for your race and you didn’t have that creative liberty to really give it your all? And if so, how did you deal with that? 

LT: I got lucky that it never really happened to me professionally, I would say. It mostly happened to me before starting to work, when I was looking for an internship, or even when I was just trying to go to school. I had one of the most horrible experiences. I grew up in the Caribbean for 17 years and when I moved to France, it was to go to art school.  

There was this art school, I’m not even going to name it, it was in Paris. I was already selected to go to the school, but I still had to get an interview with some of the teachers to get through some tests and then start classes. So I went there with my mom and one of my sisters, and we got welcomed by the secretary of the school and she was like, oh, yes so I’m going to call the teacher. Just sit here outside of this room and I’m going to call the teacher in and say that you’re here for the interview. I had everything with me. I had a portfolio on the CD and I was ready and we were waiting at the door. 

So we heard the secretary going inside the room and she said to the teacher, like, hey, Mr. Lionel Taurus is here for his interview. He came with his mom and sister, he’s ready for you. Do you want me to come get him? And the teacher left the room. She came outside, she looked at us. She didn’t say anything. She went back into the room and she said, I did not see anyone. When we heard that, we were like, that’s a joke, right?

The secretary was like, no, no, no. They were just right here at the door like they were waiting for you. It’s just right there. So they both come out and then, She’s like, oh, my God, I did not see you guys. Oh, my God, I am so sorry. Whatever. And then my mom said, “you’re not going to this school” and then we left. I was like, whoa, OK. 

AD: That was like a huge culture shock coming from like a small Caribbean island to Paris and having that happen.

“Once I got into Gobelins school in Paris, all those companies that refused me before they contacted me after, like saying like,’ hey! we want you'”

LT: Yes, yes definitely. Outside of this particular event and a couple more after when I was looking for internships, it was the same thing. If you didn’t have a certain type of school on your curriculum, you were just completely ignored by companies just to do an internship. I was applying and they never answered me. It was really, really, really hard. Once I got into Gobelins school, it’s like a famous animation school in Paris, all those companies that refused me before they contacted me after, like saying like, “hey! we want you,” then I was like, eh no. 

AD: You were like “now you want me” right! 

LT: Yeah! It was quite crazy once I had a foot in the door it was a little bit better, but to get the foot in was challenging. 

AD: So with a career in the creative industry, do you think that having a support system is necessary? Again, a little flashback to the whole state of the world and like how many people in these creative industries have lost their jobs and are kind of like freelancing now? Do you think that the idea of a support group or having those people who believe in you and are constantly there for you has become more important than like maybe, say, before this pandemic?

LT: Oh, definitely. Definitely. I mean, it’s always been something that has been lacking, I would say, especially in the creative industry. There’s not such a place like support for designers and creatives from wherever the place to support people with their career and give them advice. The only place where you find that is at school. 

“There’s no one that is really taking care of these types of problematics and trying to make a change for companies like this”

There’s no one that is really taking care of these types of problematics and trying to make a change for companies like this. One of my coworkers at Squarespace created a platform for Latin American people, to reference them on a website and just to showcase their work and all the things that they’re doing and it was the first one in Latin America and I was like, how the fuck is she so young and she just started something that is just like the first thing. I was shocked because I was like this is crazy like I don’t understand. This type of thing is definitely needed 

AD: Yeah, how have you been able to find a support group? Like, have you been supported from the beginning or have you been able to create a little group or something? 

LT: Well, for now, we have BAS. It’s Black at Squarespace. Pretty much all the Black people at Squarespace are consulting each other just to see how we can integrate everything from our culture within the company and it could be events or whatever things that are important to us. I mean, for now, it’s a little bit died down because of the pandemic obviously.

 Other things that I try to do is Squarespace is partnering with the company Scope of Work and I did some portfolio judging for people of color. I help them and give some advice to some young creatives that needed some help with their portfolio and how they could market themselves. I’m still trying to just involve myself a little bit more and just trying to support, like my friends or creatives or whoever wants to work in this space and get better.  

Photo by Craig Reynolds

AD: Coming from a French Caribbean background, was there any hesitation in striving for a career that was more on the artistic side? Was there any moment in which your parents were just like, maybe you want to go into something a bit more professional?

LT:  Yes. My mom raised me by herself because my father died when I was younger when I was around six. She was freaked out because she was like you’re not going to make a living out of drawing things.

The other thing is we have a very strong culture in the Caribbean, but it’s very towards like festivities or stuff like Carnival, all these things. I mean, we have a lot of culture. But the thing is, there are not too many advertising companies. 

There’s nothing like a really strong modern design culture, I would say, so it’s very close to the roots of the country itself, and it’s not really up to date. I would not be like, hell yeah! I have a logotype and I want to sell it at this company for one thousand dollars!  They would look at me and be like no, I wouldn’t even give you ten dollars for it. 

It’s quite complex in this way so my mom always was worried. The only reason I got lucky that she let me do it was because my sister was already a designer and she was in France already. She was freelancing. She was like a freelancer, independent producer, and she was making quite a lot of money, to be honest. So it made sense to her because of that. But if it wasn’t for her, I would definitely be doing that. 

Yeah, I would have been something else, like an accountant or some stuff like that, because I was good at math. But aside from this, it would have been nothing close to anything artistic, like for sure.

AD: So, we’ve reached the final question. Do you have any advice for somebody who wants to branch out into the world of interactive art during this pandemic? The roads that were once laid out are now gone through the window, considering the pandemic going on and everything. So any tips or advice for anyone who would want to dare to branch into that world in this day and age today? 

“If you would have asked me this question in February or March of last year, I would tell you, like, no, this is dead, you’re just going to end up in the street”

LT: I think it’s still possible because, I mean, from what I see now, companies are being way more flexible, especially creative companies. We were working remotely because they didn’t have a chance at all. I mean, if you would have asked me this question in February or March of last year, I would tell you, like, no, this is dead, you’re just going to end up in the street and this is the end of it. I think right now the companies are way more open for people to work remotely because it’s healthier. 

It’s better, you get a good work-life balance and I think that’s something that actually companies are evaluating a little bit more than before. I suspect if there is one thing I would do is just to keep staying busy, if I had advice for people it would be to become more social like sharing things on Twitter, on Instagram, everywhere you can. Use the platforms that we have to promote your work online and reach the most people that you can. That would be my biggest advice for those people that just want to branch out and start their own stuff. I think companies that are ready now to make the steps for not having to necessarily be walking in the office and even though we are in a pandemic, advertising is one of those things that never really die because people still consume things and still want to buy things even when they don’t have money. It’s still going to be there no matter what. People are going to need us and it’s still there’s going to be space for designing.

You can check out Lionel’s work on his Instagram @filsdegraphiste, Twitter @filsdegraphiste, and his portfolio.