For a social design approach beyond the human, read our interview with Noam Youngrak-Sun, one of the participants of chapter 2 of the Tangle: https://post.design/interview-noam-youngrak-son/


Read about collaboration as artistic method in our interview with Tenthaus from chapter 2: https://post.design/excavating-a-collaborative-practice-discovering-the-individual-within-the-collective/


Regarding moving in unison, Kexin Hao talks about the power of synchronicity in our interview with her from chapter 3 of the Tangle: https://post.design/heroes-and-villains-performance-art-and-social-stigma/

A group of people with their hands over their heads facing Kexin Hao


Take another detour with Laurenz Brunner, as we did in Oslo: https://post.design/spring-fountain-font-meandering-alongside-laurenz-brunner/


With a group of design students, Nejc Prah led a workshop in the first chapter of the Tangle about developing design tools (specifically a typeface) with at-hand material. Read the interview here: https://post.design/whats-in-your-pocket/


Get your bearings on Estonian sauna culture here: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2023/nov/18/smoke-sweat-and-tears-my-initiation-into-estonias-sauna-sisterhood

GIF by Sanni Lahtinen via Giphy

Interview with Laura Pappa
Speaker at chapter 4: Power
September 2023
Words by Bethany Rigby
Photography by Sanni Riihimäki

Just after the tangle in Helsinki, we posed graphic designer Laura Pappa some questions on what places, and people and practices help keep her work at the cutting edge.

Your design practice seems an innately social experience – be that through teaching or your impromptu bar events – what qualities does this give to your graphic output?

I guess these things are actually connected in rather different ways. Each type of work I do (as roughly outlined in my talk, consisting of commissioned work, organising, teaching and more hobby-like activities) offers me different things and have their own structure, of sorts. Not all work I do has this social aspect connected to it, though perhaps people tend to be found at the centre of most design practices.

In terms of graphic output, I’ve always been less interested in striving for particularly interesting visuals (although surely there’s some pleasure in that too) and more interested in how the outcome speaks to audiences. On top of that I’m really interested in communicating with the people I work for and how to squeeze the most out of that situation in regards to distilling the information relevant to the design. It might sound like a formula but it’s actually much more organic and I always find it quite fun. I think most design work is based on conversations and the outcome ends up becoming a collage that represents how the communication between the different parties developed over time.

How about your actual design process? Does that involve more people or are you the sole designer on your projects?

I’m generally quite fond of working alone: I work faster like this and there’s nobody to argue with besides occasionally the commissioner. Until this point I’ve worked on projects both alone as well as in a team of two with various friends of mine (such as Elisabeth Klement, Lotte Schröder, Robert Milne and Karlis Krecers). I like to switch things up every now and then, so it’s nice to be able to choose for either solo-working or in a dialogue for each specific project, whilst also considering what the collaboration is good for and what it adds to both the process and end result. 

I’ve been thinking about collaboration a lot recently and teach most of my classes around that. In future, I’d like to try out different ways of working which could involve more experimental forms of collaboration. For now this is more a dream or an illusion of sorts, and it’s not unlikely that I’d end up really disliking the process as I’m also sadly quite a control freak. But I guess after mostly working alone on projects, there’s something intriguing about being a smaller cog in a larger machine. On top of that I find the social aspect of work increasingly important and believe that everything that gets discussed aloud in a room with a number of people has the potential to become significantly more relevant due to the different voices that are present. Circling around your own head simply doesn’t produce the same results.

In your talk at the Tangle, you mentioned many moments from your childhood spent in Tallinn – what is your favourite childhood memory from growing up there?

I used to love to venture to different, more distant parts of the city either alone or with friends. I would take on these trips on foot, often just by starting to walk in one direction and see where I end up. I was also often short of cash, and so when I stayed out late, I’d end up walking home at night – roughly a one and a half hour walk. It was nice to experience the city without the usual hustle and bustle. I’d even occasionally take a detour just for fun.

If we were to point to a hotspot of graphic design in continental Europe, Amsterdam would be glowing white hot. On the other hand Tallinn is at the periphery (to sort-of paraphrase you). What does this oscillation between centre (Amsterdam) and periphery (Tallinn) bring to your design practice?

In fact the “periphery” we were talking about in 2017 was mostly more of a metaphorical one. The exhibition was very international and also showcased many projects from the Netherlands. We were interested in talking about what happened just to the side of the mainstream, commercial graphic design world, what people were developing on a small scale and for a limited audience.

Having said that, I suppose Tallinn could still be considered a periphery of sorts and we were aware of that when working on the exhibition. What I’ve always loved about doing projects (not graphic design projects per se but curatorial or organisational projects) in Tallinn, is that there’s so much potential in terms of space as there’s hardly any competition to whatever you might want to cook up. This means that even if there’s not much financial resources available, it’s actually pretty easy to find ways to make something happen. 

In Amsterdam, even though in terms of scale it’s not significantly bigger than Tallinn, there’s already lots going on, so your thing might be just another needle in the haystack. Design awareness is also much higher. So in the end it’s simply not as exciting, for me at least, to do something there.

You mentioned your classes focus on working together – can you tell us more about some specific sessions that you run with students that encourage collaborative processes? And what do you feel your teaching practice brings into your own design practice?

I try to do something new every year, and each class has had varying levels of success both in terms of process as well as final outcome. So far one of my favourites was a class called “Dream Big” where we started the class by outlining all the students’ skills and interests, which then led to each student proposing a project that they could only achieve with the help of the rest of the group. What I really enjoyed about this was that, in the end, I became more of a facilitator and the students themselves ended up organising the work sessions. This is quite important to how I like to work.

Another project that took off around 2014 is something I’ve called the Articulation Convention, which is a short workshop of a few hours (though I’ve also ran it as week long project) that is based on different, often theatrical, exercises focussing on fostering feelings of comfort and trust between members of a group. It’s made up of rather silly exercises, so the participants really need to commit to the fact that they will be making a fool of themselves one way or another, but in my experience this brings the group closer together. I’d like to spend some time developing a second iteration of this project with new exercises and a slightly shifted focus.

Regarding how this fits into my design practice, in many ways teaching offers a break from commissioned projects more than anything. I also mentor graduation projects, where the teaching is tied more closely to discussing actual design projects as well as imagining what kind of practices might grow out of the work that the students have been making. My own practice is similarly in a state of constant evolution, so it’s interesting to have conversations with people that are on the brink of entering the field.

How do you see the discipline of graphic design changing? Perhaps in both positive and negative tendencies.

I think it’s quite a stupid thing to say, especially as an educator in the field, but I’m not particularly concerned with this subject. There’s a lot going on and the world is constantly in motion so needless to say stuff is changing by the minute, however I’m not necessarily the person that’s “keeping up with the kids” or all the latest developments. What is interesting to witness is how design tools are becoming more widely available, that’s really important. This means that there’s lots of room, perhaps again in the periphery, for more niche ideas to develop. As long as we keep some space for people to develop their own work, everything can stay in balance.

Under our theme of Power, is there any creative person or grassroots organisation who you’d like to share with us, so we can use this platform to shout about their work?

I’ve had the pleasure to work with many cool women recently, all of whom have been busy with super interesting projects. 

Kristina Norman is an Estonian artist whose recent work deals with colonial relationships and issues of collective memory; she’s currently part of the Momenta Biennale in Montréal and is about to open an exhibition in the Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle. 

Debra Solomon is an artist and researcher active in the field of urban agriculture, working on and researching food forests and urban soil building. She’s currently part of an exhibition in Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam with some of her earlier work. 

Dorothé Orczyk is busy with her PhD (as is Debra) titled Performance Art as Female Resistance which focuses on the work of several Polish artists; she’ll hold a symposium on the subject at de Appel in Amsterdam at the end of November. 

Margit Säde and Kristina Grigorjeva just closed an exhibition titled Fugacity at a building called Linnahall in Tallinn which among other matters dealt with how cities evolve and considered the future of decaying monumental architecture. While this exhibition is now finished, Margit will soon open a public sauna together with other makers from the city, right adjacent to where the exhibition took place. Maybe see you in the sauna?

Note on the images: At the end of Laura Pappa’s talk, photographer Sanni Riihimäki followed the rest of the audience of the Tangle outside into the community garden behind the Design Museum in Helsinki to document the launch-as-bar-as-reading circle of Issue 6 of Exercises in Practical Mischievery – a series that archives the stories of notable individuals who have implemented out-of-the ordinary methods of distribution of words and thoughts.

Back to grid

More from the tangle