Explore the comprehensive online platform.


See how the exhibition looked in this episode of “Transfer” broadcasted on HTV (in Croatian)


More reflections on how design can embrace the hippocratic oath of “Do No Harm” here.


#5 of the UNDPs 10 standards for digital design is “Do No Harm” and provides a good checklist of considerations when designing.


Go explore the platform.

Interview with Maša Poljanec / OAZA Kolektiv
Speaker at chapter 3: Community
April 2023
Words by Bethany Rigby

Oaza Collective is a design practice from Zagreb (Croatia) founded by Nina Bačun, Ivana Borovnjak, Roberta Bratović, Tina Ivezić, Maja Kolar and Maša Poljanec in 2013. Speaking on their behalf; Maša Polijanec expands on how OAZA Kolektiv delves into the past by rewriting design history, and reaches into the future with their children’s literature edition ‘Oaza&Sons’.

In your talk you mentioned that collective practice is sometimes not easy- however you’ve maintained your collaborations for over 10 years. What are the difficult things about it, and what makes you continue to work together?

Our collective practice is based on friendship that has lasted for more than twenty years. The Oaza collective is structured horizontally, and each member has autonomy to organize herself within the collective as she wishes, in relation to life situation, personal plans, preferred projects, working schedules etc. Interwoven work relations and friendship is wonderful, but sometimes it can be challenging, especially in the free formation of our collective where we don’t have long-term strategies and we figure things out together along the way. We organize ourselves around the projects, and often work in pairs. We’ve gotten to know our individual dynamics well after so many years, and we are getting ever better at overcoming misunderstandings. 

On larger projects that we do as a group of six, it’s important that we have a precise schedule when we all get together and intensively co-create, otherwise it can slip into chaos. Working together allows us to do things differently and unconventionally, to make better and more complex projects, and to teach and inspire each other, giving each of us the opportunity to surpass ourselves and our basic competences. We support each other and we mix ideas, knowledge, experiences, practices and more. In the work process, there are sometimes disagreements – in those moments, through intensive and honest discussions – we often come to a better solution. Sometimes not everybody is happy about decisions made but we are aware that we need to balance relationships well so that neither friendship nor work suffers. This is a challenge that requires goodwill, commitment, understanding and open dialogue from everyone involved. This is not always easy, but this is where group trips, non-work gatherings, and dinners usually help us.

Your project on uncovering the past of female designers reaches into the discipline of art history, and you spoke of how it felt a little unconventional to give talks about the project within museum spaces- what do you think graphic design can offer to historical practices such as archiving or art history? 

The mission of the project “Female Design History in Croatia, 1930-1980: Context, Production, Influences” was/is to research and study the continuity of the local female designer scene, the female designers’ authorial accomplishments, their influence on their contemporaries and today’s designers, as well as the environment and circumstances they worked in. The project was initiated and carried out by us (design practitioners) with the support of the art historian Ana Bedenko. Research was conducted through archival research in three countries: Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, data was collected from records, verbal documents, and visual artifacts. Other methods applied were visual mapping, in-depth analysis of the found documentation, process of selection and curation of the content and in-person interviews. In total, it was a two year process that involved collaborators from the field of archival research and documentation, art and design history, curation and web development. “Frontend” of the research is created by means of visual communication and graphic design, and it focuses on systematization, comparison and confrontation of diverse materials, as well as on storytelling and intuitive use. Although our research methods were mostly standard, as design practitioners we had somewhat a different approach to them. Our interest was driven by our design practice, and this of course affected how we approached our findings, how we conducted interviews and so on. When the research was finished, we were in a position where we could design the material ourselves exactly as we wanted, very precisely, and present the project in an unconventional, non-formal way. 

The subversive conception of the digital archive is based on the democratic potential of online digital space. The voice and visual space was given to unknown, absent, unaligned female authors and their work. Such a historical revision through the form of an emerging open digital database raises the question of the right to reflect and participate in exclusive communities of knowledge. The overall design and way of presenting the data played a big role in how the project was perceived by the public and what kind of influence was achieved through it. Our idea was that this information had to escape a narrow circle of art historians, and this happened successfully.

In the first phase of the public presentation of the project, we were worried about what the reactions would be – whether our perspective was valuable, interesting and useful to others. We expected criticism, and were anxious that we were trespassing on someone else’s territory, being naive and not competent enough. But the project was well received with positive reviews and success, and it became larger than ever planned. I have to admit that we were naive, but without naivety, we would never have embarked on such a complex research project. Today the project represents a significant contribution to the history of Croatian design. It managed to give face to hitherto relatively unknown or insufficiently researched authors and their contributions to the design profession. The project reached many people and this resulted in various positive outcomes. Some art historians contacted us, and said that they were very interested in our project and our approach, that they are using materials further for their own research projects, and so we made new connections with (real) experts.

We’ve learned through practice that design can offer new interesting methods and forms of researching, interpreting, archiving and presenting art/history. And that we can encourage the creation of new connections and concepts in that field, and initiate dialogue from a different perspective.

It seems that your personal experience inspires your professional work, particularly with the Oaza&Sons edition. How do you balance the blurring between the personal and the professional, and what is the intention behind producing children’s literature?

The idea of ​​publishing children’s books is directly related to the Oaza’s offspring – and at that time – the almost daily interactions with our kids in our shared working space. The series Oaza&Sons emerged from a belief in the transformative power of children’s literature — in its simultaneous act as art, as pedagogy, as ethics as well as a political practice. We wanted to make high-quality children’s books that would be interesting for adults too, and to work with authors: writers and illustrators who have never created children’s books before. Another intention was to connect a foreign and a Croatian author on each book project. The network of authors expanded and through these collaborations new friendships emerged. Oaza&Sons edition brings out a series of inventive and inspiring illustrated books for children and adults. We publish new books continuously, and also organize readings and workshops for children.

In his talk, Tommi Vasko asked “What kind of role would you take if we would collaborate? What would be an atypical, unexpected or out of this world role for you?” – how would you answer this?

I will continue to answer this question on behalf of the Oaza collective, but from my own speculation. The role is Oaza, which becomes a hybrid persona, made up of all its members and their characteristics, but it is not simply the sum of its individual parts, but draws its character from the creative possibilities of different interactions and synergies. I’m only an input, but I can take a role and become complete through the Oaza avatar. Oaza is designing-researching-publishing-curating-teaching-writing-studying-…, and is inviting you to their home-laboratory-workshop-library-garden… 🙂

Maya Moumne asked the audience “How will my design fit and what impact will it have?”- how do you measure the response or impact of the studio’s outputs?

We design consciously, and we try to accomplish a positive effect, or at least not to do any harm with our practice. We take into account not only the final result, but all stages of the design process and also the project’s afterlifes. We are aware that we are a part of a system, an element in a network, and what responsibility this brings. Some of these responsibilities (fits and impacts) are predictable and can be planned and expected, others happen outside of our influence and control. Sometimes a project takes on a life of its own and outgrows the initial intentions of the designer. For example: out of curiosity, we started our research with the intention of doing a small personal project about women’s design history for ourselves, and it ended up being something much bigger –- this was unexpected. Sometimes you make a book with the intention that an artist will be satisfied with how you presented her work, and then after a few years a group of students see the book and it leaves an impact on them, it initiates new looking and thinking, and they become interested in exploring some new worlds. Outside of the Oaza collective when we look at the bigger picture, especially in our work with design students, it becomes clear that the important question is how can we change the design field itself so that we have a stronger, real impact.

Is there anything happening on Ilica Street soon that we should know about?

As usual, a lot is happening in Oaza at Ilica 132. MADE IN PLATFORM continues with activities that will promote the importance of contemporary design and art practices, innovative technologies, and transdisciplinary thinking. The project intends to overcome the perception of crafts as non-inventive and obsolete, instead integrating them into the core of the ecological debate. The aim is to highlight new material research approaches and other design processes related to various topics like the degradation of natural resources, extraction, and models of sustainable production. Oaza initiated a project that deals with the exploitation of the Adriatic sea. At specific localities we will work with a particular focus on the sea coast to try to move beyond a human-centered perspective. Simultaneously, many new interesting books are being created in Oaza, and in Autumn, we will have an exhibition of all Oaza’s publications, which will take place in the Croatian design association in Zagreb. Our cooperation with the Deltalab – Center for Urban Transition, Architecture and Urbanism from Rijeka is also interesting. At the moment we are working with them on the visual identity and future website for their project URBAN STUDIES – interdisciplinary university specialist study program of spatial and strategic design of complex urban systems, phenomena and transformations. We are also planning social gatherings and lectures in Ilica, and some (summer)workshops. In Autumn, we hope to start Oaza’s book club with students, where we will discuss the design of publications, through the analysis of all stages in the conception and production of a specific book.

→ Find out more about OAZA Kolektiv via o-a-z-a.com and oazabooks.com

Back to grid

More from the tangle