February 1, 2008
Massin answers a few questions on graphic design, inspiration, and process—using his thumbs.
JOB DESCRIPTION: Graphic designer and writer, because writing is as important as designing. But in France they don’t like to have two different identities.
CURRENT PROJECTS: The sixth edition of Pierrot Lunaire, which is based on an atonal piece of music by Arnold Schoenberg. It’s a crazy enterprise. The idea is to transcribe atonal music typographically, to transfer music into a graphic-design piece where you could understand visually how the voice goes up and down.
FIRST STEP ON A PROJECT: If I don’t get the idea in the five minutes that follow the conversation with the client, it’s going to be bad. As the client describes the project I’m reading his lips, and by the end of the conversation, I’ll already have an idea.
LAST STEP ON A PROJECT: The moment I press the “Print” button I can see if it worked or not. And if it didn’t work, I have to do it all over again.
HOW DO YOU BREAK A CREATIVE BLOCK? In general I don’t have any blocks. I used to have more. Sometimes the publisher might be the one creating the block, just by being too demanding. I refused jobs a couple of times because I was afraid of blocks.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO? Because I’m interested in the letter and the alphabet. When I was four and a half years old, my father gave me a soft stone—he was a stone sculptor—and a chisel and hammer, and he asked me to write my name in the stone before I could read or write.
EDUCATION: I befriended writers and learned to write from them.
WORLD-SAVING MISSION: None at all. I live outside the world.
FIRST ACT AS “DESIGN CZAR”: It’s very difficult for me to answer because I don’t think of myself as connected to the world. I’m a pure individualist. I like to operate on my own, without commentary or criticism on the community that I may be part of.
DREAM TEAM: Unfortunately, the people I would like to collaborate with are dead: Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline—and Charlie Chaplin, of course!
OFFICE CHAIR: I used to sit on a high stool; now I sit on a chair that swivels.
OFFICE SOUND TRACK: I have music on while I work, but I try not to use it as background. If the work is relatively mechanical, then it’s OK. Something Baroque or lighter, like Mozart. If I’m really listening to music, then Bach. There’s not one day when I don’t listen to Bach.
FAVORITE TCHOTCHKE: My Boston terrier, Marcel Proust. He’s twenty-two months old.
MOST USEFUL TOOL: I’ve been working on the computer (a Mac) for 18 years, and I don’t think I could go back.
BEST PLACE TO THINK: While I sleep or in between two dreams. I don’t like to chase the ideas.
CURRENT READ: The journal of Paul Claudel. But for the past thirty years I’ve been reading Proust—at least five times. I was born fifteen kilometers away from where he was born. When I was a kid I thought I met Marcel Proust, until I discovered it was a shepherd in a nearby village.
SOMETHING OLD: I live surrounded by all these objects. I can’t identify one in particular.
SOMETHING NEW: I have cable, and I use it very often to listen to music and watch old movies.
FAVORITE SPACE: My office, which used to be my daughter’s bedroom. It’s now invaded by technology: two huge printers, one scanner, a projector.
GUILTY PLEASURE: Two cigarettes a day, and forty kilos of chocolate a year
UNDERRATED: The Baroque movement
LEARNED THE HARD WAY: I don’t believe how old I am because I think I’m immortal.
COMMAND-Z (UNDO): Undo the world and do it better, just for me
DREAM JOB: I have no regrets about not learning to draw, but I’m sorry I never looked into filmmaking.