Chiara is the mind and the face behind Until Sunday. She is an Italian award-winning designer with many years of experience as a graphic designer, art director and brand consultant. Her work is creative, emotionally involving and detail-obsessed.
As a freelance art director, Chiara has created innovative designs for brands like Joomla, CTA, Daelmans, NH Hotel, Osram, and many others. She has also directed the overall artistic look and feel of different tech companies and not-for-profit organisations around the world (Médecins Sans Frontières and more recently, ActionAid Hellas), ensuring that their communication followed the established vision and mission. Her outstanding collaborative and interpersonal skills have helped her successfully leading creative teams to design immersive and memorable experiences.
Chiara describes herself as a typography addict, a lover of colours and a brand keeper. She blogs about the beauty of typography, the importance of good design and how as a designer, she feels committed to creating meaningful experiences for her clients. She is also a public speaker and always thinking up new ways to grab the audience’s attention with her unique style.
Stories have a greater ability to cut through the noise, reach consumers, and build an emotional connection with users. That's why brands use stories to build engagement, loyalty, and sales. But a brand's storytelling is more than just words and a logo. It is about evoking an emotional response that will drive people to buy from you – not a nameless, faceless company. Storytelling can appear like a hard task, made more complicated by sound design. But Chiara Aliotta breaks down storytelling into manageable components and joins this episode to share experience and insights that every brand ought to adopt.
KRISTINA PODNAR, HOST: Welcome to the Power of Digital Policy podcast, where we talk about all things digital that influence digital policy. Today, I'm very giddy to have Chiara Aliotta as my guest. Chiara is a brilliant artist, a designer, a storyteller, a brand keeper, and I'm humbled to say she's also the illustrator of my book The Power of digital policy! Benvenuto, Chiara, or maybe I should say, Chiara, Yōkoso! since we're both Japanophiles.
CHIARA ALIOTTA, GUEST: Kristina, thank you for this radiant welcome. I'm very happy for being here. And to remember the time, the nice time we had together working on the book. It's one of the best memories of my working life. So and I'm very happy and honored to be part of this podcast. So thank you so much.
KRISTINA: Well, thank you. I'm going to stop gushing because I think I could go on for hours and hours. Let me ask you, every part of your life seems to be about design in some shape or form, right? I think of you not just as a designer, but really about you really as an artist, but tell us more about your design history specifically. How did you get to where you have been today?
CHIARA: Well, I'm not going to start "Since I was a child." I'm not going to do that. But this to design is has been part of me. I mean, it's always been part of my way of living. I like to be surrounded by beautiful things beautiful that are functional. The way I dress; also, I wanted to be unique, memorable. I wanted to tell a story, so I have people for whom I design dresses, and then they do it for me. So and so everything it's really designed and when you see me it says, people say, I can see you are a designer. My story started when I left Sicily because I wanted to become a designer of packaging for food. So the very completely different story of what I am today, but that's how I got into design. I like packaging design because it has a combination of what's beautiful and what's functional and becomes together in one product. So at the time, the web wasn't really a thing, and print and eBooks and were done but by someone else, and they were not really my cup of tea. So I really wanted to design something like food packaging for food. If you think the packaging for food, it's a very practical product; it protects and out consume food, you know select the problem very recognizable on the shelf. And it also, what I like the most is that everyone is going to have a copy of it. So it's not something exclusive. It's not like a chair design. It's someone who can buy the packaging I design. I mean, it's my design and in the supermarket. So just the idea that I can come so close to everyday's people life made me feel like, oh, yes, I want to be a designer. So I moved from Sicily to Milan, and I studied first of all industrial design so that I could get that understanding of how to design products and then I took a specialization in communication design. And this is something that they didn't predict because as soon as I started studying communication design, I love it. I really love it and love communication, and graphics. I love the fact that through my studies, I could have anyone to communicate in a very memorable, consistent, efficient way. So that was like, I wanted this as a job. I wanted other people to express or talk about their message. And this is how I end up e mostly focusing on communication graphic design.
KRISTINA: That is such a rich history. I'm listening to as you're speaking, and it's not a very direct path, but it's a very interesting path and one that I think is worthwhile for people and to understand that not everything has to follow "one, two, three." It can go from a 1 to a 3 to a two and still end up being the right path to take. So now you're actually living in Greece on a lovely Island. I'm curious, just you know, how has living in the Mediterranean region of the world impacted your approach to design if at all, or was it really Milan where you felt like that was the biggest influence?
CHIARA: I think the biggest influence, what I understood by studying design, is that every great Italian designer was mostly a very good storyteller. If you think about Munari, his ideas, his design was just amazing, but it was mostly a great storyteller. You can tell you stories around the idea that this part is designed for a chair or a table or any other product and anything that kind of storytelling side, I somehow had it in built-in because I am from Sicily and I was very always very good at it. The reason I'm saying this is because I used to spend a lot of time with my grandma when I was a child, and she barely knew how to write or read, but she was a very great storyteller. And I think that coming from Sicily, because of the lack of school education that persistent for many years after the war, south Italy had to somehow cope with this lack of professional education with storytelling. So how can a teach someone else? So I'm going to teach my nephew about how things need to be done in life. And so they usually stories was the only way, so especially for my grandma, it was the only way, so my work has always a story and I when I want to explain an idea, I'm anchor always to some kind of inspiring story all of the metaphor because then it becomes very easy to understand and to comprehend or even to repeat yourself. Somehow, I think that the story of the concept of storytelling it's part of the Mediterranean country. We like always to have this kind of idea of a metaphor or something bigger. We are not just doing design a product. We're doing something more than this. Now it's international, but somehow, I want to think that Sicily or Italy generally started it.
KRISTINA: Well, and you know, you've said several times I think that brands also need to tell a story. In fact, I'm thinking back to a talk you gave about being a storyteller, and it just vividly sticks out in my mind. But, what about brands? They have a story to tell, and every designer is a storyteller. So how do brands go about creating a story and then telling it publicly and doing it in a way that does the story justice?
CHIARA: I always say about the brand; when I think about brand and stories, I always think about the book that I read Chick Gandil's Great Hit. He made to see I don't know if you know this book. Kristina, it's a very nice book, actually. Have you heard about it?
KRISTINA: No, but I'm going to go look it up right after this conversation.
CHIARA: Okay, okay. So usually, brands need to create stories. This story needs to be related to values or real facts that actually refer back to the brand. In this book, Chick Gandil's Great Hit talks about a very specific formula, which I implicitly always use when I was trying to understand or having to say this affair, or they construct the story of a brand so in general, when brand build the story, they really follow very simple things like the story needs to be simple as so understanding what's the core message of posted the code of the message and how you can communicate it with it an analogy needs to be unexpected. So it needs to hold the attention, use curiosity gaps, and create something that the audience wants to listen to. And of course, it needs to be concrete needs to be real and credible, and of and the fines that would say always think stories, the most important brand stories have is that emotional level. Does it resonate with me doesn't make me feel like telling something to me and what's in there for me? And this is how a brand becomes viral immediately. When they hit the emotional level of the audience, then this is where the story becomes public and becomes extremely sharable somehow. So and also, I believe the story has to follow specific rules. Like there are always a beginning and a middle and an end of the story, and if you're not able to connect those parts, it's very unlikely you're going to create something that people actually can follow and when a story is a very simple to remember it really, and you feel genuine, and you feel like you are really asking people to get involved with it. Then the game is afoot it's just that it's not anymore; your story becomes the story of the audience and everyone else who's feel represented by that specific message. So that's how to talk about stories and brands.
KRISTINA: You worked on my book, which is all about boundaries in the digital world. So I like this idea about storytelling and storytelling having some rules, or maybe a formula, or a cadence or a pattern, perhaps. And so I like that idea. Do you see similar types of boundaries or cadence when you know you're doing design? Are their boundaries that apply to design?
CHIARA: Oh, definitely. Of course, there are; I mean if there were no boundaries, I wouldn't even think how you can build brands in the first place. Like I'm thinking the last work I did for a not-for-profit organization ActionAid Hellas, so we started with a very creative process and that we were starting to contain the creativity into a brand model. So a system of rules and elements that actually can indicate how to use all the visual elements that I had created from them. It was not just the typography or the color. But also, how to use images? What kind of message do you want to confer? What kind of illustration are we going to use? How can the colors be combined? What is the percentage on a page? Or how the hierarchy of all the typography needs to be in order to have a nice and easily readable page. So, I think the graphic design is a story itself of rules and specific boundaries, and patterns like you want. I mean, there is a minimum of a letter, so you can type in a row. So otherwise, the eyes of the user won't be able to follow the line because that's the minimum amount of words. You can follow in a straight line. I mean, this is the way our eyes are built if you don't know that you could write long sentences in just one line, but no one would be able to read that. So you need to know this simple pattern of the rules because otherwise, any time, you're going to reinvent the wheel. There is no need to do that. So actually, sometimes it will also save us from the idea that we need to start from zero all the time and actually give some the possibility to start from there and then be creative around it.
KRISTINA: You're speaking my language now; my heart's going pitter-patter around that. So a lot of enterprises are moving towards this pattern libraries and definitely technology-based design. How is that, if at all impacting, impacting the design world? Is there still a place for artistic freedom for the creativity you mentioned? I mean, you know, does that take away from that or do you feel like that also is a set of rules that sort of creates the opportunity for freedom?
CHIARA: I don't know why but it is always this kind of misconception between off taking the boundary some it's a limitation of freedom. I still remember the first conversation we had when I ask you to speak to me about digital policy, as I was your son. I remember you compare it to your garden. And on the cover of the book, you say that in the garden and you have boundaries and of course you had fences. And these fences declare where you are. They show the specific land you stand in. And that's fine. So they protect you. But they also protect the other people outside and so on, so it's fine. But inside is a garden, whatever I do, it's my creativity, I can build a house. I can plant trees. I can have just flowers. I can plant herbs. So it's a lot of freedom inside its boundaries, and this is where creativity action lies. This is where you see boundaries, but if we see that inside is limited, we actually can build something. This is a very creative way of seeing boundaries. So when I hear designers that we need to follow specific rules so popular, and so they get a brand, man will say yeah, but everything is written here. So what am I supposed to do? There is no space for creativity. I say, well, the creativity actually starts vibrating this rose and show me what you are able to do. I bought you are able to build by following these rules. I recently watched the I don't know if you have seen the Queen's Gambit show on Netflix.
KRISTINA: I love it. I thought about you!
CHIARA: Oh, you are talking about me. Everybody thought about me. I don't know why I got so many comments on Facebook and Messenger of people thinking, sending me messages and pictures of the series. And I really love the show. But what I love the most is that I always thought that chess very boring game. I'm sorry for all the chess players out there. I mean, sorry, but I and I'm sorry that I had to wait to watch this series understand it actually could be very exciting as well. But there was very something very interesting about this game which made me think of the question you just asked me. Games are full of rules, right? And chess is full of specific rules. You cannot do whatever you like. And actually, you have a very specific table made of 64 squares. And that's it. This is your space, and you have this room. So very limited. But then, on the other side, this is where creativity starts when you have specific rules. Then you start thinking, "How can I go around those rules?" "How can I use them so that I can be a master chess player?" And I love the sentence that Beth Harmon said when they asked her about chess, what she liked about chess. She said that chess is a beautiful game, and the board was what she noticed first. This first and now really reading it because I really love this sentence. "It's an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it, and it's predictable.? And I love it because I say exactly when you have a border, you could feel predictable. It feels like you have limits, but how can you still wow your audience? That's the question you have to ask yourself as a designer.
KRISTINA: Oh, I didn't necessarily think about the series in that way. But now you're right. I would like, wow, that's right. You know, I was a little bit more shallow, I think in thinking about it in other terms, but you know, I'm I agree with you, and maybe that was part of the intrigue of the entire series but thinking about what you just said and sort of thinking about that. You know the boundaries are really a safe place potentially, but I'm wondering, you know, what are some of the biggest misconceptions that organizations have about design and branding? Do they also bring those kinds of misperceptions? Do they think about it as being safe, how to use the various brands that you work with continuously and businesses, really could have worked around the design in the artistic freedom in the creativity.?
CHIARA: I guess in design and working with the organization and working about design and brand and all things around those two subjects. You come along with a lot of misconception and ideas assumption of what a designer brand is; the first thing that I always remember is that design, the first misconception or wrong idea that people have, especially board members of the organization, is the design is about making things more beautiful. So usually, designers are rarely invited to the decisional group. So when the product comes to life, the designers and design of the last part of the process, so they just give you this is the functionality. Can you dress it? What am I? A taylor? And that's very, very wrong. And Steve Jobs was one of the first people in actually considering design in a very first step of the project of the designer of a product like we're design something and functionality and beauty is to come together as one thing, and he was the first person ever they actually connected these two parts in a world where everyone was like, yeah, but who doesn't want these colorful computers? Everyone wanted them, and they loved it. No one wanted to know what was inside; it just loved how it looked, and then it was functional, was sleek. It was elegant, and now and now many companies, especially tech companies, are trying to replicate his successful formula. And I'm thinking that was a way to understand that design is never a second thought, it's part of the process of invention-creation. So it's very important that it's at the beginning and not a really young because then really it's decorative and I can honestly no designer wants you here as a is working on decorating they want to feel like they're doing something important in the process. That so they are actually helping the functionality of the product to come through the design and no the other way around. The second misconception that you always have when you talk about branding is, can I have a logo itself? And I spent time in my career explaining that a brand is not a logo; a brand how the audience feels about the specific product or service. It's never a little oval because the logo itself it's just a symbol, and so it can be anything. It's the oldest parents who bring with it that makes the logo important and then recognizable. Otherwise, there is no branding, and it's very, very difficult to make this possible. And also to justify the cost of a brand against the cost of the logo, so it's very challenging sometimes because there's very little understanding and today we won was a brand. Still, actually, most of the time, what they want is just the logo; they don't even understand the differences. I don't need to do anymore with these kinds of discussions because I'm lucky enough to work with it a more informed audience of clients, but there were moments where I had this kind of conversations, and I know that it's frustrating, and I know most of my colleagues are still frustrated by this kind of conversation. So sometimes, when they started, I just send them to an article I wrote and say give them this to read so they will start to understand something so you can make sense of your bills and they can understand why you're charging them for the brand and not just the logo.
KRISTINA: It's interesting because, you know, one of the things that I personally enjoyed working with you is not really having a ton of rules, right? I felt like we had some rules for ourselves but not a ton of them, and it just it felt so creative, and it was such a wonderful journey. In fact, I think it was better than anything I ever imagined, but I think it's because you created such a space. And it's that safe space, right? So we knew we were going to get to where we needed to get to, but there was just so much creativity, and there was room for Innovation, and I think the thing that was always most surprising to me is there was room to exceed anything I ever could have imagined right? So what we ended up doing or actually what you did was just so above and beyond what I ever could have even imagined could happen, and to me, that's sort of the beauty of that creativity that you talked about because you trust in the process. And it's a journey, right? We kind of have some rules because we know exactly, you know, sort of what needs to happen in the end at least conceptually, but then what happens within that sort of framework, if you will, is up for grabs, and do you know, you're only limited by as Innovative, and you know dreamy as you can get, and so that was always very very interesting to me, but tell me a little bit more you mentioned a few minutes ago the Pattern Tales tell us more about this initiative.
CHIARA: Okay, that's a very creative initiative. We know the rules. No boundaries there because it's just my husband and me. So we actually gave birth to ourselves, but this is a very creative project that we started back in 2015. It was more or less this time of the year. It was very close to December. I remember when we sit down, and we asked ourselves what we wanted. Something more creative than our daily jobs to do and we decided that we wanted to illustrate books but knowing in a very formal way we wanted to have the idea that you know, as I said before stories are made to be repeated to be sure, and study become infinite Patterns Tales So from there; we took this idea of creating an illustration that have as a people do element patterns. So we what we do we take books we minimize we decide what's kind of since we want to illustrate and then based on that we start creating patterns. So we actually created a minimal representation of a specific scene of the book in a pattern. So one of the books that I really love is Alice in Wonderland, and I used that one too. And I'm so it is so much, and I love when people actually recognize the thumb of the sins of the book in my designs because even if they look like actors, they exactly understand what kind of sin and find you bring back through your station and that's what actually made our project so nice and so memorable at the same time and the fact that we are able to bring back the emotions after the book has been left to the Shelf to the self. I feel that it's very it's very important how emotional level that we are able to get through this project. So I really love that the nice thing about patterns. Is that everyone when they saw it they wanted to have it. Printed elsewhere, and we also have started a small selection of notebooks and small cards. I mean, we started with very big prints but then because we are on the island and we own a gallery, a lot of people ask us if we had a small version that could they just could take with them put in the luggage and probably bring them to France as a gift. So we started along with the prince, who I also small little objects like not books small cards and other stuff that we sell in our gallery, I mean the gallery my husband owns here on the island. And yeah, it's funny because we started for fun and it became like a second job. And also a lot of people mean lots of also we had a collaboration with Interior Design Studios. One is In Australia; they also specialize in Hospitality for Hospitality. He's like hotels and Healthcare facilities, and they asked us to design patterns for them so that they have walls with our own patterns original pattern design based on a story that we picked for them and the last three years. I've started a collaboration with a company from Greece where I condensed increase factors based on the oldest book written by Homer, so it's amazing. I mean, it's incredible because really we started for fun and start to became itself to become a very important part of our our life and creative life. Let's say so it's a second work.
KRISTINA: So every artist has their own artistic signature and I was just thinking about this as you were speaking about working with startups because I think there's an opportunity to add that artistic value in a in a different way. I think more established brands in corporations, but thinking about your own artistic signature, how would other designers describe your design style? Is there something that will help us understand or recognize the key? A piece, the Masterpiece from afar as we're looking at new pieces tomorrow or the next day?
CHIARA: I don't know because I haven't heard someone talking about my words open. So I mean I heard some friends of mine who are designers and when they say, oh, I immediately recognize you in this design or immediate understood it was you even if your name wasn't on the desired and as I How and when do you usually try to explain why it's a combination of things the first thing they say the obsession about details say there are a lot of details elements and we really bring me back to you and say okay then we understand the analogy the storytelling behind it. So like how some little elements make the story, and the final thing they say to me is the combination of colors the immediately Understand that from the colors that were they told me it's like that's what I heard that they're very unusual the way I combine them and they found it interesting that they haven't never thought that this combination would actually work and then the last thing that I heard now a little bit less, but it's about typography. I always had a passion for typography. So when they see something that is well, the layout is very well done. There is some Salida understanding between the hierarchy in a page. They say this must be Kara. So I guess it's a combination of faith but I could, and I don't know because I think my style is as grow and change during the years, but I know there are people who actually able to recognize it immediately and I'm like, how did you do that? So yeah, of course, I can because I have this is very similar to something else to that like no actually it's been different, but it reminds me that they start they say to me like, okay, so that was for the book as well as soon as it was out. I had a lot of people right at me. Like I saw this book I had to buy for work. And when I read your name, I was sure you were all so seriously, it was actually a lady from the Joomla Community. They actually bought it even before. Or she knew I designed it, and then we'll shoot allies. I designed it was like, oh that's why I like it the okay, so I'm fair, but it was lovely to, and I mean, I think she was a piece of heart surprise, but I was still by hearing her telling me that she was happy to know that someone designs it. So yeah…
KRISTINA: For me, it brings us back to what you started talking about at the beginning of this conversation, which is your passion and how you really got into design, which is not for the sake of just making pretty things right but making things that are pretty in that are functional and not just pretty but really beautiful and making really bringing beauty into the functionality of every day, right? We don't actually have to have a special occasion necessarily we can have a beauty all around us and in different ways and have that encompasses and I think that there's this really interesting balance of sometimes we forget about and maybe that's the thing to take away from this conversation in addition to all the other smart things. You taught me which is you know, we don't have to be boring and we don't have to be complacent we can have beauty and even if you're thinking that oh, you know, it's just another page that I'm putting up for my company or maybe just another campaign that we're doing. It doesn't have to be boring. It can be extraordinary, and it can be functional but it can still be highly beautiful and something that's worthy of a prize. And it doesn't have to be a budget that says, oh, is Sky-High, that it's not achievable. And so there's this really interesting power and pragmatism and beauty and functionality, and you sort of package that up really neatly into a single package, and I think you know what I think about you as an artist, there's so much complexity, but there's also simplicity which is just amazing and it helps me maybe understand a little bit of why you're doing other things like studying so much of Japanese, right? All in and doing other fun things in your spare time?
CHIARA: Yeah, and actually left the beauty of working remotely. You can learn Japanese as well. So that's also a nice thing of being available. We will see, I mean, so that's something I haven't saved. But yeah, Japanese second thing I want I'm learning right now. So yeah, and the teacher told me that I have a very nice way of writing and I think because yeah, that's what he said and I said, and I think it's because I have a very artistic way of writing that and the alphabets very artistic. So it comes all together I guess so, I'm very happy about that because it's a very difficult language but not I mean it's very I mean, I'm very happy to learn and finally and to get into that it's a challenge that I gave to myself. So I hope to win it.
KRISTINA: I'm sure you will. I'm sure you will, and I can't wait to see and hear what your next projects are going to be, and I know that my listening audience is probably going to be just as keen to go out there and check out not just the next big project that you're working on but also Pattern Tails. And maybe the next Japanese project that you're going to illustrate as well. So thank you so much for sharing all of your insights today, Chiara. This has been a privilege on my part. I appreciate the insights that you shared with us. So, thanks for being with us.
CHIARA: Thank you, Kristina.