Karolis Kosas

June 30, 2014

Karolis Kosas is a San Francisco based designer originally from Lithuania specializing in interaction and graphic design. His projects combine rational thought and simple form. In 8+ years he has worked with impactful organizations and products, including Samsung User Experience Lab, Google, and the Barbican Centre. His publishing platform Anonymous-Press has 21,818 titles and keeps growing as we speak.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? While these days I do a lot of commercial product design, I am still very much interested in using data to build form and content. The Liberator, project recently published in Fast Co Design, combines US homicide data and the 3D models of the The Liberator, world first 3D printable gun, to make etchings. I am also working on a mural for a new UCSF medical building in San Francisco. The murals are built from tiny piecharts based on different statistics.


What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other designers are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? When I began my design career, it was all about being original, producing work that is new and unique. Having moved to SF, where everything revolves around tech and user experience, I have realized the shift that has happened while I was working my creativity in the grad school. Design is not so much about challenging the rules and surprising your audience, as it is about making work that’s intuitively getable. I hate to use this example, but look at Apple. Everything from their products to communication is a no brainer—the simplest possible form utilized to communicate a simple message. This is the reality that a lot of graduates from really good graphic design programs face when they graduate. Schools such as Yale or Gerrit Rietveld Academie in the Netherlands prepare a lot of really talented designers who produce interesting and challenging work that, sadly, is relevant to a very limited audience in design and art communities. Obviously, the demand for experimental design will remain, but I feel that in the future designers will more often find themselves working with limited means of expression and trying to solve micro problems, as opposed to blasting Sagmeister style.


How did your interest in design begin? My father was a computer engineer in the early days of computers in Soviet Union, and I often spent time in his office playing Prince of Persia or Pac Man. When all of the games became 3D and I didn’t have one of those OpenGL cards, I had to find something else to do. I decided I would be a web designer, or a hacker. My friend and I read a few Photoshop tutorials and started a hacker group X-World. We didn’t hack anyone, but built a website that had a Flash intro animation and a menu with steel letters. Pretty cool.


Who is your ideal business sponsor/partner? For a long time, I thought it would be awesome to work with musicians. Once I did a CD cover that had cut-out letters and the label said that they would have to deduct some money from my check since it was expensive to produce and they didn’t plan for that. The next one in my coolness list is doing a book cover. Eventually, I got hired to do a few book covers for Harper Collins, but it was kind of disappointing because in order for the book to sell it has to have a person’s face on it. I still would love to work with a cultural institution such as a museum or a gallery, but I guess that in order for this to happen you have to hang out with the right kind of people, which I don’t. Generally, I like to do design for people that are experts in their field, which preferably is distant from design, e.g. lawyers. I feel I can learn a lot from them and they get really excited once they realize that you’re interested in what they do.

What products or companies are you interested in right now? I am very much into children’s clothing lately. My wife has just bought these Melissa plastic shoes for our daughter. They are really beautiful and have this vanilla scent, which they use to eliminate the smell of the plastic. I love how they’re able to charge $50 for a piece of plastic. We’re also in process of launching a children’s clothing line with generative gradients.

What phrases or trends do you wish to never come back? Letterpress.

What artists or designers are you interested in right now? I am really interested in contemporary Japanese graphic design. Having worked in advertising, I was required to reverse engineer any style or look. I often try to do that with Japanese graphics, but it never works out. I don’t know why. Also, I love when designers are not afraid to code. Eric Hu from Yale is one of my faves. I also love the work by John Rafman. I haven’t seen anything as disturbing as his video for Oneohtrix in a long time.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? It is 100% digital. I like to start with a lot of options and narrow it down. I like for other people, whether clients or users, to think they can influence it.

Tell us a joke. This is actually a Lithuanian riddle that I heard from someone. My translation is not great, but it gets the point across:
A black hand is knocking on the glass. Who?
A baby in a micro-oven.