Inside WO: Johanna Riess on 2D illustration

WO’s senior strategist Johanna Riess started her design education in Vienna but is now firmly ensconced in our New York studio.

I trained as a graphic designer in Vienna and really focused on print making, interface design, and movie animation - not just the discipline of design but learning to think through ideas through every medium, focusing in on detail. 

For me, a breakthrough moment was during an internship (with Perndl+Co) where I was given an assignment on current trends in the world of museums and cultural institutions. I came back the following day with a 140-page document, as I absolutely loved digging deep and this helped me realise that part of my interest was in research, strategy and setting the ambition rather than execution. Since then I’ve run a pop-up store, done exhibition designs and worked in theatre, which have all contributed to me defining my own narrative.

The studio journey

My studies in Europe combined with a stint in Shanghai and a Masters in Design Management in the US have given me a global outlook. Each location has a different design language as well as a different approach to training designers, from the visual codes in China being different to the US to craft and execution remaining a core focus in Europe. Ultimately though, it is all about a great design product that solves a problem, but the journey to get there is what I find the most fascinating. 

© Johanna Riess

A passion for illustration

Black and white illustration is so appealing because it is about removing everything, all the noise, until only the essence is there, just a line. It is all about observing and understanding, so that at the end, you just have one message, one moment. When you really capture a moment in an illustration, it can become a collective image that unites people around a shared memory.

The illustrations that artists put out when there has been an event can really become a badge or a movement, they represent what we thought and felt in that moment.  

© Johanna Riess

© Johanna Riess

The inspiration list

I have a strong connection with Jean Jullien, the French illustrator whose created the ‘Peace for Paris’ image of the peace sign combined with the Eiffel Tower in the wake of the Paris attacks, his style is so intuitive.   Johanna Riess

(link to examples from: Jean Jullien)

 I’m also inspired by Liana Fink, who mixes in illustrations and words, so her works are almost narrative.  

(link to examples from: Liana Finck)

But it is also good to travel back sometimes, to leave Instagram and delve into the archives, at artists like Matisse, with his line drawings from 1900-1950 and Picasso’s sketches – I love the animal ones, the dogs are especially great. 

© Johanna Riess

The projects of dreams

Professionally, equipping a brand to go public through IPO would be really exciting to see the journey come to life.  

Personally, I’d like to work on projects that reduce waste consumption and imagine new sustainable circular business models. There needs to be more brands that work on a cradle-to-cradle basis and I’d love to use my branding skills to help brands how to embrace a circular economy. As Frans van Houten once said at the World Economic Forum “Waste does not exist in nature because ecosystems reuse everything that grows in a never-ending cycle of efficiency and purpose.” I believe we should imagine a world where the idea of waste just doesn’t exist.