Vanessa Eckstein

Principal, Creative Director

20 years experience

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Known for her passion for taking on initiatives that blend cultural awareness, humanity and a love of art to advance society and business alike, Vanessa’s experiences living and working in Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, New York, Mexico City and Toronto, have given blok a unique international perspective that has been recognized and awarded around the world. Her experience includes top global brands such as Nike, Pepsi, Nestle, and the Museum of Modern Art Miami, among others.

At what point in your life did you learn about design, and what drew you to it?

I spent most of my childhood drawing, so my mother convinced a wonderful surrealist artist named Miguel Caride to take me on as his youngest student at age 11. The commute alone took us four hours to get there and back, which instilled commitment and passion early on.

Design did not even exist as a career in Argentina at the time. My first connection to it was a used book of old woodcuts my dad gave me for my birthday.

I had no other points of reference when I decided to dive into this “new career” at the University of Buenos Aires School of Architecture.

Who do you consider to be an inspiring female?

The artist Louise Bourgeois holds both my profound admiration and eternal fascination. Her work is a catalyst of thought, emotion and revelation of the human condition. Vulnerable and raw, it does not try to be anything but a question, a manifestation, and a feeling that is undeniably her. Experimental, unsettling, clear yet obscure, she is always inviting you to see the work from a different point of view, opening universes that are somehow interconnected.

What inspires your work?

Inspiration for me is not a moment but a state by which I choose to live. I am constantly hungry about the world. Art, architecture, or film can captivate me as much as a poem, a great thinker, a unique combination of sounds, or the colours of a Mexican market.

It is not difficult for me to find beauty in the mundane, obsolete, and ordinary. Sometimes this discovery is all it takes.

But what inspires me the most are the relentless spirits of those who have stood for people other than themselves - those who re-imagine the world and shift the paradigm.

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What project are you most proud of?

I remember being very young when I read the answer to this same question by a well-respected photojournalist. His reply was, "My best photo is the one I never took, the moment never came back.” The words struck me, and I have kept them close because I valued the elusiveness of beauty and the moment.

Similarly, the project I am most proud of is the one that has yet to happen. It is this way of seeing that keeps me excited about what is to come - challenges yet to be encountered and experimentation still to unfold.

What is your personal and professional motto?

Although we have many mottos at blok that have survived the passage of time (like “there is always another way”, “take ‘no’ as a possibility”, and "certainty is the death of exploration”), the closest to my heart is a T.S. Eliot quote, adopted by my father as a family value: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

I honestly have to say that uncertainty and the unknown have worked more as catalysts for me than as detriments.

I have done many things, from relocating the studio to Mexico City and back to Toronto again, to launching a new product division this year driven by pure passion and philosophy, to taking the entire studio to work out of Berlin this past summer.

Because if not now, when?

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What does success mean to you?

Design is not what I do but the filter through which I see and feel the world.

Success goes beyond the studio, but in it I manifest many questions I have at a personal level. Those are the ones that keep expanding and continue our sense of becoming.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

I started blok when there were very few women running design companies, but I was lucky that I never questioned myself about why I was doing this. I felt this was my path, and I was not willing to compromise. I did not have any female mentors in this business, but I had thousands of women before me doing extraordinary things, from artists to poets to architects to human rights activists.

What was your educational experience like?

I studied at the University of Buenos Aires, which was free and open to anyone (something I stand for philosophically). Since graphic design was a new career at the time, my teachers were architects who had moved into this space and taught design within a framework of grids, systems, and modularity.

I followed up this experience with a Masters in Intercultural Design from the Art Center in California. But my true education came from my family and the environment I was raised in. Politics, economy, social justice, art and music all intertwined in constant discourse and debate. To see the world from different perspectives other than your own is something I am very grateful for. In my house, that happened during every meal and still does today!

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

I always wished I could have been a photojournalist during times of war. I had no frame of reference when I was younger to choose this as a career path, but I have constantly been intrigued about the edges of life, the periphery, the stories that are not told, the voices that are not heard. These extreme moments are where humanity is revealed for better or worse, and where we find and connect to truths.

What is the unique female design experience that nobody talks about, but should?

Being a mother and running a studio is a unique experience in and of itself. In a constant balance of intense multi-tasking, I remember standing in front of the artwork “Femme Maison” by Louise Bourgeoise and being profoundly moved. In the piece, growing arms arise from a house that constrain her yet hold her up. The paradox of wanting to do it all beautifully, softly and effortlessly - while still pursuing our own creative space and the realities of chaos in everyday life - is a conversation that keeps on shifting for women everyday. Still, I recognize the balance and beauty that arises from this tension.

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What do you love about the design process?

I write as I think - and most probably as I live - in a web of connected inter-relationships of ideas, words, and thoughts, non-linear and unstructured. Although this brings a level of ambiguity, it is a stream of truth that I cannot constrain in any form or manner.

I surrender to the spontaneity of the creative process, the one which is yet to be formed, mouldable like clay. I am in awe of the accidents that make me shift thinking or perceptions, the nuances that make me question, and the answers that stopped me in my tracks. I love the combination of words and images that I could have never thought of except that they run through my core and have a need to exist beyond me, as entities on their own.

These bridges find their way back and forth, undefined and unseen, until they are so beautifully grounded that every move I make has a shadow of that feeling.

What are your plans for the future?

I have so many alternative projects on the go beyond the jobs that come to us. We have started a product division – fors – focused on designing thoughtful objects of meticulous quality full of intention and soulfulness in a couple of months. In its first intent, fors includes a line of tableware that speaks to our love of form, sensuality, and humanity.

From film to architecture, we are finally moving into what I imagined blok should be, an intersectional space of creative impetu and flow. These are physical manifestations and answers to personal questions about life, purpose, value, truth, transcendence, power, obsoleteness and clarity. I am not in search of answers but questions, and my way of experiencing them is by creating.

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