DIA — Mitch Paone — Interview


Interview with Mitch Paone, founder of Brooklyn-based creative studio DIA.

Dennis Moya: Hello Mitch how are you?

Mitch Paone: I’m doing well!

Thank you for this opportunity. We are honored to be surrounded by so much great creative talent on your site.

We are off to an exciting start of the new year with variety of interesting projects and great clients. Otherwise, just trying to navigate through this strange time with all the political madness here in the US.

DM: Can you introduce yourself?

MP: I am the Founder and Creative Director of DIA. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri and studied Graphic Design and Jazz Performance at Loyola University of New Orleans. After school I went on to freelance mainly in motion graphics and film production studios back and forth between Los Angeles and New York City. After hours I was playing in jazz clubs around New York as a pianist with my group Non-Static as well as sideman in handful of other bands. This was a very exciting time getting to bounce around from studio to studio and soak up knowledge from so many wonderful people.

DIA was officially formed in late 2008 out of the necessity to be eligible to work on a larger commercial directing project as a vendor. However, the company didn’t really take shape until Meg Donohoe, my now wife, came on board as my business partner a few years later. We met during a long term freelance gig working as the new business team for a NY based motion graphics firm. Meg was in charge of the project management while I was leading the creative. We realized quickly that we worked well together. After countless hours of venting about work over beers we decided to take the leap and put all of our effort into DIA. Our studio has had a somewhat dramatic evolution over the last 8 years, moving from purely film and motion projects into a full range of design disciplines with a portfolio now dominated by identity work.

Meg and I were lucky to freelance for such a diverse range of companies. We were able to learn how these studios and agencies operated both creatively and as businesses. Our studio environment and creative process is very much an amalgamation of the best practices that we experienced.

DM: Where does your interest in graphic design come from?

MP: My original interest for graphic design developed when I was quite young. As a teenager in the 90’s I was really into snowboarding and skateboarding. I vividly remember being drawn to the typography in the editorial layouts and advertisements in magazines like Thrasher and Transworld Snowboarding. It’s funny, I still have some really old sketchbooks and they are filled with sketches of (poorly drawn) lettering and logos that I saw in those magazines. I think I knew from that point I was going to be working in graphic design at some degree

Nowadays, somehow I still have the same creative energy for my graphic design craft then I did in my teens. My current area of interest is trying to figure how something like a rigid Müller Brockmann or NORM approach to typography / design can be applied in a flexible and time based format. The majority of DIA’s work lives on so many different surfaces from both still and moving, so keeping the work consistent across all formats down to the minute detail is quite difficult. In addition to our studio’s design work, I’m personally very interested in type design. Over the last few years I have been studying and practicing my type design skills and plan to have at least one typeface family commercially available this year.

DM: Would you like to talk about one of the recent project you designed?

MP: The most recent project we released is an identity for NYC based photo retouching and production company Bespoke. Bespoke came to us feeling that their existing brand felt a bit dated and too tied to old trends in the fashion industry. Through a handful of workshops with their team it became clear they needed to appeal to more commercial clientele while not alienating their roots in fashion. Additionally, it was important we created a bold visual statement that stood out amongst their competitors.

To solve this we drew a custom display typeface family and logotype that serves as the commanding feature for the identity. It’s design references the mechanical nature of Eurostile extended combined with rounded curves found in antique grotesk type styles. The custom typeface behaves best with extremely tight margins, which ended up informing an architectural approach to the identity’s typography. Overall, the Bespoke identity supports their beautiful imagery while having a signature typographic punch.

DM: Do you have a favorite typeface to work with?

MP: Plain by François Rappo (Optimo Foundry). The typeface is absolutely beautiful. It’s neutral but has softness to its curves giving it a very subtle friendliness. It’s meticulously drawn and works for just about every task from logotypes to fine typesetting. Naturally we use Plain for all of our studio’s collateral. Outside of Plain, I’m a big fan of all Rappo’s work. Everything he does feels steeped in tradition all while always tapping a contemporary zeitgeist.

DM: A designer that you admire?

MP: There are 2 specifically that I admire who I also consider friends and mentors. Both Philip Hubert (Hubert & Fischer) and Ludovic Balland possess the ability to throw you off balance (in a good way) when you experience their work. In my opinion, there is a sense of risk taking that stands out among a lot of contemporary graphic design.

Ludovic’s work feels like beautifully messed up brutalist architecture in graphic form. Each of his projects I can easily recollect and describe because they have such a memorable quality.

The work of Hubert & Fischer is very similar in its intensity but less of an individual style and more project specific. They push the limits of a concept and lace that into all elements of their work from striking book cover imagery to beautifully unorthodox typography.

Overall, they both have the ability to make powerful visual statements that have an underlying foundation of amazing craftsmanship. Whether you love it or hate it their work is never boring.

DM: Is there a book which opened your eyes about design?

MP: There is one book though not design related that recently reawakened my life philosophy and spirituality, which absolutely is alive in our studios practice.

“Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time”.  By Dainin Katagiri

It’s a wonderful glance into Zen Buddhism working into modern context. Absolutely no need to be practicing Buddhism to find some inspiration in book either. The details that are the main focus of the book resonate deeply in my creative process both in my design work and music.

Removing your ego from your creativity. Becoming one with your work by getting in a flow of non-analytical iteration. Detaching yourself from your work to become completely open for critique and advice. Getting far out of your comfort zone. Extreme concentration, meditation… To me these things are a foundation to becoming a virtuoso at whatever you set your mind to. But it’s not about you becoming a virtuoso! It’s about sharing what you create and just maybe it happens to resonate with the people around you.

DM: The last word…

MP: Thanks for your interest! Also, do you know if Switzerland would harbor anyone trying to flee America.

Projects & pictures:
DIA studio

Dennis Moya with the
help of Tiffany Bähler


Graphic Design