Cassia Vila is a Brazilian-Italian graphic designer and art director who has studied and worked in Brazil and Germany. She has held jobs in advertising agencies, studios, publishing houses, and fashion brands. She has also worked as a freelancer and carried out several self-initiated projects.


In terms of pedagogical approach, how does your experience as an international student compare to your previous educational background in your country of origin?

As someone who studied a Bachelor’s in Brazil and a Master’s in Germany, I consider the difference of approach in both countries substantial. The main difference that comes to my mind concerns the attitude that is expected from the students. Since students in Germany are entirely responsible for their employment of time and energy at university - dedicating themselves entirely on their own interests - the professors end up having almost an exclusive role of supervision, advice, and exchange -. In contrast, in Brazil, at least in my experience, the figure of the professor is one of someone who solely holds the knowledge. In Brazil, there is much more significant attention in achieving mandatory aspects of a course. Therefore, the students - mostly because of their previous experience in school - are more likely to have a passive development at university because these hierarchical roles are very defined. So they feel less in control of their own work.


As a female, non-European person, do you think the European educational model is more defying of norms of gender and race than what you have experienced before?

When I did my Bachelor's in Brazil, there was not so much awareness of gender, race, and decolonial discourses in education as nowadays, so I believe it is hard to make a comparison. But in Germany, I had the privilege to have feminist academics as professors, also with an increasing interest in bringing texts from non-European thinkers as part of the courses' bibliographies.


How bibliographies have helped you in your education? Do you think nowadays, designers tend to gather information from less traditional resources?

I have always been interested in theory, and in my Master’s, I have worked for two years as a theory assistant, so reading literature from the field was very important for me. Nevertheless, I believe they have impacted me much more in my beliefs and worldview than just in my daily professional practice. I think there are great designers less concerned with theory and trying to grasp the “spirit of the time” through the rapidly-changing and ephemeral networks of our highly technological world instead. That is why I believe it has been way more important in my education to read contemporary philosophy and sociology than books with a focus on design. I find it more relevant to always try to analyze the motivation and effects of our actions, given our context in a much bigger picture.


And finally, could you share a few books or any other kind of reference material that was fundamental to your education?

Although somewhat old-fashioned yet still hyped, I would say Gilles Deleuze and Vilém Flusser have had a significant impact on my education. But one text, also old and questionable for many, has really helped me develop my own intuitive way of learning through doing. The book is 'The Tacit Dimension' by Michael Polanyi. Also, the first book I was asked to read in my Bachelor’s was 'Zen in the Art of Archery' by Eugen Herrigel. Although at the time, I did not understand why this book was suggested, it ended up being one of my primary bibliographies for my Master thesis ten years later. Female writers that contributed to my education are also Lucia Santaella, professor of Semiotics in Brazil, as well as Donna Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles, and Karen Barad.