Willo Perron and the cultural zeitgeist
Identity|January 2021
Canadian-born Willo Perron is difficult to define – and he seems to like it that way. One of the most prolific and versatile designers of his generation, Perron is the mastermind behind some of the most recognisable moments in contemporary pop culture. Whether it is floating a life-size inflatable yellow Ferrari over a crowd at a Drake concert, or designing the Yeezy stores for Kanye West, Perron has had a hand in it all. His LA-based design practice, W P & A, works across various disciplines, including interior design and furniture. We catch up with Perron over Zoom to learn more about design’s grey areas.
AIDAN IMANOVA

Your scope of work is so vast and diverse, without any specific disciplinary boundaries. Where does that stem from?

I think it’s a mix of things. I think that in the past, disciplines had a lot to do with technique and learning technique, and then the accessibility to technique became a lot easier. In the past, if you wanted to take images, you would need a fancy camera or a dark room; now you can just grab your phone. To be a graphic designer you needed a $10,000 scanner and printer, and computers were super expensive. I think the boundary of mediums had a lot to do with technique. I’m kind of the first generation of people with the ‘all you need is a laptop and iPhone’ attitude. The second part of that is that I’m easily bored. I’m not the kind of person who finesses a craft because then I feel like I’m just locking myself into a corner, doing the same thing over and over. And thirdly, I didn’t have a formal education which has permitted me to just try things. Not jokingly, but most of my career is mistakes. It’s just having the courage to try things and mess up and to realise that messing up is part of the process.

What you do has been defined in so many ways. What title do you feel most comfortable with?

I lean towards designer, it’s unpretentious. The term ‘creative director’ got co-opted by everything and everybody, so it has almost zero value even though that probably best describes what I do – but the term doesn’t make sense anymore. A lot of what I do is strategy and thinking about things. A designer doesn’t quite encompass all of that but when people ask me what my office is, I say ‘it’s a design studio’. At the end of the day, designers are problem solvers so what we do is solve ‘problems’ in the cultural sphere or graphic sphere.

As someone whose work is an amalgamation of so many different mediums, how would you describe ‘design’?

I think it relates back to what I was saying about solving problems – and not necessarily problems that are roadblocks. If I take a person I’m working with or a brand, the problem would be ‘how do you best represent that in the medium that you’re working with?’ Like, what is the best version of an interior for so-and-so brand? It’s about pushing things forward and trying new things but also really respecting the idiosyncracies and subtleties and what has been built into that space already, and understanding who the audience is – it is all part of design. I think a lot of design is driven by ego; this idea that you have the right vision for what the world should be, and everybody should fall into that. But my practice is very much about ‘how does this person feel in that environment?’

Although you’ve worked with so many different brands, there is a sense of stylistic consistency in your work. How do you maintain it with such a vast portfolio of collaborations?

There is definitely me in a lot of these collaborations. From a young age I always thought of my career and my voice starting later in life. I was very driven but I’m also very curious and adaptive and collaborative. So, I’ve just been taking in all the information for the first 20-25 years that I’ve been working. I think now I am starting to develop what my identity looks like. You being able to see the consistency in the work is probably more recent. In the last few years, you are starting to see a visual language that makes sense or is consistent. But also, I think that has to do with zeitgeist. Everybody is kind of seeing the same information culturally. You see it in every medium: from typography to architecture. There is this cultural zeitgeist, this collective consciousness that happens and that formulates a language.

Would you say one discipline influences other parts of your work?

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