If there’s no box, you can’t think outside of it: Max Pirsky on good briefs, sex in space and the Berlin Airport.

We went to Berlin to speak with Max Pirsky about design, space cakes and overused fonts.

“No ads, no bullshit, just full creative freedom. ”

Is there such a thing as too much freedom when it comes to the design brief?


Yeah, I feel like there is such a thing as too much freedom. Quite often the tighter the constraints, the better the brief, the more solid the outcome. If you give people a very tight box to work within, they can then think outside of this box. When there is no box, it's impossible to think outside it.


What was the first piece of design you've ever created and where is it now?


What springs to mind was a flyer I made for a friend’s Drum and Bass party. I must have been in high school, probably around 11th or 12th grade. It had an illustration of a partying monkey and rabbit, with their hands up in the air and their mouths open. I have no idea how that related to the theme of the party itself, the name of which I can’t recall. I’m pretty sure I can find one if I dig through some dusty boxes in my parents’ basement.


How did you get your first job as a designer?


It was through my mom actually – her friend hooked me up right after high school during my first year of university. I started working in a print house as a preprint designer making business cards, dish soap labels and that sort of stuff.


Does your designer's eye for detail infiltrate other parts of your life? And if yes, how so?


I don't know if it’s my designer's eye for detail or just plain OCD. But yeah, it's probably best to ask my partner about this, she’ll know better.

Portrait of Mac Pirsky in front of floral backdrop.

How would you describe your style as a designer?


I do my best to be versatile and adapt to each project, but always try to keep it minimal and as functional as possible. In my eyes, style is the result of the design process. It’s defined, redefined, adjusted and polished through working together with the client or team I’m working with, until we reach an end result that evokes the sort of emotions we’d like it to.


What projects and briefs excite you most?


I get really excited when working with companies that do things differently. I’m a person who constantly questions everything and love working with companies who challenge the status quo in a similar way. I’d love to work more with companies who do good for the environment or society.


What is the most overused font?


Many designers would probably say Helvetica, but I really like Helvetica, so I’m not going to join in on this one. In the last few years there’s a major trend towards quirky serifs – so typefaces like Souvenir probably seem a bit overused now – but then again I actually find them lovely and full of character. Even though overused, I feel like this “trend” has done quite a lot to break up the monotony of the utilitarian design aesthetics which preceded it.


What's your favourite piece of design you've created?


Off the top of my head, I’d say it’s a magazine called “Mister Twister”, which I had the pleasure of designing while I worked for “The Adventures Of”. Mister Twister was an annual magazine fully funded by the agency. That meant no ads, no bullshit, just full creative freedom. 


From Creative Directors to Producers and Account Managers, everyone in the agency contributed with ideas. On a weekly basis, we’d get together and chat about ideas for editorial pieces based on a predefined subject for that issue. The subject for the magazine I worked on was “Space”, and it ended up including everything from a recipe for space cakes, an interview with a coffin maker from Ghana, a fake real estate ad, to a guide on how to have sex in space. 


We even reached out to a physicist who makes music out of sounds he records from outer space, and we pressed his first ever vinyl, which we gave out with the first copies of the magazine. It’s not only the end result, but especially the process of working on this magazine that makes it one of my favourite projects.

Portrait of Mac Pirsky in front of floral backdrop.

Do you think you need a degree to be a designer?


I don’t think you need a degree to be a designer, but I will say that my design education helped me a lot. I did a Bachelor's in Graphic Design in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a Master's in Graphic Design and New Media in Florence, Italy. I managed to also work in parallel, juggling different jobs while doing my university assignments. 


The theory that you learn at university can be learned by reading a handful of books and doing some online courses. But the thing I found extremely valuable was the social aspect of education: working in groups, doing critiques, and getting feedback from the teachers. I met lots of amazing people throughout my years in university who have greatly influenced my thinking and helped me become the kind of professional I would have never been able to be otherwise.


Finally what design fail irritates you in everyday life?


Airports and the inefficiency of airports. Particularly the Berlin Airport. If you know, you know.


Thanks Max!




Max Pirsky

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