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By: Ekrem Dupanović, photo: Vanja Šolin
Iva Babaja (1974, Zagreb) is a Past President of the world umbrella association for design, ico-D (International Council of Design). She has been involved in the work of the ico-D Board since 2007, and was also the general secretary and vice president of the organization. Iva Babaja’s exceptional success is the result of hard work and even greater dedication. Everyone knows her to be a person fully devoted to the profession, so her international career comes as no surprise.
Iva adores her parents, her late father Ante Babaja, an exceptional film director, and her mother Mia, a professor of French language and comparative literature, but she realized early on that you can’t live on your parents’ laurels. Her stepfather, Dr. Radovan Ivančević, an art historian whom she considers her spiritual father, played a huge role in her education. At nine years old, she made “a real mess” behind her parents’ backs by applying for a TV quiz on Greek mythology – because she wanted to take them to Greece – and ending up on the front pages of every newspaper in Yugoslavia. This soured fame for her, so she has run away from it ever since.
She graduated from high school in the United States, where she was on a student exchange for a year, and then enrolled in the Akademie für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna. There she got a master’s degree in design in 1996 and then returned to Zagreb. She works as a creative director at the agency Unex Group, whose creative department represents Havas WW.
In 2005, after several years of a freelance career, she received an offer, completely by coincidence, from McCann Erickson for the position of art director, and so began her journey in advertising. She stayed at McCann for two years, working on campaigns for Raiffeisen Bank, Nestle, Coca-Cola Company, Jaguar and Ford. In 2007 she moved to BBDO/Proximity Zagreb, to the position of Senior Art Director, and in early 2008 she came to the Unex Group, where she is today, as a creative director.
“I got into advertising by chance. I’ve always considered myself primarily a designer, but when I started working in agencies, I realized that advertising totally meets my appetite for ideas with interdisciplinary thinking. Today we can no longer talk about design as a single-disciplinary activity. Design combines them all.” Just as opera once integrated many related aspects (music, acting, painting, directing) –a role later taken by film – so advertising, with all its transitions from one medium to another, motivates Iva today.
She hasn’t had a lot of luck with awards in her life, even though she’s won several. The year she worked on her best campaign ever was the only year there was no Fest – it later became IdejaX – “so we only received an award for the spot at the Sudnji dan”. Iva is more proud of her extensive bibliography: she is included in the anthology of Croatian photographers, in Print’s selection of the best European designers, in the book by Ilić and Heller, Anatomy of Design, etc.
Iva says that the opportunity to meet top experts such as Victor Margolin and Milton Glaser, and to discuss design with them, has been more important to her than awards. And giving a lecture in front of 3,000 people at a congress in Asia is for her “a bigger rush than any award, but that’s just me.” The fact that she is constantly invited to be on juries worldwide is a huge tribute for her. And it gives her the opportunity to profile global design trends.
Her favorite campaign so far is that which she created during the 125th anniversary of Croatia Osiguranje. She had a daring concept, and as the synopsis itself was dependent on materials stored away in an archive, it was impossible to know its outcome until the project was actually finished. The client gave them their full confidence, and the result was an ad that is a real little movie, with mixed timelines. “There’s also a wonderful emotional moment when Relja Bašić meets himself as a young man in his most famous role, Mr. Fulir.”
When the discussion turns to her closest associates, Iva says that in Unex Group they work in a multidisciplinary manner, so communication with many people is important to her – the media department, led by Marina Kraljić, the digital department, led by Dario Drmač, and the client service department, led by Asja Krstevski. In the creative department she singles out Kruno Serdar, creative director and her boss. The copywriters she works with the most are Alen Grozaj and Iva Uščumlić, “both brilliant in their own way”. Then there are the designers Krešimir Buden (whom she calls her office husband, as they have been a well-established team for years), Tajana Trupeljak, Ivona Cindrić and Marko Andrin, and “my brilliant DTP people”: Tomislava Cigić, Danijela Mazal Ostojić and Žarko Vugrinčić.
There is one thing in advertising that Iva would like to change immediately: “Free pitching, which is a very degrading practice. No one would ever think of going to a restaurant and ordering five meals but only pay for the one they really like. Or just pay the one doctor whose diagnosis you like the most. In advertising and design this is normal – that people who make their living by this and who trained hard for it, work for free in the hope of getting a job.” This, she says, is disrespectful of the entire profession and should be changed at the global level.
Iva’s eyes light up when she starts talking about the creatives she admires: “Phew, there are so many. Jonathan Ive, because he uses design to improve the daily experience and lives of users. And David Bowie, because he was the first who connected the media and the social references. And Banksy, of course!” Still, she notes that she finds inspiration in a variety of media, from books and movies to the history of art and music.