Interview with Tracy and Iliana, Black Bloom Studio & IS Design Labs, Canada

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Tracy and Iliana

Tracy and Iliana combine their experiences help to reinterpret spaces and creating a visual identity.

Interview with the 2020 MUSE Design Awards Winner - Tracy and Iliana

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your design background.

Tracy - I established Black Bloom Studio with the experience and skill set acquired in my formative years working at some of Canada’s most esteemed design studios. I was fascinated by the different industries, and working at these large firms allowed me the experience to design projects in healthcare, educational, corporate before finally landing on hospitality - my main passion. Branching out with Black Bloom Studio has allowed me to push creative boundaries while ensuring commercially successful outcomes for my clients who range from global brands to forward-thinking small businesses.

Iliana - I feel like I never grew up, in a good way. I love asking why, reading, experimenting, changing frame of mind and drawing parallels. My to-do list is always full of ideas to explore and mediums to work with.

I am the founder of IS Design Labs - an interdisciplinary design hub in Toronto, Canada. Prior to the launch of my design studio, I earned a bachelor of design from OCAD University. I spent 10 years in the design industry working across multiple disciplines: marketing, advertising, branding, interior design, theme park design. During those years, I understood how to join my passion for strategy, human psychology and experiences with today's world. I learned that for a brand to be successful, a holistic, strategic approach should be applied throughout every customer touchpoint and interaction.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a designer/artist?

Tracy - As far as my memory recalls I’ve always had an itch to transform spaces and my supportive parents gave me the freedom to explore that fascination with our family homes. My dad was a graphic designer and he gave me his old markers, papers and supplies to experiment with. I love playing with balance, contrast, colour and scale. I love understanding how things work and the psychology behind how space affects us.

Iliana - I was huge into watercolours as a toddler, I loved creating abstract art, then looking and interpreting meaning, seeing stories. This was followed by a passion for sculpture, objects, and spaces as I grew older. My highschool teachers encouraged me a lot and helped convince my parents that art and design professionals can make a good living. Throughout my amazing years at OCAD university, I found my passion and interest in many design disciplines - the creative fuel behind my interdisciplinary approach.

3 Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

Tracy - Black Bloom Studio is a small interior design firm that makes a big impact. We believe that interior design should be accessible to everyone so that together we make the world more functional and aesthetically pleasing. As the principal I oversee every project so that it reflects our clients’ brand and goals while upholding our own.

Iliana -We create experiences that communicate, touch, and influence.

Strategy is a huge part of the process at IS Design Labs. It is what gives meaning to our work, frames it, and puts the right lens on. Our focus is on branding, rebranding, environmental graphics and art. We love the all-encompassing, interdisciplinary projects from brand strategy, naming, visual identity work to spatial design, art and putting it all together into a brand playbook. Experiential design is our passion and we create signage programs, statement walls, ambient art pieces and installations to immerse people into environments and influence them, while staying true to the brand strategy.

4What does “design” mean to you?

Tracy - John Heskett once said “design is to design the design of a design”. Design to me is a way of life. It’s a continual improvement to our spaces and our interactions with them. And since design is also a source of income for me, design within the firm becomes an ongoing process to achieve efficiency and standards.

Iliana - Design is art with meaning and purpose. And art is a medium through which we can access people’s emotions and minds.

5What’s your favorite kind of design and why?

Tracy - I love clever design. The type that allows us to experience it on our own and discover not only the physical and our external world, but something internal about ourselves.

Iliana - Holistic, multifaceted, interdisciplinary design. Where each element is part of a whole, each aspect adds a layer to the story, each piece surprises and delights. There is no line between art and design elements - the flow from 3D to 2D is seamless, immersive design.

6To you, what makes a “good” design?

Tracy - A good design leaves no room for critiques, which is very difficult to do because we all have different opinions. But by incorporating awareness with universal elements that have been tried and true (such as the principles of design) the design lends itself to err on the “good” side.

Iliana - Good design is one that solves a problem, done with purpose, tells a story, inspires, and fills the competitors’ eyes with fruitful envy.

7Describe your design style and its main characteristics.

Tracy - I love using colour because of its power to change our moods instantly. I also enjoy creating transformations as well as spaces that allow us to escape from the normalcy of the everyday. In addition to big splashes of colour, a mix of natural(looking) materials contrasted with metal and complimentary graphics adorn the spaces I design.

Iliana - The unifying factor of my design style is brand strategy. All my work is rooted in knowing the industry, the ideal customer, the competitors, discovering and defining the brand persona and values. From then on, I am as open-minded as possible ensuring the ideas connect back to the strategy. When it comes to installation solutions, we love working with are acrylic, wire mesh, acoustic felt, and of course vinyl.

8Tell us about your design process.

Tracy - I’m a connector so I love making links. After taking in as much information from the client, I bring in my own memories of what I’ve learnt, seen, heard, dreamt to create links. Everything else gets filtered out. I then add new information/elements to strengthen the links and that’s when originality and a story take shape.

Iliana - I am a research geek at heart - analytical and purpose driven. Upon understanding and framing the problem, I am keen on defining the strategy and the approach. After that, it is experimentation with purpose as I strive to be artful in my approach - evoke the feeling of freedom and defy the rules. My method is thorough, visionary and empathetic, where I imagine the experience from the user’s point of view.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your design process?

Tracy - Absolutely! Growing up in Toronto, Canada is like living in a city made up of mini countries. Being informed of other cultures in combination with our 4 season climate becomes second nature when designing spaces. As a Chinese-Canadian I also have exposure to my Asian heritage, driving much of my work ethics and resilience.

Iliana - Born in Bulgaria, living in Canada. The way of life in both these countries have made a difference as to who I am, my approach to life, my thinking and, most importantly, my desire to take inspiration from one to the other.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2020 MUSE Design Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

Tracy - I’m still on Cloud9! This was the first time we tried our hand in a competition and to win our first design award is truly surreal. As designers we are constantly getting critiqued and it can feel disorienting and discouraging. To be recognized and picked out by a group of esteemed judges, out of the thousands, has given us the confidence and fuel to continue designing spaces for people. We’ve been proud to share the news with friends, family and colleagues and grateful for the exposure Muse Awards has given us.

Iliana - When I first published this project on my company’s website, I felt pride. My high expectations and critical eye hardly allow for such feelings to last, but with this project we were able to push all kinds of limits. Receiving the Muse award and support, gave us a degree of important recognition and confirmation of our design ideals. I am so happy to give more exposure to our companies and be known for innovating work to inspire others.

11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2020 MUSE Design Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

Tracy - Demetres cafe on Danforth was a passion project from the start. We love working on the Demetres cafes because we get creative freedom from both the franchisor and franchisee. This particular location, however, came with a tragic story that left the community shattered and heart-broken. Design has the power to create change, and we wanted to share our story of how we transformed the cafe into a space of peace, joy and connection.

Iliana - I am a strong believer in marrying art in interior spaces to bring ideas to life as they interact with the space. A seamless 2D to 3D art and design work is always tricky, but this is a challenge that truly gets me going. The key ingredient to my pride is the way we combined powers with Black Bloom Studio in a creative symphony based on the overall strategy. In addition, we worked closely with the print and installer partner (JF Branding) who’s openness to trying different, innovative approaches was integral.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

Tracy - We wanted to be sustainable and avoid unnecessary waste, and the challenge was figuring out how to visually transform the space without removing 80% of its original structure and finishes. We did this by using colour and contrast. Turning dark areas into light, plain areas into ornate. Having a solid team with IS Design Labs helped execute our vision successfully.

Iliana - Reviving one of the businesses on the iconic Danforth stretch in Toronto was very dear to me. The community has gone through tremendous amounts of grief, change, and growth over the past two years. One of our important challenges was to create a space to promote support and healing while being lively, without appearing soapy or ignorant at the same time. Upon deciding on the creative direction, working with Black Bloom Studio was such a pleasure - our creative energies really built up and allowed us to break big, while the franchise and franchisors saw our passion and allowed for a tremendous amount of creative freedom.

13How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?

Tracy - Joining the community of award-winning design firms has empowered us. We realize our worth and talent, allowing us to be more selective about which clients to work with and not be forced to deal with the bad eggs that only strip away our passion. It’s given us focus to seek out more passion projects that use design to make an impact.

Iliana - This award is the first one I have applied to for over 5 years. Awards have that beautiful power to build up confidence, spread positivity, inspiration, ideas and, most importantly, elevate our design sphere - make us all strive higher.

14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

Tracy - The support! The creative industry gets the power of collaboration and knowledge sharing. And diversity! Which is fuel for creativity, which is also the third favorite thing I love about our industry. Everyone IS creative and we continually foster it.

Iliana - Our love for humanity - bringing a joyful smile on people’s faces, we look to touch people on an emotional level, to bring them wellness and help them.

Our drive for change and improvements - this aim to be innovative and transform experiences for the better.

Our need to spread inspiration - allowing people to disconnect from reality, open their minds, and shift perspective from their everyday lives.

15What makes your country specifically, unique in the design industry?

Tracy - Canada is very diverse in its people which transcends into food, entertainment, and the fabric of our culture. Living amongst people from different countries lends itself to more authenticity in what we experience.

Iliana - Canada is a remarkably open-minded, safe place and that allows for us all to bring in our heritage and background with pride. It values us as individuals - our unique selves.

16 Where do you see the evolution of design industry going over the next 5-10 years?

Tracy - More automation, better advancement designing for environmental as well as mental health, self-teaching platforms become the norm, interior design continues to be more accessible to the public, stronger focus on design “think” over aesthetics.

Iliana - I hope design keeps on leading our world - pushing the status quo, boldly aiming to test and try new ways and ideas - making room for change and growth.

17If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Design Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

Tracy - Tell the story behind your project. The physical space will eventually be replaced but the story lives on through photos and words. Share your process, any lessons learned as well as proud moments.

Iliana - With empathy, always imagine yourself using the design, being in the space, and add value with intent and strategy. Now influence your process with inspiration and don’t forget that art is the secret spice connecting us all.

18What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the design industry?

Tracy - YouTube videos, Skillshare platforms, and 3D modeling software like Sketchup. Working in 3D allows you to try out different concepts, make mistakes, and figure out ways to improve your space before executing the design in reality.

Iliana - Surround yourself with work that inspires you, work you strive to create one day, subconsciously your ideals and dreams will make their way into your everyday. Remember to be a child - experiment, try, fail, get that silly thing you are so drawn to, open yourself to new experiences. Your passion will make its way into your work.

19Tell us something you have never told anyone else.

Tracy - Music is my other passion and I love all aspects of it whether I'm listening, playing or creating it. It started out as an outlet for me, and I hope to share this other side of me somehow.

Iliana - I have done karate for over 15 years now and nothing helps me clear my mind as well as training. I have also learned to be an assistant, a teacher, and a friend to students at the same time. My confidence and empathy have grown and shaped thanks to my sensei and the many hours of training. Karate has been a key activity to ground me - my husband even calls it my religion as to how seriously I have taken it. Over the years, I have noticed that a good workout is something my body craves and I feel rejuvenating after.

20Who has inspired you in your life and why?

Tracy - Everyone in my life inspires me. I've always had an optimistic child-like wonder with the world around me, and when it comes to people, that optimism and curiosity allows me to see their strengths. Each conversation leaves me with a sense of awe and gratefulness that they are in my life.

Iliana - I am lucky to have found my husband, Sergey Sergeev, as he is my rock and my muse. He believes in me like no one else. His support is one I could not do without. My older sister is also a fellow ally who has helped me a lot, especially when growing up and immigrating - her emotional support is one that guided me through tough times. I am also thankful to my parents - their high expectations and ambition kept me always grounded and realistic, while still trying. Lastly, my little toddler son, who manages to make me smile and love like no one else. His sloppy kisses and unusual ideas inspire me day-to-day.

21If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Design Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

Tracy - Explore! Stay curious! Be organized! And be around people who believe in you.

Iliana -Surround yourself with those who see the light in you. I have found amazing partners and collaborators that energize me and together we create award-winning work. As an added bonus, these folks are also, plainly put, great people with tons of energy - perfect for coffee dates and casual brainstorming.

22What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

Tracy - Thank-you to everyone who contributed time and effort into the Muse awards, from the organizers to the judges. Each one of you have touched our lives in ways and waves you can't imagine. It was an honour to be a part of this prestigious competition.

Iliana - "By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately, and well." Robert Bringhurst

Branding builds culture, and culture builds brands.

Winning Entries

Demetres Cafe | 2020

Interview with Tracy and Iliana, Black Bloom Studio & IS Design Labs, Canada

Demetres Cafe: a space designed to create a captivating and engaging atmosphere that is intriguing without excessive decoration. The ...
(read more at MUSE Design Awards)

Black Bloom Studio

Black Bloom Studio delivers over 15 years of professional experience curating efficient, thoughtful and attractive interior design.