Graphic Design

Inside Rejane Dal Bello’s New Book: Citizen First, Designer Second

Rejane Dal Bello’s book, Citizen First, Designer Second (CFDS), is a beautiful compilation of lessons and case studies taken from her two decades of experience in the design industry. 

“I write about topics that approach the parallels of being a designer, being a citizen, and being a person who chooses a creative life,” says Rejane. “My experience is included to illustrate bigger subjects. Topics vary from big questions to small thoughts about beauty, the creative process, the meaning of an image, what is our value as designers, what is our role in society, and whether we have any role to play in it.” Rejane hopes that people with similar ideas will be able to recognise shared design values and reflect on them by engaging with the book. Or perhaps that readers will encounter these ideas for the first time, and realise they hold different ideas and are able to reflect on them.

“This is for sure not a book that solves any design issues,” says Rejane, “[but] I hope it will open them for discussion and someone else will continue the thoughts.”The idea for a book was born following a passionate design chat with a friend who suggested that Rejane ‘write these things down.’ Looking through her lecture archive for where to start, Rejane discovered that she already had around 25 topics in mind which prompted her to develop in-depth thoughts around those topics. CFDS expands on these lectures and places them into a greater context. While the book may be based on decades of experience, once she had the idea to compile them, Rejane wrote the book in just one whirlwind week in October 2019. “I woke up at 5 am every day in a hyper state of excitement and worked till 10am on the book,” recalls Rejane, “From 10 till 7pm I was in my studio and then I would go back to working on the book until 2 am. On and on for 7 days. In one week I laid out all the 25 chapters. I know that sounds absurd…which it is. The real, truthful answer to this question is that I started to write this book 15 years ago, but I did not know I was writing it.”

Coming from Brazil “where the reality of social inequality is more acute,” Rejane asked herself from a young age if design was part of the solution or part of the problem to these larger social issues. At 17 she began doing social work alongside art school, constantly wondering how these two areas, which seemed worlds apart, could in fact connect. Rejane firmly believes that “design cannot solve any problems per se, but sometimes we can help problems to be solved through design.” Her work continues to explore these dualities, sometimes bridging social work and design, sometimes not. CFDS was designed and published by the founders of Counterprint, Jon Dowling & Céline Leterme.

Rejane recalls her requirements for the book’s design and how Jon and Céline gave justice to the brief: “I want people to READ the book. The focus is to be the text, the written words, and not the images. It is not a book about my portfolio. My portfolio is there to illustrate some chapters but the book is about the anecdotes, the stories, and the learning. The binding, type sizes, etc. needed to be in favour of reading the book and not just looking at the book, so I asked Jon to make the book with big type and bold titles.

The result is easy to open, read, and carry, making it inviting to engage with. The rest Jon and Céline designed. We chatted, shared and discussed along the way. I am really happy with the outcome.” The biggest surprise in writing CFDS is that over the years Rejane was writing a book without knowing she was writing a book. A chapter of the book is about living with dyslexia, something that made her think writing a book could never be a reality…Perhaps most importantly, Rejane has learned that “we get surprises along the way while growing and becoming more comfortable within ourselves.”