Design Indaba 2020: Q&A With Illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli

INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring IMAGES courtesy of Olimpia Zagnoli; Jason Fulford (portrait)

Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli will soon be on her way to South Africa to speak at the 2020 Design Indaba conference. VISI caught up with her to chat about her colourful work, stand-out projects and dream collaborations.

How did you initially get into illustration?

I’ve always loved drawing as a way to get into a zone of comfort and discovery. In books, I saw that there were adults doing it as a profession, which inspired me to try too. 

Your distinctive style and signature use of bright colours makes your work instantly recognisable. What do you love about using colour in your designs?

I like to use colours to express the sensations I felt when I first started working on the piece. It’s not a literal translation, but more of a mix and match of things I’ve captured around me, my intuition or the message I want to send. Changing the atmosphere with purple, making it large with orange, or quiet with green… it all depends on the day and the subject.

Your inspirations range from Picasso to Bruno Munari and Paul Rand. What / who do you think influences your style the most?

Those are only some of the names that have accompanied me for a long time, but every day I discover new things that I put in my pockets and keep for years before they become something else and they’re ready to see the light in a new form. The older I get, the more I embrace new things that I didn’t like before and I really enjoy waiting for the next thing to catch my eye.

Is there a project you’ve worked on that stands out for you?

I’ve loved working with Apple last year to celebrate Pride. We covered the entire steps outside its Milano store with a gigantic illustration that people could climb on, sleep on, take pictures with, etc.. It’s great when illustrations that are created in the silence of my studio eventually go out in the world and interact with people in such a joyful way.

If you could collaborate with any artist or designer, who would it be, and why?

I’d love to do a children’s book with David Byrne.

What are you most looking forward to at Design Indaba 2020?

It will be my first time in Africa! I can’t believe it and I can’t wait to get off the plane, smell the air and have the opportunity to get to know so many local and international realities in just a few days.

To see more of Olimpia’s work, visit or follow her on Instagram. For more information about Design Indaba 2020, running from 26 – 28 February, go to