A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to the Cogent Crew series, where every month we’re inviting you to get to know a little more about the people at Cogent.
This month, Liz caught up with Mario to find out how he got into design, and what sparked his passions for preserving and Louis Pasteur…
Name: Mario Carabotta
Job: Senior Designer
Time at Cogent: Two years
Hey, Mario, thanks for your time. First up, can you tell us where you’re based?
I’ve been living and working in Melbourne for the last five years. Although I’m originally from Italy, so it’s a bit of a change from where I originally started. I’ve spent a bit of time in Germany but I’m originally from the northeast of Italy, near Venice, from a small city called Padova.
And how did you find your way to Cogent?
I used to work in another big agency, doing mostly mobile apps for big enterprises, but with Cogent over the last two years, it’s been so different. Cogent has really expanded my view of what digital is — what design is — so it’s been an amazing journey and a great learning opportunity for me. I’m always eager to learn as much as I can and Cogent has definitely provided that a lot.
Great. And now with the lockdowns in Melbourne, you’re working from home. Is that your preference, to be remote, or do you try to spend time in the office as well?
Well, before COVID I was actually very keen to move to a remote-first or primary-remote option. I was keen to live in the countryside and pick fruit from my trees in the morning before starting work and milk the goats and stuff like that. But then during COVID I got to experience working from home, which is a bit different from working remotely, but it made me realise that I actually really like going to the office. So I’m very keen on going to the office — as soon as the city reopens I’ll be back in the CBD. I like the fact that I can break the routine that I have at home. I really like going to the city, going to the office and meeting colleagues.
Nice! And how do you set things up at home to create a nice space where you can get in the zone?
Actually, I’ve tried a few different things, and I’ve also moved to a different house in the process. Working from home was part of the reason for the move: I needed a quiet space for work, which wasn’t really the case in my previous house. So I think having a dedicated area that I basically only use for work really helps. Now I have a work room, and I never come to this room unless I’m actually working, which is a good thing. It works for me. So that shift — trying to isolate myself from what I call home — makes it easier, at least for me.
Yeah, I get that. So how did you get into design? When did you catch the bug?
That’s a good question. My family has a bit of a history in medicine, my grandpa used to be a pediatrician, my uncle is a pediatrician, my mom and my dad are both doctors, but I wanted to choose a different path. I was also very eager to explore new places outside of my own town.
There’s a university in Venice, which is 50 kilometers from my home city, which offers design courses, and I was like, okay, that sounds interesting. It was like a good excuse to do something different and try a new place. So it was kind of by chance in a way but, it was a great choice. It gave me the opportunity, first of all, to learn about design, but also to learn about life a bit.
Funnily enough, two of my cousins are now also in the design industry. And my sister has also studied service design recently.
And so what’s a typical day for you look like working at Cogent?
I mean, there’s no real super-typical day, but given that I’m in a team that works on an existing website and product, we do have a sense of daily routine. So usually, my day starts with a bit of planning on what I’m trying to do in the day, and usually I get halfway through — but that’s the purpose of lists, to never get ticked off fully! The daily stand up is our morning catch up, and it’s such an important way for us to connect and give flow to the day. So I always try my best to be present, but then, apart from the regular sessions, my day might be in strategy planning workshops, or doing user research, or interviews, or if we know what we’re going to focus on from a development point of view, I’ll be helping the developers, providing some designs so that they can work on updates to the platform that we’re working on. That’s from a client point of view, but also, I often participate in internal initiatives for Cogent that might support some of the strategic objectives, or support the people that work at the organisation.
Cool. And what is the kind of project you’re working on at the moment?
I’ve been helping the City of Melbourne for a while with the website What’s On. We originally helped to rebuild the website, which was eight years old at that time. And after that first build, we’ve been supporting the council with updates and the management of the platform. What’s interesting about that is, from the outside, it might seem like a simple website with listings and blog posts, but there’s actually a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, because we are enabling all of the members of the council to manage content in a pretty efficient, semi-automated way, but we also support the public to submit and manage their own content. So there’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of audiences involved, and overall it’s a very enjoyable project. It’s complex, but also very rewarding to support people in different places, in different businesses, to promote their activities.
Mario doing stealth research for the City of Melbourne.
So it’s the council itself that has things on, or is it their business partners or social groups..?
The City of Melbourne manages some of the content but ultimately, we want the public to manage their own events. They usually publish a lot of events and they also list a lot of businesses that exist within the City of Melbourne. And so we deal with different types of audiences, from the small business owner that wants to promote their activity, to big event organisers that need to do a campaign that revolves around some of the big festivals that happen in the city.
There’s a lot of variety and obviously, we have the public that wants to learn what’s happening in the city, so there’s a lot of variety there as well. Like the foodies that are always looking for the next spot for good food, the families that want to come to the city to spend time with their kids, and everything in between. From a design point of view it gives you the opportunity to talk to a wide range of people, and it’s always fun to have diverse conversations. And you’re always talking about things that they like to do in the city, or how they plan for what they like to do, so you end up having a really fun conversation. You’ll think, oh, I should actually go to that place!
Cool. And do you have something you really love about working for Cogent?
I think for me personally, the values that Cogent adheres to have become increasingly important both from a work perspective, but also from a personal perspective. I was not expecting that when I signed up for this. I was like, “Oh, this place looks nice so let’s give it a go.” But now I feel like I’ve been reading and talking about meaning and inclusion, and there’s so much to the values that we try to live by at Cogent. That has really opened up my view of the world in a way. And that, to me, is a testament to the company — to the people that work at Cogent. And how it’s positively influencing my life is something that I’ve rarely experienced in the past.
Okay, less about work, more about the fun things! What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not at work, hobbies, side hustles, maybe some weird random skill that Mario hasn’t told us about before?
I don’t know if it’s actually a skill — but depending on the time of the year I have different hobbies. So this time of the year one of my main hobbies is curing olives. I’m into food. I’m into preparing food and trying to reduce waste and produce my own small things — preserves and stuff like that. This time of the year I’m curing a lot of olives. I’ve got like 20 kilos in the garage that I’m trying to figure out how to use.
Homemade olives and beer, Mario’s perfect combination.
What does it involve?
It’s a bit of a long process. You harvest the olives at a specific time — there’s a really specific time when to harvest. And for me, it’s when nobody’s looking at me while I’m on the street, because I tend to do European foraging! I go to back alleys and find the trees that nobody cares about … but that’s another story.
Once you have the olives, then you need to wash them and leave them in water for at least two to three weeks, so that they lose the bitterness. Once you’ve done that, then you put them in a brine that consists of water and salt, and leave that there for two months. After that, you can then put them in a jar or container or eat them however you want. And now I’m at that stage where I’ve got 20 kilos of olives that are kind of ready to be eaten or canned somehow. Luckily, we collect jars so there’s not a lack of vessels for that.
That makes sense that it’s seasonal, because you’ve got to make the food at its best time.
Yeah, I’ve been exploring systems thinking lately, and in a strange way, it aligns with producing your own food, reducing waste and reusing as much as you can. Because raw products come to you, or you grow yourself, and you want to create something out of that with the least waste possible, or maybe try to use that waste in another way. So you create this flow of activities and products. For instance, I’m making beer, and with the waste of beer I can bake bread, or I’m actually going to start growing mushrooms. And you can see this flow of activities and the new things that it generates — that’s very fascinating for me.
Making breadsticks in his Cogent brand merch
Okay so following on from that foodie perspective then, if you had a private chef for a night, what would you get them to make you? Or maybe what is the favourite place you would take yourself as a restaurant or a food indulgence?
Well, I wouldn’t go to a restaurant, I’m okay with eating on the street. I think the one thing that I would ask for is a samosa. That goes back to a couple of long trips that I’ve done through India, and the quest to find the best samosa! I would move from town to town, and the first thing that I would ask the guest house owners was: where can I find the best samosa in town? So I would love to get samosa from a master chef and see what they come up with.
I think there’s something about the idea of finding the hidden surprise flavour, not just with the food itself but with the discovery it brings, which was especially true in India. On my first trip, I didn’t have a phone or Google Maps, so even finding a samosa store would be an adventure! You’d get lost and you end your day not having found the samosa and having gone completely off track to somewhere else … and there would still be an adventure.
Mario’s favourite restaurants are on the street
Nice. What’s the worst food disaster you’ve ever had, then?
Well, I think it was maybe in the second year that I was in Australia, somebody gave me this sourdough starter. That was my first attempt at baking bread and for months I would try to bake based on this piece of paper I had with some instructions and they would never work. I had these continuous disasters of these bricks of dough that I didn’t want to waste, so I would keep on eating these hard loaves that maybe somebody would call bread but I would not. And that was a long-running disaster, it was like months.
At some point, I gave up, but during COVID, my partner bought me another starter and the first time I was like, “No, take it away!” But then I changed my approach. I tend to spend a lot of time researching and watching videos and reading about new topics, so I looked at it with a new lens, and now it’s working. I could probably build a small house with all those bread bricks I created a few years back!
Interesting. So if you were going to pick someone — anyone, dead or alive — that you can have a good long in-depth conversation with, maybe about food, who would it be?
I’m going to pick Louis Pasteur. I’m reading this book about yeast, because I’m really deep into beer-making. In this book about yeast, they talk about Pasteur, who discovered that it was yeast that would convert the water with starch and sugar into beer. Yeasts are pretty fascinating to me, they’re like these creatures that you can’t see but they do a lot of things. And there’s so many different types of them as well. They’re like a different layer of organisms that enable a lot of things to happen. And I think they enable us to be the way that we are, in a way, because there’s yeast everywhere and they affect how we operate as human beings and how our body reacts to things. So I think I would like to have a chat with him about how he sees the world. Sometimes you talk with scientists that look at the sky and they have a different view of the world because they have a very large-scale view. I wonder how Pasteur would think about the world.
That’s awesome. Thanks Mario! It’s been lovely.
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