Communication & Graphic design
I didn’t visit Portugal during the Parasitour, but during the trip I got to know lovely portuguese people that pointed me to their beautiful country. That’s also how I got to know about Studio AH-HA and their mindblowing projects. Here’s the interview for all of you to read!
The studio pursues varied creative interests across a variety of mediums. With an ever-changing cast of collaborators, Studio AH—HA has a holistic approach towards design and branding, working together with clients through every stage of the process, filtering their inspirations, ideas and motivations into fresh, engaging and compelling brand messages.
Graphic design in Portugal
In Barcelona, it’s been quite some time since people first talked about a notable decline regarding conditions and quality of graphic design and about how clients value our work. Do you have the same impression? And why?
We have the opposite opinion. Due to the lack of quality of the graphic work that most of the big agencies were offering, small studios like ours started to have more presence and to “educate” the audience to appreciate different types of graphic approaches. Before, small studios like ours were mostly dedicated to cultural projects — and there was not a lot of space for that, specially after the crisis. But because of this demand, a stronger sense of style and aesthetic is starting to be highly appreciated by clients that are looking for the most striking and communicative graphics to represent their projects.
Do you specialize in a particular domain (branding, packaging, web design…) or do you offer a more generalized service?
The studio pursues varied creative interests across a variety of mediums: from brand strategy to interior design, naming and identity work, advertising, new media, traditional and fine print, retail and product design, photography and illustration. What we enjoy the most is to work closely with the client in each step, trying to reach all areas that need an input in terms of visual and communication design. We have an holistic towards design, and we like to explore what is beyond the classic graphic approach.
Do you work mainly for the same clients or do you get selected assignments?
We have some recurrent clients but we get different assignments every month.
Do you hunt for clients or do clients contact you? Do you follow a commercial sales or a customer fidelity strategy?
So far we have never reached possible clients for work or did any pitches. The only commercial approach was word of mouth marketing — doing our best in every project so a new one comes through it. Clients are our best marketing tool.
How many designs do you usually suggest to a client?
We always start a project showing 2 to 3 different directions, not fully developed but with their own mood.
Style & trends
Does a graphic designer need to have his own style or, for example, they have to follow the trends? Should a design be timeless, open for evolution or rather be adapted to the trends?
We are always more into timeless design than into trends. We hate trendy approaches for the simple reason that they are transitory and untrustable. A client can strongly like or dislike something when it comes down to style. We prefer to work hard on the concept behind it — we like to design and communicate ideas more than styles. We use references, shapes, textures, images that are strongly related with the nature of the project, giving keys to the viewer to translate the creative process behind it by himself. Like this, even if someone doesn’t relate with the style of a project, he won’t dislike it because it made him think and feel and recognise a spectrum of different things that go beyond taste.
So would you say that Portugal is innovative, has its own style or just copying designs that already exist?
We are not sure about national styles — nowadays, due to the amount of information available it became really hard to answer to a country’s aesthetic, or to have one whatsoever. We believe in a soul more than a style. The Portuguese design soul respects the old and likes to see it breathing side by side with the new. Therefore most of the projects tend to take inspiration from the previous lives of a brand or of similar concepts. It’s all about re-inventing heritages.
Do you know about graphic design in Barcelona? Do you think it has its own style?
We have met Albert Folch a couple of years ago and we follow closely the work of his Studio. And we have visited once the grounds of Mariscal Studio and we fell in love with it. These are two very different styles, from very different generations… and we appreciate both. Barcelona is a such an interesting city for its love for graphics, its countless explorations of visual arts and the infinite number of cool book shops and museums that showcase some of spain’s finest artworks. It would be very boring if there was a specific style related to it. But we can (once again) recognise barcelona’s graphic soul: the audacity to try and to explore different languages and different means, without being afraid to be too bold or to follow one’s specific talents.
The designer of the future
Does the profession of graphic design need a facelift? What could we improve?
We feel like there is the need to work more collaboratively. Specially when it comes to digital design.
With the boom of digital marketing and its focus on quantifiable results, many companies decide to raise their budget for this kind of service. How do you explain to your clients the benefits from investing in graphic design?
Graphic design sets differences between brans and projects of similar natures, but it also creates a common ground where all brands have space to express themselves the way they see themselves, and not through their size or market value. The interesting thing (and the most challenging one) is that through a simple business card or a website you cannot tell if you have in front of you a big stock marketed company full of open space offices or if it’s just someone working from his dinner table at home. Both options are plausible and interesting — but maybe you would trust less they guy working from home. So graphic design communicates what is essential to one’s work, and it’s the first step on a client’s selection process: it makes you evaluate if the image of a certain company acts accordingly to their work and to what you are looking for — and your first approach in a choice process tends to be always visual, specially in areas that you don’t master. So we always say that a business card speaks louder than words. It sets the difference, it enclosures a message, it responds to a memory or feeling after a meeting. It’s the best investment ever, because it’s a small one that can have huge consequences. And the same goes for a webpage, even if we still think that online marketing is overrated and still very crypted.
Should we make changes to the vocational training / academic career of a graphic designer in schools / universities, and if so, which?
The outcome of a graphic design degree is more interesting when that degree focuses on research and on teaching thinking processes — when its based on technical skills or commercial outcomes it creates an army of brainless designers. It is more important to know as much as possible about visual history (art history, aesthetics, the timeline and characters of the design practice) than to know how to correctly design a package of chips. When you have access to a universe of different references, you can pull out an interesting concept more easily than if you just know how to move your mouse and use all possible shortcuts to make nice layouts.