For most of April, apparently, the rain in Spain stayed mainly in Catalonia – though I was blissfully unaware of this fact when I arrived at the end of the month to a Barcelona drenched in warm spring sunshine. I was in town to attend Design Day – an annual lecture event organised by the Catalonian city’s privately run design school, Elisava, which is home to approximately 2,000 students studying a range of design disciplines from graphic design through to architecture.
Design Day was initiated last year by the director of Elisava’s communication department, Marta Carrió, when she invited US-based graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff and Parisian duo Antoine et Manuel to come and talk at the college.
“Above the personal design approach of each designer, every country has a different way to understand design so it’s important that our students can learn about what worldwide designers with different ideas and approaches are doing and thinking,” explains Carrió of the reason for hosting Design Day. “As design is also affected by globalisation, young talents will have to develop their careers in a multicultural, multinational and multibusiness context. That’s why knowing about what is happening in the field of design around the world and moving themselves to other countries to experience it is now a must for our students.”
At this year’s event, lectures were given by Armand Mevis of Dutch studio Mevis en Van Deursen, and Colours And The Kids – a young Berlin-based multidisciplinary studio set up by Elisabeth Schulze, Sebastian Gerbert and Maik Bluhm.
Mevis spoke first and, before showing any of his studio’s work, discussed the process of putting together the day’s lecture – wondering what to talk about, what work to show. He talked about the ‘invisible design processes’ that have to be undertaken, that nobody sees – choosing paper stock, printing, binding – explaining that to be a graphic designer is not simply to envisage a piece of visual communication, but to manage and control a string of processes that produce the work. He also pondered: “Should you do what you’ve been asked to? Or should you do things differently?” He stated his belief that there should be a reason behind every design decision, that intuition was key in the design process and that “form is the vehicle for ideas”.
He then showed a selection of work but first, for each project, he explained exactly what the brief was and outlined the various parameters involved such as budget, time or media restrictions. Only after divulging this information did he then reveal his studio’s response and solution to each brief and show the resulting work. Perhaps most interestingly of all, Mevis told the audience that not all the studio’s work sat easily with the client involved. He candidly revealed that 20,000 out of 60,000 diaries produced for Dutch telecom provider kpn were destroyed rather than distributed because some of kpn’s partners and clients didn’t approve of the imagery within. Mevis wasn’t embarrassed by this fact – rather he was explaining to the gathered students that they had responded to a brief with their own, individual and actually quite challenging idea and seen it through, making a diary unlike any that had been made for kpn previously.
The last project he showed was a book created for Dutch photojournalist Geert van Kesteren, entitled Why Mister, Why? A film embedded into his presentation showed a copy of the book being flipped through and investigated – which gave the audience a sense of the format of the book and a feeling for the paper stock it was printed on. The brief had originally been to create a lavish book showing just 50 images the photographer had shot in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 but Mevis and Van Deursen questioned using such a small selection of images from van Kesteren’s huge cache taken during this period. Designer and client discussed the project which stuck to budget but became a 544-page paperback printed on thin stock – in order to show hundreds of images, rather than the proposed 50.
Next up was Colours And The Kids (CATK) who wowed the audience with their interdisciplinary approach (they’d even made a short, hypnotic animation to literally say hello when they first took to the podium). Although the studio is just two years old its three founders showed a selection of projects including their work for musical combo Chapeau Claque, a short motion graphics branding piece for Scholz & Friends Interactive, a poster for an art exhibition, and the complex exhibition design work they created for Terra Mineralia, an exhibition of minerals at Freudenstein Castle in Freiberg. The combination of the three different skillsets of the studio’s founders (they met at the Bauhaus University of Weimar, each studying a different facet of design) and their collective work experience at Fabrica, Die Gestalten Verlag and hort is bearing fruit to some exciting and experimental work. CATK ended their talk by showing a selection of motion graphics ‘ideas’ that hadn’t been worked up for any specific brief – perhaps offering the best insight of all into their playful, experimental multidisciplinary approach.
As the applause dies down, and the lights go up, and an evening exploring Barcelona beckons, I think about how lucky the students at Elisava are having such a genuinely insightful and inspiring event created and curated for their benefit.