Interview for Ilas Magazine

1)  Let’s start from your work. Your projects are minimalist but at the same time express a sophisticated sense of attention to detail. What guides your work?

We have always strived to make our work expressive and visually powerful. We find that when you are able to express yourself with the least amount of elements that the design becomes more powerful, more potent. We try to strip away what we deem unnecessary and develop a single concept to its extreme. In any design we make there are many elements at play, some may just be details, but they all have the same importance. The meeting of two materials, or two different surfaces, their finishes, the empty space in a graphic, everything, no matter how insignificant it may seem, contributes towards expressing what you want to say and gives strength to the whole.

2) How much inspiration and how much research does it take to get such a consistent image in all your projects?

While our projects have all a consistent image, we are always looking for new solutions for each problem. We try to find a key idea, a concept that leads us along a different path. I believe that in every creative process, memory is fundamental. When I talk about memory, I mean everything that you keep in your head: images that come from observation, study, the world of art, design, cinema; and also ideas, experiences. Research is a guided source of knowledge, it’s very useful, it provides you with new resources, which you had not explored. It is one of the activities we carry out to fill the memory with new images and ideas that we can turn into solutions. Inspiration comes when you dig into your memory and suddenly you find the key idea that may give you the solution you were looking for. In other words, the two things go together.

3) What are you into at the moment and how is it feeding into your work?

Italo Calvino said that “creativity is like jam: it needs to be spread on a solid piece of bread”. And that slice of bread is made from craft, culture and research. I do not know any designer who is not a very curious person. That slice of bread Italo Calvino speaks of is largely made of visual culture, which is our raw material. So you must always be interested in art, cinema, advertising, cities or objects; but also in literature, music, and so on. And everything you are interested in undoubtedly influences what you design and how you do it.

4) Does it still make sense to talk about design research? What does doing research mean for you today?

Research is essential, but we can argue about how it should be done. Research is our workout: our way of building up our creative muscles and filling the memory with new ideas. We have colleagues who need to make a pseudo-artistic work, aside from their work as designers, to try out new ideas. We do not have this need because we try to research every project. If you research in the abstract, with a parallel work, what you’re doing is consolidating your own visual language. If you investigate a real project, a commission, you investigate the way you design, your approach to a specific problem and possible solutions to the situation. And this is the essence of design, isn’t it? We are not artists, we work on commissions, with requirements and objectives that are imposed on us.

5) Design means combining aesthetics and functionality, which seem to be two different ways of looking at the same thing, don’t they?

I completely agree. Aesthetics and functionality are not two opposing concepts. All modern design, like modern architecture, has developed in the shadow of Sullivan’s famous apophthegm: “form follows function”. The industrial aesthetic arose as a rupture with the craft aesthetic, which had prevailed until the Industrial Revolution, and is defined as the result of the perfect adaptation of an object to its function. That is, when the structure of an object optimises its functionality, the result is a beautiful object. The problem comes from two fronts, which may be cause and effect. The first arises when technological advances enable the optimisation of the function to be resolved with mechanisms that barely occupy any space, and which therefore do not condition the form. The second, is the gradually increasing relevance of the communicative aspects of the object. In the consumer society, the sign value of an object (furniture, household appliances, vehicles, packaging, etc.) is growing, and there is also an ever more significant variable, the desire our clients have for their products to be different, unique (not necessarily better). So today we could change Sullivan’s maxim to the following: “Form follows market”, where the physical function no longer conditions form.

6) To what extent and how have your culture, your country of origin influenced your work?

There must be some influence, but in this globalised world it is increasingly difficult to detect and pinpoint it. Nowadays, all the designers of the world look at the same magazines, buy the same books, browse the same websites, design with the same computers, use the same programs, receive the same influences and work for domestic and foreign clients that are increasingly alike; because they also have the same machines, buy and sell in the same markets and apply the same management and marketing strategies. Under these circumstances, can you talk about local design? I think that the features we attribute to design from a specific place (Italian or German or Nordic design) are more in line with the clichés used to characterise each country or its industry: Italian creativity, German precision, Scandinavian simplicity… but now you can find all these characteristics in designers all over the world, regardless of their origin or place of work.

And secondly, can we talk about local features in an activity like design that has its essence in the generic, in quantity, repetition, homogeneity, standardisation, in universalisation?

I know that this response makes perfect sense in the field of product design. In graphic design there is a much more direct intervention of cultural codes that are still closely linked to the region, to the local. However, the graphic language that we use in a specific project is one thing, and the style or personality of your work in general is another; it is something subtler and more permanent.

7) How did you conceive the idea for your projects? There is a method that you feel to share with students who are getting into this profession?

We really like to look for solutions by looking at sectors other than the one in which we are working. For example, by transferring solutions, ideas or resources from food packaging to perfumery or vice versa. Or using design languages specific to one sector in another. In fact, these are techniques for finding original solutions. I think that every designer has their method, usually involving black box thinking, which is what the experts call a process without a systematic methodology. In this sense we are concerned with stimulating the creativity of our team and not bureaucratising our work. Creativity is not a linear process that advances step by step. It is a seemingly chaotic process that is constantly jumping forwards and backwards. I find the criteria you use to evaluate what you are doing much more important than whichever method you use. You have to be rigorous to be able to judge, not to take it step by step.

8) What do you reckon the role of graphic designer will look like in the future?

I have always thought that the differences between graphic design, product design and architecture are in the technical aspects. In the materials, the production processes, the field of work (planes or volumes), in the scale (dal cucchiaio alla città); but everything is design, and there are three fundamental factors that taken together characterise the work of the designer. Firstly, creative thinking: designers do not focus on the problem, as technicians do, but on the solution. Secondly, knowledge of the techniques of representation (drawing and others) that allow us to communicate what we have designed in detail, in order for someone to produce it. And thirdly, everything we do is aimed at the user. The designer is responsible for the physical and emotional relationship the user has with the object or with the pack or with the brand or with a poster. These three elements (creativity, mastery of the tools and the user as the final objective of the project) are the basic pillars of our profession and that is what companies are looking for when they incorporate Design Thinking into their organisations. And that is what service designers do, or those who are dedicated to social design, or “social innovation” as Manzini calls it. We have a way of making it our own and we can apply it to any field where it is useful. That’s where I think the future of design lies. Far beyond the graphics, the product or the packaging.

9) How much has the online availability of graphic design resources influenced the work of designers?

The online world has become an incredibly powerful showcase for publicising your work and making it easy for potential clients on the other side of the world to become aware of you. It is extremely useful for instantly finding out what is being done and what has been done or to find graphic resources such as images, typographies, illustrations, and so on; and, of course, to communicate with your customers even thousands of kilometres away. It has compressed space and time. Computers have simplified many tasks and speed up the whole process, which has its good side and its bad side. In the end, the important thing is to think, and to be able to do this well takes time. I’m convinced that computers and the internet are changing ways of designing, but also the ways of living and even thinking. Everything is linked.

10) What’s the first thing you do when you face the challenge of a new project?

We have, like all design studies, a process that adapts to the complexity of each project. However, there is a starting point which we place great importance on. It’s the brief. We analyse it very thoroughly and complete it by asking all the questions that we consider necessary to really understand the objectives, and especially the requirements or limitations of the project. Then we spend a lot of time looking at what has been done, in studying what is known as “the state of the art”. From there we start to work by looking for an approach or a concept that opens up a new and interesting path.

11) Which projects are you currently working on? 

We have several projects under way. From packaging to food and perfumery, to corporate identity… and we are designing a fence to protect four huge trees, ficus macrophylla, in a garden in the centre of Valencia, near where we have our studio. It’s a very nice challenge because we have never done anything like this, it forces you to leave your comfort zone and think differently. And also, because we will have to go past it every day, which will be horrible if it turns out badly! Challenges are always exciting and fun. Vila Matas says that “creativity is intelligence having fun”.

Interview in Italian in the following link:

Lavernia & Cienfuegos – 24 May 2017