A renowned Valencia-based designer, in this interview Sandra Figuerola, tells us about her experience in the graphic and interior design industries and her recent product developments for textile and houseware brands.
- You have developed your activity in various areas, from graphic and editorial design to corporate identity and industrial design, always collaborating with important national and international companies. What is ‘design’ for you and how did you approach it?
The bohemian life of artists wasn’t really behind my decision to study Fine Arts. I was attracted to visual arts and creativity though. After having participated in a design competition for an advertising poster and having won it, I felt intrigued by a new, emerging profession – that of designer, which at that time was beginning to consolidate in Spain. Later, two of my classmates and I started a collaborative project in the Caps i Mans design studio and, after a year, and a series of fortunate circumstances, the La Nave studio was born.
And briefly responding to the other part of the question, for me design is basically using creativity to solve problems.
- From the design studio La Nave, a benchmark of national design in the '80s, to the new El Almudín studio, created in 2010. They were some very intense years, how have they influenced your career path?
My profile has been changing depending on the projects I have been working on or the different groups that we have been creating. My most recent experience as interior designer at HUP Interiorismo + Diseño coincides with my collaboration with the El Almudín design and communication studio.
Since my early career as graphic and poster designer, I have got more involved in projects related to interior design and architecture. Nevertheless, I stay true to my style and I still work with geometries and graphic languages.
Since I have no training as an industrial designer and I feel comfortable / at ease in that hybrid field where both disciplines, design and interior design, coexist. Obviously, some essential aspects of my way of working and personality have become more prominent than others: the use of colour, of which I "abuse" whenever I can, the geometric languages, the artistic influence or a certain sense of humour that sometimes infiltrates my work.
- In recent years you have opted for product design. Can you tell us about your experience with furniture and decoration companies?
Well, I think it's important to change and evolve. At the beginning of the crisis, for example, I felt forced to analyse the local market and find out which differentiation factors could keep me active and strengthen my position in the market. I consider myself very competent in developing brand identity, designing posters and catalogues, but there are too many good professionals competing in this field. Graphic design applied to the industry is a less saturated field to which I can contribute bringing my creativity and cultural and design experience. This is the case of the rugs and modular spaces that I have created for GAN, the textile brand from Gandiablasco.
- Travel is for you an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Do your travel experiences, the visual and emotional stimuli received and different local cultural affect your creative process? Can you offer some examples?
Obviously, it all affect my work! I love travelling. For me, travelling is living intensely. It excites the senses, brings new experiences and breaks the routine for a while. I find knowing other cultures, other ways of doing and seeing things very stimulating; it enriches me as a person and professionally.
The collections of kilims Catania, Palermo and Siracusa, for example, draw inspirations from my travel to Sicily and the hydraulic floors of local houses with their stunning combinations of geometries and Mediterranean colours. The Ginguelbeld tableware is inspired by Nordic Christmas tradition and my trips to Iceland. Morocco, where I escape to whenever I can, and its ancestral crafts inspire the design of the Glaoui, Alexandra and Tumbuctú rug collections for GAN. On the other hand, the clothing and accessories from my fashion brand, DIDIS, evoke my travels through Rajasthan ... Traveling inspires me, it nourishes my mind and definitely gets the artistic juices flowing!
- Your new frontier: boutique hotels, in which design, architecture and interior décor join forces to create unique customer experiences. How do your different experiences affect the creation of the hotel's image and the search for aesthetic and functional solutions suitable for this type of space?
The truth is that my recent venturing into the field of interior design has been a breath of fresh air for me. Working with spaces has turned out to be very stimulating and fun and, at this point in my career, I cannot but appreciate this new opportunity to express myself. It’s also true that I have always maintained that there are no real boundaries between the different specialties since you apply the same creativity and the same languages.
At HUP Interior Design + Design studio we start our projects working on a concept; concepts suggest images and these, in turn, inspire us. We pay a lot of attention to conceptual coherence, working from the general down to the particular, trying that all those small parts fit together, forming a whole, achieving an inclusive synthesis: aesthetically attractive and conceptually coherent.
The incorporation of visual design, which is my responsibility at HUB Interior Design + Design, allows us to personalize spaces and offer specific solutions for each project, avoiding standardization.
- How would you define your style? What inspires you as a designer? Is there a designer who has influenced you and your work?
My style is closely related to my vital reference points: nature, travels and art, which are intimately connected to me and my lifestyle. They provide me with the cultural insights, symbols and languages to work with.
For example, the Venus of Willendorf, a Palaeolithic figurine that may have been used as a fertility fetish, was the reference I used for a work commissioned by IVI (Valencian Institute for Infertility). I drew inspiration from the Picasso’s sun face ceramic plate for the UCAM brand logo that had to convey the idea of Mediterranean culture and lifestyle.
Besides art, nature is another great source of inspiration. It inspires the posters for the Spanish National Marine Reserves while the shape and name of the Glauca vinegar bottle evoke the blue shark - Prionace Glauca is the scientific name for blue shark. Most of the brand logos I have created reproduce animals: cats (for example the logo of Gandiablasco), birds, fishes and all kind of living creatures!
With regard to international designers, I admire the experimental work by Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius. She masters the use of colours and I find her extremely contemporary and bold. I also find interesting the work of the Bouroullec brothers, who are constantly reinventing new typologies. I am very interested in the proposals by New York-based graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, which are always surprising and thought-provoking. The evolution of companies like Vitra simply fascinates me!
In the national scene, I love the graphic work by designer Isidro Ferrer and I find impeccable everything that Jaime Hayon or Patricia Urquiola do! As for interior designer and creator of spaces, I adore the baroquism and the audacity of Lázaro Rosa-Violán to mix styles and objects. And as for companies, my favourite is Gandiablasco. Apart from the fact that I collaborate with them on a regular basis, they are always at the forefront and committed to design.
- How do you see the current landscape of Spanish design?
I think society is very fragmented, even within very similar segments of the population. And the market or design trends reflect this multi-faceted society. Companies are approaching the new generation of buyers, the Millennials, who have a different scale of values than the previous ones. Millennials are more individualistic and hedonistic, they travel more than any other generation and have a greater degree of commitment to ecology and the environment.
There is a growing concern about the future and the environmental impact of production. As a result, companies are increasingly incorporating sustainability and environmental responsibility into their business plans. The trend for ecological products and collaborative designs is rising as well as the culture of recycling and the respect for alternative lifestyles. New citizen platforms focused on the philosophy of sharing are emerging and all this is influencing and modifying the culture model inherited from previous generations based on widespread consumption. Nowadays, concepts such as responsible consumption, the luxury of long-lasting things, the return to traditional crafts are a daily reality. This new awareness is not a passing fad, it is an important paradigm shift and I believe that it will have a significant influence on the aesthetic approaches of the coming years. Design should take all these things into account: we no longer buy a piece of furniture for a lifetime!
Spanish companies are aware of new challenges and feel confident in their capacity to face them. The past economic crisis has made things clearer now: there is only one way to stay on the market and compete, and that is to incorporate the culture of the project and the commitment to design.
For more information: www.sandrafiguerola.com