Source: Pressgraph, magazine N. 615 July / August 2018
Interview with Elena Struch published in PressGraph, magazine specialized in innovation & business for the graphic sector.
Last June I had the great good fortune that the prestigious graphic magazine PressGraph contacted me to do an interview, which I accepted very excited.
This magazine deals with innovation in the sectors of graphic design, printing and advertising, with current news on machinery, fairs, events and whose website is required to subscribe, for anyone who is immersed in the graphic landscape.
From here my thanks to the direction of the magazine for doing this interview, whose experience has been very positive. I hope you like it.
Interview with Elena Estruch, designer
“You have to compete
for quality and not for price”
Although he completed his educational itinerary along the path of administration, and was interested at the time by fashion design, it was the year 1994 the turning point in the life of Elena Estruch (www.elenastruch.com) when she bought her first computer Apple and went decidedly in the prodigious world of graphic design.
The following year Elena Estruch was already fully immersed in courses of self-publishing and graphic design, to which she added a huge dose of self-will and curiosity, starting collaborations as an illustrator to move later to the publishing and printing sector. One of the highlights of his career is the enormous fortune of being able to work for Disney, for years, to which the collaboration with Oscar Mariné Brandi adds for almost a year.
2006 was another year of discovery and illumination: Elena Estruch realizes that what she is passionate and excited about is illustration and painting, so she enters the Complutense University of Madrid to study the Fine Arts career, a vocation that will continue later also in a self-taught way. His artistic profile was developed in the ProArte and Culture Group, created by Mayte Spínola, where he joined in 2010 and, until now, his work has been exhibited in Madrid, Toledo, Paris, Rome and Malaga.
Do you remember how you came to the professional field of design?
Elena Estruch: I remember it perfectly, because it meant a total change in my life, personally and professionally. I came by chance in 1995, after buying my first Mac, a Centris 850 and a Wacom tablet. He intended to make a digital illustration for a sketch of a painting. But I liked the experience so much that I decided to train in software management. My first assignments were illustration and infographics for interfaces and icons for web pages.
What type of training could you access, how was it and what are the differences with the current training offer?
EE: In my case, I just wanted to learn a bit about the use of some tools, so I did a small introductory course on Desktop Publishing and Graphic Design, which completely got me hooked and I decided to learn more. It is true that, at that time, they were the beginnings of desktop publishing and there was not much information or training or, at least, I did not find it. Only a few books and the rest I learned working hard. I spent an average of 16 hours a day learning and working, to catch up. It was very hard but at the same time very enriching. I also had to work without pay to learn the ins and outs of the profession.
Currently, the training offer is very different, wide and of great quality, thanks to the teachers who have great experience. Also the equipment and the software has been developed extraordinarily and new and wonderful applications have appeared that facilitate many tasks.
Aesthetics is a design element, but also its functionality, at the service of a need posed by the client. How do these two tendencies combine in the daily activity and in each project?
EE: It is necessary to collect all the necessary information of the client and his target. The aesthetics and functionality vary with each client. That is why it is necessary, before starting any design, to make a study of the objective that must be fulfilled. In addition, you have to know the customer’s competence and news, be always up to date, investigate, investigate, investigate and, finally, design and present ideas.
Collaboration with the client is fundamental, it is not possible to work blindly.
EE: It’s funny how perception changes and plays tricks on us. I remember a logo that a client assigned to me for a gym in which the icon was inspired by the head of a Celtic horse. We gave it a thousand laps and several meetings. After finished and satisfied my client, he introduced him to his friends to listen to their opinions. The answer in several people was the same; They wondered what the kitten they saw looked like. We were perplexed because we were not able to see it. But, indeed, in the hollow that contoured the silhouette of the horse appeared the negative image of a kitten. So we had to redo it, but the client chose to change the image of his brand finally.
The use of digital tools in the world of design is already assumed and completely diffused. Did it mean a “democratization” in the technical access to the world of design? Was it the appearance of an “intrusion” that fostered the decline in quality and professionalism in design?
EE: Effectively allowed everyone to access to create their own designs, but also led to the depreciation of the sector.
I do not like to talk about intrusiveness, since I think that anyone who attracts a profession is free to dedicate himself to it. I consider myself an intruder, since I was introduced to a universe of which I had little knowledge and without being able to access a prestigious training. Although I gave myself completely to learn the tools and acquire the necessary knowledge for the jobs that the clients asked me for.
What I have always been very clear about is the level of quality that I can offer, and I did not want to introduce myself in sectors in which I knew I could not give a good service or product. I think it is better to know what our strengths and weaknesses are and to take only those projects in which we can give the best of ourselves. The customer always appreciates the sincerity. In my case, the sector that I know best is the editorial and the illustration. And it’s not that I do not consider myself capable of making other types of products, but they cost me more and I think that with specialization you get better results.
The ideal is to compete for quality and not for price. The fact of lowering prices to get customers not only destroys the work, but it devalues it and is a trap, as has happened, not only for all professionals, but for themselves. If we cheapen prices too much they can no longer be raised and this is a profession that requires a costly investment and it takes a lot of time and money to train and take experience. It is not logical that the salaries at this time are at the level of the minimum interprofessional salary, below the salary of a cleaning staff.
There are very complex and rigorous disciplines that apparently the public does not appreciate directly, such as typography. Are current technical resources facilitating the management of this type of elements by those who do not have the base or sufficient knowledge to do so?
EE: The design world is full of small secrets that the public is not aware of, but which make it attractive and very effective. These resources and applications that have appeared, free to use, are very useful tools that allow any user to design their own design documents. We live in a time of “do it yourself (DIY)”. Of course, this has favored the hiring of professionals. But in my opinion, this has happened in other sectors, and is a double-edged sword, because if you do not have the necessary knowledge, you can make mistakes that harm the company, although the applications sell it very well.
When I have given small workshops in the Madrid Emprende rooms I have noticed that the public is really aware of the difficulty of making a basic quality design and, despite these powerful applications, if you do not know what each ingredient is for , the recipe is most likely a failure. The public does not know why, but is very sensitive to capture quality in any field, and that only gives experience and knowledge.
Traditionally there were frictions between the creative-designer and the graphic industry professional who had to reproduce his creations. Have these small problems been solved nowadays with computer advances and standardization?
EE: What has happened is that we have learned to communicate, to speak the same language.
Both the printers and the designers had to learn from each one. Before the digital age, everything was more limited in terms of design and production. The computer was an open door to freedom of expression and new printing technologies have also contributed to this process. The printers have now evolved towards design, which encourages greater understanding. I have always had the support and help of professionals in the graphic sector. I have not had any problem in acknowledging a doubt and asking. So I learned a lot and avoided many mistakes. Ask is better than making a mistake, and cheaper too, hehehe. Although, unfortunately, what I often find is a drop in quality, to lower prices. About 20 years ago printing tests were done, the machines were adjusted. Of course, this entailed a price. Now, as the client does not want to pay for it, very important intermediate steps have been eliminated and, in many cases, the result is disastrous. It tells me a lot to adapt to this, because I am terribly demanding and I am very sad to see that the same thing that has happened in the world of fashion is happening, when the big mass production companies appeared.
At this point in the 21st century, is design still perceived as an expense rather than an investment? What can be done from the professional collective to change this?
EE: Unfortunately, the “Good-Pretty-Cheap” is still preferred. You want and appreciate a product with a good design, you sense the cost that this entails, but you are not willing to pay it. I return to my previous comment in which in the companies, at present, the salaries of a designer do not correspond with what it entails to learn the profession. A designer is very demanding and does not take into account that I have to pay for it.
I have been forced to refuse to work for companies that offered me less and less. I have lost friendships because they did not want to pay me commissions for their businesses, when they did charge me for their services. Finally, I set a limit, and I have kept my signature, because I believe that our obligation is to defend our value.
In my opinion, this can be controlled through education. From the moment in which a person begins his journey and to acquire the knowledge, it is also necessary to learn to know how to sell, to put a price on a product. This is the same as in any sector. If you do not know how to put a price on what you do, how will you know what price is right? The customer will always want the cheapest service, but our job is not only to design, but to know how to sell. You have to know our client, know our strengths and limitations, know how far we can or want to reach, the type of client with whom we want to work, and assess our level; always improving in what we do and raising the bar, never lower it due to market demands. Because this will mean the disappearance of the sector. Everything has a value of creation.
I remember the crisis of the design world in the 90s. When the problems appear, businessmen tend to cut back, in this order: design, advertising, personnel, machinery … And when the bonanza returns, the road is the reverse. Is this still happening at the present time?
EE: The truth is that in my opinion, what I see is that what is free is sought. Not only does it continue to happen, but design is something that is required as something that must be given, even if it is not paid. It’s unfortunate, because now they force us to know many more tools than before, computers update much faster than 15 years ago, and that means a lot of time spent to be competitive.
The change must begin in the designer himself, who must be aware of the value of a product or service with design that does not have it. Awareness and, I insist, refuse to work below a fixed limit according to our level of quality. A good professional is not only one who works well, but who knows how to charge. That is what any sale consists of, even if you work for someone else’s, it is a service to a company.
Currently, the usual field in which the design professional develops is no longer just the physical support. Today the contents, the messages are transmitted through multiple channels, and especially in the fashion of digital devices. For a design to maintain coherence, has the designer’s work been complicated not only technically but also conceptually?
EE: Of course, the appearance of new media has forced us to think, from the beginning, on the different platforms in which the final product will be displayed. And this will be changing continuously. This greatly conditions the design. I have multiple templates with different formats depending on where you are going to promote. In fact, when I present a design, I show it with the different versions for social networks and platforms, because this way I avoid having to correct possible visualization errors that had not been perceived.
What do you think of the contests?
EE: Let’s see … I do not like competitions and I avoid introducing myself to them, except if they can give me the possibility of helping me promote my work; It is a great way to measure our level and strive to improve. As a graphic designer I have not presented myself to any of them, because I have always been very clear that it was not my goal, but in illustration. In fact, I submit to a very important painting contest this year, but I can not give more details at this time.
In what situation, at the international level, is Spanish design?
EE: In my opinion, Spain has a great quality and prestige in terms of design, not only in graphic design, but in advertising, fashion, styling and other sectors. This is highly valued more outside our borders than here. In fact, many professionals work for international brands, thanks above all to the use of virtual communication.
What do you think of the associationism in the profession?
EE: I suppose that, as in any other profession, complementing with other professionals entails offering a broader and complete service to a client. For most clients, it is exhausting to have to find a professional for every need. The drawbacks that I see is in the collaborators themselves, in which it is necessary to have a lot of complicity and confidence in order not to fall into the own competitiveness and appropriation of clients.♥