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Candelmi: «Regardless the fact that strategy and design have always been connected and neither can be conceived in independent terms, the role of strategy in decisions surrounding the discipline is, today, more prominent and necessary than ever»

From his Bariloche home-base, graphic designer, advertising agent, and professor Adrián Candelmi discusses the obligation of the discipline to exercise an inclusive perspective that matches our current context and foresees emergencies.

The designer and publicist, settled in Bariloche since 2013, Adrián Candelmi (Buenos Aires, 1965) has a vast career as both a professional designer and as an educator. He studied at the Pan-American School of Art (EPA) and the Foundation for Higher Education in Commercial Sciences (FAECC). He has taught courses in different institutions in the capital city and the rest of the country —like the University of Palermo, the University of Morón, and, currently, the University of Flowers, campus Comahue and the National University of Río Negro— for more than thirty years. He has also given lectures and led workshops about design and creativity in Argentine and Latin American institutions and companies. As an active manager of the discipline and its pedagogy, he has not only acted as co-creator and academic director of Espacio Virgen, an educational project aimed at providing informal training in Design and Creativity, but also as director of the TMDG House of Studies (Mar del Plata).

In the field of visual communication, he has worked independently and in collaboration with several studios, including the mythical Fracchia and Associates, led by a pioneer of brand identity, Carlos María Fracchia. He is also produced of the editorial object TG/MPM (Graphic Terrorism Mobile Postal Museum), a project he co-created alongside Patricio Crespi, a unique piece in the entire region.

Invited by IDA to participate in January’s issue of the Old&Newsletter, the organizer of the event PechaKucha Night Bariloche examines the symbiotic and always dynamic bond between design and strategy.

–Can we rethink or redefine the meaning of design based on a strategy? And redefine strategies based on design’s perspective? Can either concept stand without the other?

–If we consider that design aims at finding creative, useful, functional, and, today more than ever, sustainable solutions to specific issues or needs — I am avoiding on purpose the aesthetic aspect without dismissing it entirely—, then we must assume the application of a strategic vision. Inspiration is always welcome —the key to ignite the motor of ideas needed to begin designing— but it has to be intertwined with strategy. All design proposals imply a concept and a development based on a defined strategy.

In the opposite case, we can examine design thinking as an example of a strategy formulated from design. I think both concepts are permanently connected and need one another. Design is strategy. The connection is similar to the one that exists between theory and practice: both are fundamental and they need, nurture, and feedback one another. It reminds me of a phrase the Canadian graphic designer and Bauhaus professor, Jay Rutherford shared at the Enter segment of the 2017 TMDG House of Studies, a space for interaction and professional training that is part of TRImarchi and which I have had the honor to direct since 2016. During his lecture, when referring to the educational model he practices which mostly focused on teaching skills rather than merely transferring content from an academic curriculum, he said: “Theory is not the root of practice, it is its flower, its result”. This poetic quote reveals the relevance of each term, which comes first and which one follows, and I believe it to be true most of the time: both parts are equally important. My response to this question is that both, design and strategy, could be (and are) root and flower at the same time.

–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?

–I could mention several cases that show how design and strategy go hand in hand and in which, much to my luck, I have participated or been somehow involved with their development. I will mention three.

The first one is related to the strategic proposal developed by my dear teacher and friend, the architect and designer Carlos Fracchia and which I directly witnessed during the 18 years I worked by his side. Always aiming at clear and well established objectives, he undertook projects for such clients as Siam, Casanto, Colorín, San Marco textiles, Gador laboratories, Pluspetrol, Sportlandia, Prestigio paint manufacturer, and Spinazzola public places, among others. In many of these cases I collaborated during the process of creation, design, or implementation and I can say that it is a body of work that stands out for its forcefulness and for standing the test of time. Fracchia’s teaching vocation has shown to most of his disciples, collaborators, and former students that the pairing design-strategy is a couple that cannot and must not be separated.

The second case is the recent winner of the 7th Ibero-American Design Biennial (BID-20) in the category of Graphic Design and Visual Communication: the place branding of Bariloche. In that project, as can be seen in other, similar ones, the goal of my dear friend Gustavo Stecher, graphic designer and branding expert, has always been to “build regional, collective identities” (replicating the title of his TEDx talk) that are efficient, functional, and attractive.

Gustavo invited me to join his local work team, where I had the chance to participate and coordinate alongside other colleagues and experts in some of the workshops that took place in the city. The events gathered a vast array of reference groups which contributed with ideas and proposals that resulted in the award winning system. I believe that a group design endeavor that has a clear and well defined strategy is a major breakthrough and, in this case, a great example of conceptual strength and strategic design.

The third case is probably the most “personal” one. It is specifically related to the goal Patricio Crespi and I set when we created Graphic Terrorism. Designing a unique editorial and cultural object following the strategy of “apparently having no strategy” has rendered us great satisfactions and results.

–Has the bond between design and strategy changed throughout the XXI century as a result of new technologies and new ways of teaching, living, consuming, and interacting?

–Everything has an impact in what we think, design, do… and the huge changes we have experienced since the year 2000 in our country and worldwide have modified both strategies and design, thus producing new dynamics in their relationship.

The amount of information we handle forces us to think more carefully about the solutions we devise, since it is impossible to take action without considering the data and details about, for example, the environment or ecology that we have access to from several sources and diverse places. It is also impossible to ignore the social and cultural changes brought about by technology and its power.

Regardless the fact that strategy and design have always been connected and neither can be conceived in independent terms, the role of strategy in decisions surrounding the discipline is, today, more prominent and necessary than ever. That is due to many reasons: firstly, the existence of a real demand from clients themselves —monitored by more sensible and responsible consumers—; and, secondly, a broadest promotion of work processes that, before, took place in an intimate work sphere but, today, are shown in books, publications, social media, and specialized events.

–How can we boost the potential of this pairing to produce innovative solutions that foster improvement in such areas as social inclusion, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental care, and access to education?

–All strategy originates from someone’s decision —in this case, the designer— to plan and take action to achieve a predetermined set of objectives. We know that each link of the chain can add value when the approach is inclusive: the time has come to change the “can” for a “must”.

We must be aware of how much is lost or wasted in the image of a brand, a product, or a company, when we do not practice such principles from the inception of proposals. In consequence, it is fundamental to include topics like diversity, sustainability, and social aspect in the education of the next generations of designers, male and female alike.

Furthermore, it is also our responsibility to foster those notions in our clients’ aspirations and it is our duty to advise them on such issues. The answer to how can we accomplish better strategic design solutions is found in concepts that today are of vital importance: inclusion, innovation, and management.

As experts, we should be encouraged to create a curriculum that goes beyond logotypes, labels, products, firms, communication, positioning, objectives, etc. and focuses on the true purpose of design, which is people.