Spanish culture is everything but boring.
Its mouthwatering culinary options, mesmerizing flamenco dancers, and crazy festivals are just some of the wonderfully exciting things Spanish culture has to offer.
Its eclectic design world is no different. Offering a broad range of styles, techniques, and approaches, it is one of the most exciting design landscapes I’ve had the chance to dive into in quite some time.
Below we’ve compiled five of Spanish design’s most prominent characteristics and six designers and studios that exemplify them to share with you. Hopefully they’ll prompt you to dive in deeper into the region’s exciting design world!
01. Heavy Use of Red
They say if you can’t make it big, make it red. This rings especially true in the world of Spanish design. A variety of different design pieces from a number of studios and designs of the region all make heavy use of the eye-catching color.
The use of red in Spanish design doesn’t follow a set of rules. It is ever changing and applied in many different ways. It can be an accent or the driving force behind a piece.
Consider the examples above. In both the London 12 Typeface postcard series and the Javier Ties identity system, the color red is used as a prominent design element, serving as a both a background and a unifier across the series.
Both cases use the color red boldly and pull it off wonderfully. However, it might not always be the best way to go. To dive a bit deeper into the pros and cons of using red and when you might want to steer clear of it, check this great article out.
It’s not certain whether the heavy use of red in Spanish design is derived entirely from the colors popularity within Spanish culture. But flamenco dresses, La Tomatina, and even the Country’s very own flag all seem to suggest that red runs in the Spanish designers’ blood!
Want to give red a shot? Dive right in. Just remember, it is an extremely dominant color and will quickly garner a viewer’s attention. Be sure to keep this in mind and use it to your advantage to create a focal point.
02. Texture as a Design Element
As I browsed through a number of lovely design pieces from the region, I noticed texture was commonly used as a design element.
These awesome textures, however, weren’t just loaded from the library of pre-packaged textures from the software we use to design. They were created from scratch, adding a bespoke vibe to them.
In many cases these custom textures were created using meaningful materials and elements. Take this piece, for example. Handsome, textured letterforms were created using rice: an ingredient crucial in the making of the dishes the restaurant being branded offers.
Textures can do a myriad of things for your work. You can use them to create a certain “feel,” create visual interest, or to convey specific messages.
To learn more about the many uses of textures in design in detail and how you can apply them, pop over to Veronika Theodor’s article on the role of textures in contemporary design.
Dig into your projects and find meaningful ingredients, items, or imagery that could give way to an exciting custom texture. Struggling to find something like it? Break out a box of crayons or a paint roller and some ink. Going analog might just yield the best results.
03. Bold Type
Bold type – but not weight wise. Many pieces of Spanish design are type-centric, placing type front and center. It isn’t uncommon to find covers, books and posters featuring expressive type or branding projects with masterfully set characters.
Type-centric pieces can help you produce work that communicates easily. Focusing on type and setting it in the right hierarchy can help you produce work that lets viewers access information easily.
Messages set in large beautiful type are also a way to quickly transmit information — they also ensure the message doesn’t fly past a viewer’s eye. It’s pretty hard to miss type that is 100 pt+, right?
A number of pieces combine texture with type — as seen in The Washington Post by Lo Siento we showcased above — to bring about interesting alternatives to the traditional clean san-serifs types abundant in today’s design world.
And not only are textures decorative, they are expressive and great ways to create the right “feel.”
They say typography is one of the toughest fields in design to master. Don’t let this intimidate you if you are keen to make your next design endeavour type-centric. Just be sure to observe the fundamentals: kerning, tracking, and leading.
04. Bright Color Palettes
In my last post, Graphic Design From Around the World: Scandinavian Design, I explored the different characteristics that make Scandinavian design so darn good. Among them was the use of muted, earthy color palettes inspired by the great Scandinavian outdoors.
Spanish design steers clear of shy shades of blue and tan and dives right into vibrant palettes made up of a variety of hues.
A myriad of posters, book covers, and identity systems from design studios and designers in Spain feature vibrant palettes that drive their design. Just like with the usage of red, how lively palettes are used doesn’t follow a pattern.
They may employ a complementary, analogous, or a triad color palette — the unifying thread in them, however, is the vibrancy of the hues that make them up.
Bright colors will sometimes be used as accents, just like Jorge Leon did for Firmamento above. In other cases, you’ll find that colors are used as the leading design element.
If you want to give a complex palettes with numerous colors a shot but aren’t sure about how to achieve harmony, equalize the saturation and brightness of each hue you select. This is an easy way to make sure your colors play well with each other.
05. Beautiful Patterns
Creative patterns deck the faces of many design pieces coming out of the Spanish region.
Sometimes they are quirky, as seen on the Bacon or Die Skateboard featured above. At other times they are modern, built with meaningful elements that make up a brand system, as seen in the La Cerdanya branding above.
In both pieces featured above, patterns are an integral part of the work.
The sizzling bacon slices on Querida’s skateboard pattern deck the bottom of the skateboard — prime real estate on these fun four-wheelers — granting dynamism and movement to the otherwise static black and white design.
In La Cerdanya’s example, the back of the paper stationery set for the stock breeders features a pattern. Whenever official mail goes out, the receiving end will likely be greeted by the pattern as soon as he/she pops the envelope open, giving the pattern a primary role in the experience design around the brand.
Patterns don’t always have to reign supreme. You can opt to use them as secondary design elements. Try lining the interior of a packaging set with them or as the interior of a table book.
And if you’ve decided to create a pattern, keep in mind that patterns don’t always have to be perfectly symmetrical or have to repeat in exactly the same ways.
Adding a bit of chaos to them can actually make them more interesting. Build your patterns using random placement or allow for subtle inconsistencies.
Since you’re likely eager to see more examples of how these design principles are applied in by designers and studios from all over the region, I’ve also gathered six of my favorite Spanish studios and designers.
I’ve pulled a few great shots and projects from each of the studio’s or designer’s portfolio. Each example showcases the characteristics we covered above and provides a bit of inspiration.
As much as I would have loved to, I couldn’t pull out all the awesome work each has to offer — so be sure to click over to check out everything else they have to offer. I promise it won’t disappoint!
01. Lo Siento
Remember the handsome rice letterforms we covered above? They are part of the branding Lo Siento created for L’Arroseria. But it’s not the only project they knocked out of the park — they have produced dozens of excellent pieces across a variety of design disciplines that showcase why Spanish design is so darn good.
Among my favorite projects by Lo Siento is the identity system and packaging they created for Comaxurros. The identity features a set of characters that turn into a driving design element for the brand. Their long limbs and expressive faces help add a playful vibe to the brand. And did I mention they’ve created an irresistible pattern with them?
02. Astrid Stavro Studio
Astrid Stavro Studio joined forces with Grafica to become Design by Atlas. They have, of course, continued to produce outstanding work. While the Design by Atlas site isn’t entirely up and running, you can still click over for a full screen slideshow that will let you check out what they’ve been up to.
From Astrid Stavro Studio I love Habitatge/Cat, a catalogue for an exhibition on housing in Catalunya. It features a combination of spreads designed with bold type, icons, and bright colors. Its got a contemporary vibe to it and is definitely worth checking out.
I am also fond of the work she has created for Backlist and their classic literature system. Using a unifying grid system, Stavro designed a set of book covers using shapes and a lovely serif face. Be sure to check them out here.
The Garnell Identity featured above by Firma is another excellent example of how vibrant colors are commonly used in Spanish design.
In this case, color is used to create a system that allows customers to differentiate between different products. The palette, however, is so beautifully balanced that it creates an overarching sense of unity among all of them, allowing them to feel like a family.
Firma worked with Miin Cosmetics to develop an identity for them among other things. While it does not feature a plethora of vibrant colors or textures, is it beautiful and a refreshingly different solution to cosmetic branding.
Built with vectors, clean type, and a pretty pink, it definitely doesn’t feel like anything I’ve seen on the shelves of a beauty shop before.
04. Ana Mirats
Ana Mirats features a portfolio stacked with gorgeous editorial design and print. She has produced a variety of pieces for fashion houses like Massimo Dutti, Pull & Bear, and Zara. They range from posters to books to advertising material. If you are looking for print inspiration, be sure to check out some of her work.
While all of the work she has produced for said fashion houses is amazing, I am quite fond of the corporate identity she developed for Minis made up of letterforms that are also quirky characters. They add character and cute visuals to the brand — check it out here.
05. Jorge Leon
Jorge Leon is another designer from the region who has worked for some of the studios we’ve featured here, like Folch and Firma. He has worked on and produced a variety of projects that include branding, books, posters and ads among others. These all come together to create a diverse but masterful portfolio worth spending some time poking around in.
Be sure to click over to Jorge Leon’s personal website to check out what he’s been up to lately. Personally, I really enjoyed seeing the identity he designed for Amigos Skate Shop.The entire identity is built using solely simple shapes and a bright palette featuring just two colors. Click over and make googly eyes at it with me.
Finally, I want to introduce you to Querida. On this studio’s modern looking site you’ll find a number of projects with textures, bright colors, and lovely bold type. Above you’ll find the LP cover for Berlinist – The Winter Hexagon, an excellent example of how texture can be used in your work.
Querida is responsible for the design of The Box Social’s visual identity. It is extremely simple in the most beautiful way and features fresh illustrations. I love the grid system they’ve developed for the identity that helps tie all the elements together. Be sure to click over to check out how it plays out throughout it!
Over To You
And there you have it! A breakdown of some of the most common characteristics prominent in Spanish design and a few great designers and studios to keep an eye on. Check out their sites and add them to your social radar. They are likely to produce amazing work you can learn from and be inspired by!
Spanish design’s broad range of styles, techniques, and approaches are sure to flavor your designs with its unique vibrancy and dynamism if you give it a shot.