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Featured Design Studio

El Monocromo

September 2018

El Monocromo Director and designer, Juan Pablo, loved visiting his grandfather's shop when he was young and became obsessed with store signs — believing that this is one of the things that let him into the world of design. After running El Monocromo for 8 years Juan thought it was time to evaluate and push the studio to its next level—thinking that it 'is fundamental to speculate around boundaries of design that go beyond the classic client-designer relationships and the inner workings of a studio.'

When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?

In high school, I was designing stuff for everything that happened around. It was really nice because I had no idea about anything Design related but I enjoyed a lot just playing around with Photoshop 4.0 or Macromedia. My grandfather had a store and marquetry called "El Artístico" in Manizales' city center (my hometown) and I loved visiting him and seeing all the newly framed pictures. I owe great part of my visual culture to this experience. Since then I've always had an obsession with store signs, I loved to walk around Manizales' city center and checking them out. I think this influenced in some way my later decision of switching career and studying design.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied design in Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. It was strange because I was part of this new program that was shifting away from Industrial Design. Simply Design (with two emphasis: communication and product design), we felt like ginny pigs from the start. I actually liked it a lot, I think the fact that everything was being tried out with us felt liberating, because it felt more like the notion of horizontal education I never got (completely different to what I was used to since school and my first and failed studies as an engineer). Tutors felt as clueless as we were, and I think this just opened the door to try anything. I guess the fact that we're not dogmatic graphic designers is a good sign. My first jobs were basically being kind of a design semi-intern for teachers that ended up being very good friends of mine: Ana Velez and Mauricio Giraldo. With them I worked on some specific and incredible projects. With Ana we worked on Bogota's football stadium "El Campin" signage, I designed the pictograms under her guidance and she designed the whole signage, it was a great experience seeing everything being real on such a massive building. With Mauricio I worked designing flyers for events at a bar and record label called Eje Records (which was my favorite place at the time), this was a great time in my life because I designed stuff for the place I used to go the most, managed to be the dj a couple of times and met incredible people. I just recently graduated from the Design MFA from the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam.

What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?

There's a saying in spanish that goes "Del afán no queda sino el cansancio", which means something like "from eagerness there is nothing left but fatigue". I would advise myself to take things easy, slow, and enjoy it. I think I've rushed too much, too many times. In Colombia they call your studies "la carrera", which I've always related to a race, a rush, like suddenly you're running out of time, and you haven't even started. I was the oldest one in my masters, from both years, and I think it was great that it was this way. I still rush because I cannot sit still (this runs in my family), but I feel less pressure these days, I try to do more stuff I enjoy.

"

There's a saying in spanish that goes "Del afán no queda sino el cansancio", which means something like "from eagerness there is nothing left but fatigue". I would advise myself to take things easy, slow, and enjoy it.

"

What do you look for in a great client?

A lot of my clients end up being my friends. I seek horizontal relationships of mutual respect where we can work together and enjoy the process. I've never been a big fan of rigid corporate structures, I prefer easier going people and processes. I find it interesting that quite a lot of my clients are on a similar stage as me and the studio; we are in this process together, sharing our everyday struggles, fears, and notion of success. I've always wanted to print studio business cards for my clients.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?

I've been specifically interested in questioning my design practice on a more rigorous level, and wish to critically modify it to move towards a research-oriented approach. Specially after working for clients for more than eight years. This necessity to shift towards a research-practice is informed by my close work with disruptive political communication design done in Colombia, particular interests, and questioning the precarious working situations designers are confronted with these days. Finding a job and client-based work seems to be the only survival strategy for designers. I think it is fundamental to speculate around boundaries of design that go beyond the classic client-designer relationships and the inner workings of a studio. This interest was the main reason that took me to Amsterdam to study at Sandberg Instituut.

Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?

I want to expand the type of work I do and the projects we work on in the studio. After working for 8-9 years I think it's important to reflect on what we have done, what have we've learnt from it, what we enjoy doing the most and what we would really like to do in the future. El Monocromo as a graphic design studio must evolve into a new project, and so myself as a designer and individual. I'm currently living in Amsterdam, working for the studio with my partners in Bogotá, mostly projects happening in Colombia and some in Europe. I've been working on a research project during my studies that was recently exhibited during the Sandberg graduation show, and will be screened in other places in the upcoming months. The project, called Salpicón, is a browser film that explores telenovelas and Colombia's conflict and post-conflict visual aesthetics. It is a mix of real and fictional footage that blends like the dramatic fruit drink it is named after, and part of a research project on the politics of melodrama in post-conflict Colombia and Telenovelas. I'm also very interested in podcasting and radio, and with a good friend and colleague from Mexico we started a project called The Ambassadors of Love. We've done two live radio shows where we discuss love, politics and latin music. We want to expand this project as a platform for discussion and interest in latin music and our intertwining research projects. Stay tuned.

Website: elmonocromo.com

Instagram: @elmonocromo

Juan's Instagram: @juanpablomejiam

Twitter: @elmonocromo

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