Our review of Spanish design festival Blanc!
Great ideas rarely come from seeing the same people, going to the same places. To be inspired, we need different perspectives, other generations, to be somewhere else. So when Without’s digital designer Narcis Serrats asked if he could report back from Barcelona design festival Blanc! we reminded him to pack his swimming stuff. Here’s his review of the show…
I grew up in Barcelona, so I’ve been going to Blanc! for years. It’s Spain’s most relevant design festival that gathers designers and artists from all over the world – a true celebration of diversity in the creative industry. What I love the most – aside from listening to broadcast talks while swimming in the sea – is the combination of new voices and established legends like Paula Scher, Malika Favre, Bruce Mau, Neville Brody, Alex Trochut, Ian Anderson. This edition was no exception, with conferences, masterclasses and workshops about branding and design, but also ethics and mental health, architecture, product design and engineering. There was so much to learn, but here are my five takeaways…
1. Generational clash: The Zennials
The talk by the research agency Dmentes, about generational divides, was the highlight for me. They expertly analysed the behavioural chaos that Zennials find themselves in, those of us in our early 20s and 30s, oscillating between Millennials and Gen Z (we also happen to be a sought-after consumer group for brands). They described our state of permacrisis – wars, climate change, economic crisis – but how we’re finding ways to adapt. It was an amazing, reflective exercise to compare that contemporary portrait with Ricardo Rousselot’s interview, an 86 year-old design legend, who has created some of the most consumed Spanish brands. Discovering how his work has shaped his life, makes you realise how much the creative work culture has changed but also how much room there is still to evolve. In essence, and as Berta segura from Dmentes said “young generations are here to hack the establishment” and humanise work.
2. Design as a social transformation tool
I wrote my dissertation on design as a social transformation tool at university, so it was interesting to hear about the progress in this area, which focused on feminism and gender roles. The case study of Teta & Teta (“teta” is Spanish for “tit”) was hugely inspiring. As a design studio, they used their platform to create beautiful, trailblazing campaigns around breast cancer, including shining a light on “pinkwashing” and on the monetization by brands of the pink ribbon symbol by challenging retailers like Mango and Oisho to create mastectomy bras. It’s a great lesson in aligning values to the work we do.
3. Employers should be responsible for emotional wellbeing
Designers are naturally protective of their work. It’s hard not to be with creative projects; we put our heart and soul into it. And we do it because we love it. But that level of commitment, of emotional investment can take its toll. Without proper care, it can lead to burnout. “I’ve seen all my coworkers cry,” said Ana Gea, editor at Gràffica and founding partner of design consultancy PaulauGea. “Emotional wellbeing should be the employer’s responsibility. The challenge is to manage the brain and the heart.” The good news is that the creative industries have always been at the forefront of change; it’s now time to apply our ingenuity to our own wellbeing.
4. New dimensions for visual communications
As architecture graduates, Cibrán Rico López and Suso Vázquez Gómez – the duo behind Spanish studio Desescribir – believe that “place” is what gives design context. But nowadays that can mean anything from physical spaces, to AI, to the metaverse. A great example of how visual communication can conquer physical spaces is the work of Andtonic, a design studio that uses engineering as a communication tool to bring animatronics to life. To promote the fourth series of Netflix’s Stranger Things, they created real-life gigantic floor cracks in a square in Madrid and made them appear on famous landmarks around the world, including the Spanish Guggenheim museum and Empire State Building.
5. The value of being an amateur
“A good designer is just an amateur who did not quit,” said Erik Kessels, the Dutch designer and co-founder of KesselsKramer, an advertising agency in Amsterdam. He is best known for his humorous and provocative photography books, not least his Useful Photography series, beginning with a volume on cut-outs from sales catalogues, instruction manuals, packaging, brochures and textbooks – all anonymous “because what photographer expects to create a furore with a chicken breast”? It’s open to interpretation, but I came away from this talk believing in the democratisation of the design industry.
Blanc! may not be a household name here in the UK, but that’s all the more reason to go. Every time I visit, I feel challenged, motivated and inspired. It’s a reminder of what pushes us to design.
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