Raúl is a graphic designer with a real and honest love for design not only as a craft, but as a catalyst of change, communication and, importantly, community. He tells the story of how this relationship began and the ways in which it developed over the years – all of which in the end brought him back to graphic design and, most importantly, to people. I spoke to Raul at his home in Barcelona's Gràcia neighbourhood, the very place where he had the first meeting of La Festa del Grafisme over 11 years ago after having founded it.
Words + Interview by Charles Pons
Photos by Vitor Manduchi
Being born in Pamplona, could you share a little bit more about young Raul and his upbringing in Navarra? Young Raul was a guy who loved sports to death, and studying. We had a football team, we were fourteen guys always competing to see who got the best grades and who played better – that was like success for us.
I have a couple of brothers and I was very influenced at that time by one of them, he was an industrial engineer and well – I wanted to be an engineer too. This was more or less when I broke my knee playing football when I was sixteen, I operate my right knee and the following year I had to operate my left knee after playing tennis. Then there begins my path of beginning to go to concerts – I no longer have training, so I start to get a lot into the world of music, and go to my friends’ rehearsals throughout the whole week. I had a friend whose father was the owner of a local radio, and I used to go with him to all the concerts to do press. This is where I began to get a little more into the more artistic and cultural world. 
"But it was in the first year of school... that I suddenly realised that I loved to synthesise. I don't know how to draw, I don't know how to make a perspective, I didn't know anything about photography, I didn't have a clue, but I loved the covers of the records."
And what things made you decide to go down the design path? 
It wasn’t always clear, in the last year of school I suspended it all and I repeated the year because I was super into the world of music. Then, I did some tests for university for architecture and they accepted me, but I suspended the pre-university entrance exam.
From there I realised that I had nothing, but suddenly I found a magazine called El País de las Tentaciones, designed by Fernando Gutierrez, a cultural magazine from EL PAIS where I first start to understand graphic design. I researched a little and found a school of graphic design in Pamplona. I continued with all the music, but it motivated me a lot and I started to put many hours into design. There I’m got along very well with a teacher until one day this teacher tells me "What you have to do is go to Barcelona, I studied at La Massana and you have to go there". I accepted the challenge and did the test. At that time they used to accept 32 people, I came in at 34 and didn’t enter, but since I had a very good grade, they told me "You can choose any art school you want from Catalonia”, and I chose La Llotja. Then there they told me "People who are registering now have to go to Serra and Abella", which is in Hospitalet, a very small and familiar public design and art school.
What is your earliest design memory? I have a collection of pins, of about 1000 pins. I collected pins since I was little, I was amazed by them, but I realise now as a designer that it’s something visual, like a super synthetic thing, an icon –  my mother and my brothers whenever they went on a trip would bring me a pin, it was the "Raul thing". First the pins, then the stickers. I think everyone collects stickers, but I had all them in my room… everything that was sport related was there in my walls.
But it was in the first year of school in Pamplona that I suddenly realised that I loved to synthesise. I don't know how to draw, I don't know how to make a perspective, I didn't know anything about photography, I didn't have a clue, but I loved the covers of the records. I remember my first year of work was basically copying all the covers of Belle and Sebastian band (laughs), and more or less at that time I thought “Wow, is this a job? Is this a thing in which you can earn a living? Wonderful!"
"Realising that the more types you look at, the more books you look at, the more you do, the more tests, the more value it has. [...] It's okay to copy at early stages, it's cool to see things that inspire you and that make you feel that you're crap and that you can be better, but don’t do something that is just a copy and that's it, you're not contributing anything."
How was your beginning as a designer, and how was life in the advertising world? Just after finishing these three years in Serra and Abella and already considering that I had done one in Pamplona, I thought I was ready for the world, but in the end I was super wrong. I still needed a lot of tools, so I went to study a digital typography course at Massana in 2002 and in parallel I started working at a logo redrawing company. I started drawing two, three logos a day and in the end I was redrawning sixteen, seventeen logos a day – and there I fell in love with typography.
I realised that most of the logos weren’t drawn, but that they were a typeface. I had all typographies catalogues, looking at everything until I found the type, so I no longer had to redraw it in vector. This was heavy-metal training, so much so that I started to work in a typographic foundry after, the only one in Barcelona that worked with lead and then digital – the Neufville Foundry, which are the owners of Futura. I was there for about a year designing typography catalogues, excited, with goosebumps, making specimens for Futura.
But I was a big fan of a guy, David Ruiz, and I looked for him, looked for him, looked for him, I spent three years trying to enter in his studio and finally I got accepted. I saw his posters on the street and I’d freak out, for me he was the best. It was fresh, more powerful, I loved his ideas and had gone to his studio – six people in a palace above the Tibidabo, with a lot of quality, with very good clients.
There it was basically hard work. I started helping them with the production of Camper's shop windows with Creative Director Shubhankar Ray and then in the end I was the typical person behind everyone asking if I could help. A moment in my life that I grew a lot, I had all the confidence of David and I was a child, the rest were all older than me, I was just 23 years old. Life hit me hard when I was seven, my father died and I had hustle, not on the street to eat, but on how to be happy. And for me graphic design is a way to be happy, to get up in the morning, choose typographies, compose a page, choose a colour, a format – and that’s your job. Is there a better job? I don’t think so! I don't know any other better way to spend my days (laughs).
Working with it and charging for it! Realising that the more types you look at, the more books you look at, the more you do, the more tests, the more value it has. People take design as a frivolous thing, every year in Spain there are about a thousand new graphic designers, and in a class of 20, there are only three or four that are very motivated – for the rest... design is just cool and that’s what makes it frivolous. What we see on Instagram, what we see out there is all the same. It's okay to copy at early stages, it's cool to see things that inspire you and that make you feel that you're crap and that you can be better, but don’t do something that is just a copy and that's it, you're not contributing anything.
David Ruiz was very good as an art director, he came from the world of agencies, so the type of studio he had was a graphic design studio that did campaigns. There was my introduction to the world of propaganda, but it wasn’t pure propaganda, it was design. The mentality there was how to take the ad to the highest category of art direction – we were one month, four people, doing three seconds, polishing each frame as if it were a poster. Spending one month to design a poster. It was magic.
And at what time was graphic design not enough, and you started doing product design and landscaping?​​​​​​​ The fault was a little because I was very young and I was already winning prizes as Print Golden Lion in Cannes. David Ruiz, Vicent Ruiz and me worked on this piece, working with other people to make the movements of the animation, choosing the song, composing the song, doing frame by frame.
The Cannes was in 2006, but in 2003 I received a scholarship from FAD, a year of design to investigate whatever I wanted, and I proposed to investigate signage design for disabled people. I did the project, I was awarded the scholarship, and in 2007 someone from the government said "We want this signage design for this natural park in Catalonia". After that, then I could leave the studio and start my career as a freelancer.
I began to work with architects and industrial designers, and that makes you start to be interested in the subject. There are books about what a chair is, why a chair is a chair, what size a chair has to be, ergonomics and everything else. So that's when I started to get interested in product design and right after I start living off it – I do a first project, I do a second and I do a third. Projects in which I move to the landscape I’m designing, as I have no idea how to do it, something that an architect normally does from his office. I went to the places to understand and to live it, I started enjoying another discipline, but with an incredible fear.
But after three brutal years of living in the mountains, of realising that I’m neither a product designer, nor am I a landscape designer, I return to graphic design.
"I like when people aren’t reduced to one thing, when they think more about metadesign or total design. Design as a tool that serves to provoke, that serves to ask questions and not only answers."
You returned to graphic design and founded La Festa del Grafisme  – an event made for amantes del diseño gráfico. It just completed 11 years and we know it’s a lot of work every year. My question is, why do you do it? What's the drive behind this festival? After 11 years, the team has changed a lot, people have been coming and going for multiple reasons and there was a time when I felt that it was also my time to not only make the graphic design part of it and select two or three people to come talk, but try to give the festival another vibe. For me, graphic design surrounded by product design, space design and all other disciplines of creation has a brutal power – I wanted to launch this message, that graphic design is very good, but combined with other things, with what inspires us, it's a bomb!
I like when people aren’t reduced to one thing, when they think more about metadesign or total design. Design as a tool that serves to provoke, that serves to ask questions and not only answers. That’s what La Festa gives me, I work for many brands, but when you work for culture, it's the true luxury.
It’s very good to have a satisfied client, but meeting people at La Festa is another mandanga [thing] – and this is the driving force. In the end, spreading the word and making people come is the engine, I want more people to be able to live this experience and also know my idols, because deep down, let’s not fool ourselves, La Festa is just an excuse to get to know my idols, to live a week with them (laughs) and other designers with the same ideo in mind. Now with the workshops (Tallersdelafesta.org) it’s much more intense, much more familiar and much more communal, which is what makes me really like design. I don’t like the glamour that surrounds the profession. Success is working with nice people, without pretensions, from an atmosphere of more camaraderie than of unfair competition.
In addition, the event is held in Portbou, a small town that’s suddenly filled with culture, explaining what design is and bringing it closer to people. I remember that the motto of the first year was this, to explain to the townspeople what design was, to take away this image of intellectuals that we think we are, but that in reality we aren’t – we love graphic design, but it’s just graphic design.
In fact on this terrace we made the first meeting of La Festa, we named it, we thought about the format and how it would be with the first five founders, right after some people left because of family and work reasons and others came. If you spend eight hours working in the studio of someone else, you have to be working eight hours there, but if you’re self-employed, you can choose to dedicate millions of hours to this like me, and end up at a point where I have dedicated so many hours to this that I have no more clients (laughs).
But then you realise that these very personal projects are the ones that give you other jobs. Everything comes back to you in the end, it can be to work with​​​​​​​ Mario Eskenazi, the best graphic designer in town. Tallers de la Festa is my spoiled son – a hobby that I dedicate everything to, as a person looking for a sponsor, as a person looking for content, as a person who wants the experience to be amazing; I dedicate everything. It’s one of the projects of my life.
You started teaching at a very young age – So, how important is the figure of a mentor/teacher in the early career of a designer? At university it’s important but it’s not transcendental, I think the important thing is how you conceive yourself. You can be in the best school and it doesn't do anything because you’re not putting any energy into it – for me it has a lot to do with the attitude, no matter where you study. You have to pass through university, of course, without it there’s no basic learning, but the mentor for me is outside of it. it’s with whom you choose to work in the world outside the academy, with whom you choose to dedicate yourself at a professional level. A teacher can be very good at an academic level, but he’s still in an academic environment and the important thing is that he should be out there.
So outside the university, I think the figure of a mentor is essential. I think you have to be close to people that take you to your limits, and show you how to overcome them, that push you to be better at a professional level.
"Every x years I look for someone who busts my head open, and this is what is happening now. The kind of mentoring that makes me wake up early again and go to bed late, of reflection, of never seeing something finished, of always pushing forward."
Has there been anyone in your life that has had a profound impact on your path or that you’d consider to be a mentor? David Ruiz was the person who taught me to love the things that I do, I stayed there every day until late, I went to work on Sundays, we used to listen to music smoking cigars and organise how the week would go, plan it, design it – mentoring for me is to find people who love what they do and who are curious to buy books, to go to expos, to watch movies, to travel, to do everything that nourishes us and our minds.
Seeing the trajectory that I have had, I have always been with people that I fucking admire and know would make me suffer. David Ruiz, Jaume Pujagut, Toni Segarra, and now with Mario Eskenazi, always someone who is going to fuck my head. Every x years I look for someone who busts my head open, and this is what is happening now. The kind of mentoring that makes me wake up early again and go to bed late, of reflection, of never seeing something finished, of always pushing forward.
And to finish – right now, what are the things you are beginning? In the end, the dream of La Festa is to bring the most talented and good people on the planet to the same place to spend a week with them. Last year was a test, and there was this feeling that something very interesting was happening, now I want this network of talents to be bigger. This is another job, I spent almost six months talking with academic directors in all the universities of Catalonia looking for talent. The nicest and most talented people obtain the grant from universities to come for a week doing a workshop at Tallersdelafesta.org. Talleres de la Festa is beginning to professionalize, that is, I am spending many more hours looking for talent.
The new thing that’s beginning is a parallel school. A parallel school that can be a week, that can be a month, that can be a course, a parallel and complementary school to the academy, but with a completely different format, much more experiential, much more of community, with other objectives, not a final grade. It’s a long-term project, but my dream would be to have a school, a four-month summer school, to be able to dedicate myself looking for sponsors and looking for talent nationally and internationally.