Spain's new design generation: an interview with Juli Capella

April 2013

By Catherine Jewell, Communications Division, WIPO

An exhibition showcasing the diversity, depth and dynamism of Spanish design opened at WIPO in February 2013. The exhibition, Bravos: Groundbreaking Spanish Design, curated by renowned Spanish architect and designer Juli Capella, features 21 of Spain’s new generation of designers. Mr. Capella shares his views about the distinctive quality of Spanish designers and their work.

The exhibition, Bravos: Groundbreaking Spanish Design organized by the Permanent Mission of Spain to the
United Nations Office in Geneva in collaboration with WIPO was held at WIPO’s headquarters in Geneva from
February 5 to 28, 2013. (Photos: Rafael Vargas)

How did this exhibition come about?

Amid growing overseas interest in Spanish design, I was asked by the Spanish government to put together material showcasing Spain’s latest generation of designers and their work. The result was an exhibition that features some of Spain’s most talented and successful designers, and an accompanying book, Bravos, highlighting the richness and diversity of Spanish design. As we are in the 21st century, I selected 21 of the country’s most innovative and exciting designers. I wanted to show different styles from different parts of Spain, so each one has a different style or displays a different “ism” – minimalism, neo-baroque, neo-arts and crafts, humoristic and so on.

I believe in Spanish creativity. Each country has its strengths – Switzerland is known for its watches and its chocolate, Spain for sand and sangria ... but also for its creativity. We have a rich artistic heritage that includes painters such as Miró, Picasso and Dali. But through the exhibition, and my book, we want to draw attention to other areas of creativity, specifically the depth and diversity of Spanish design, and to remind the world that Spain is home to a wealth of creative design talent.

What is distinctive about Spanish design?

I think Spanish design offers a fresh and vibrant alternative to the products coming out of other design-rich countries, such as Germany or Japan. This has to do with the way industrial design has evolved in Spain. Most Spanish designers, for example, don’t use high-tech equipment. Industrialization came late to Spain; indeed, some areas of the country remain untouched by the industrial revolution. Unlike Germany and Japan, Spain has never been an industrial powerhouse, but we are very good at designing furniture, lamps and urban spaces, as well as social architecture and interior design.

The exhibition was curated by renowned
Spanish architect and designer Juli Capella
who is also the author of the book Bravos
which explores the views and diverse
approaches of the 21 designers featured
in the exhibition.

Other characteristics of Spanish design include its ingenuity, its humor and its use of irony. Unlike their German or French counterparts who tend to be more restrained, Spanish designers have no fear of color and delight in producing bright, warm and “happy” objects.

Many designers are rooted in tradition. Patricia Urquiola’s work, for example, is inspired by her grandmother’s embroidery. Spanish designers love taking something from the past and re-engineering it for contemporary use, and even adding a touch of humor. Today’s young Spanish designers, like designers across the globe, are also very environmentally aware.

Today, the opportunities for sharing ideas and information are unprecedented. Many of the country’s top designers have studied abroad and have friends from many cultural backgrounds. Today’s designers are also part of the Internet generation and have no difficulty keeping up to date with everything going on in the world of design. International frontiers have broken down, and it is easy to produce what you want where you want. Today, design is defined much more by its style than by the country from which the designer hails.

How would you characterize the evolution of design in Spain?

Spain has a strong artistic and craft tradition, but industrial design developed slowly in the country for a number of reasons. We had no real industrial revolution to speak of; the dictatorship from 1939 to 1976 was a period of isolation, and a blinkered view of the commercial value of design within Spain’s business community hampered the development of the discipline in Spain.

In the 1990s, however, with a series of high-profile events, including the Olympic Games in Barcelona and Seville Expo ‘92, Spanish design took off. These were the boom years and played a key role in enabling Spain’s design scene to flourish and mature. Although not quite yet among the avant-garde, Spanish designers are increasingly acquiring international acclaim. Patricia Urquiola, for example, is considered one of the best designers in the world.

Although Spain has a lot of creative output, it doesn’t necessarily offer designers what they need to develop their work. Many of them live abroad and work with producers outside the country. Many Spanish companies perceive design as an expense rather than an investment. It will be very difficult to change this perception, especially in the current economic crisis in which investing in design is not a top business priority, but that is the only solution for companies to remain competitive. Design is key to adding value to a product. Europe has become too expensive for manufacturing goods, but it is well placed to design and create high-value, quality goods.

Diego Ramos, Silla Wrinkle’s Beauty (with Luis Eslava) Prototype. “Experimentation is an essential element
in the creative process.”

Why is design important?

From an economic perspective, design is a source of value. However, I have a humanistic approach to design and am convinced that it can contribute to a better world. Through design, we can improve the living standards of poor communities around the globe by, for example, designing clean water systems for communities in Africa. We can save lives by designing good highway signage systems that help reduce the number of road accidents. We can design recycling systems that cut waste and reduce pollution. Design is not just about producing an object; it is also about analyzing and solving problems. The most important aspect of design is its ability to improve our lives and the way in which we organize the material world.

Why is it important for designers to be able to protect their designs?

Without protection there is no incentive for creativity, and with no creativity we will go back to the cave.

It takes much less effort to copy a design than to create one, so if you don’t protect your design, it’s too easy for others simply to copy it. The protection conferred by design rights gives designers an incentive to create and to innovate. This is a good thing for society, because it gives consumers more choice and access to better products and often at better prices.

What needs to be done to promote greater respect for the rights of designers?

It is notoriously difficult to clamp down on unauthorized copying of designs. I think the only constructive way forward is to actively and positively demonstrate the economic and social benefits of encouraging innovation and creativity. We need to lead by example. It sounds utopian, but I think it is the only way. We should not just focus on prosecution; that is a negative message. Governments need to think out of the box and foster a groundswell of support for design and innovation. Negative messaging doesn’t work; we need to demonstrate a positive alternative to mindless copying and highlight the benefits of innovation.

Simplifying design registration

WIPO’s Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT) is currently focusing on ways to simplify industrial design registration procedures. Designers seeking to register and protect their designs are required to meet certain formal requirements and follow certain procedures. These are often complex and vary from one jurisdiction to another.

The proposed draft Design Law Treaty (DLT) seeks to establish a legal framework for the simplification and harmonization of industrial design formalities and procedures, making it easier for designers to protect and leverage the value of their creative output. “Discussions are well advanced at this stage and we hope will mature over the course of the next 12 months,” noted WIPO Director General Francis Gurry at the opening of the Bravos exhibition. The WIPO General Assembly will take a decision on convening a diplomatic conference for the adoption of a design law treaty later this year.

Similar “business simplification” treaties – the Patent Law Treaty adopted in 2000 and the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks adopted in 2006 – have simplified procedures associated with applying for patents and registering trademarks, respectively. It is anticipated that a design law treaty will have a similar impact, making it easier for designers to protect and harness the value of their work.


What challenges are designers facing today?

Sustainability is the number one challenge for designers. Design is the key to achieving sustainability. Although often associated with luxury goods, design plays a central role in molding our everyday material world. Every chair is designed – from the most expensive to the cheapest, someone, somewhere, designed it. I don’t accept that design is for the rich and glamorous. Design is for everyone and can help pave the way to a better life. Of course, sophisticated design that is more akin to art exists, and we can all appreciate that, but it is important that design enters people’s daily lives. Better design does not necessarily mean expensive objects. It can also mean cheaper and more eco-friendly products.

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