Contemporary Spanish design has been shaped by many influences, ranging from the Modernist legacies of Gaudí, Dalí and Míro to early manufacturers, to business owners of the 1980s and 90s. Today's Spanish design is informed by a new generation of creative minds, incorporating international perspectives and receiving new levels of recognition from around the world.
Spanish design is a relative newcomer, with its major development happening in the 1970s, years after Europe's post-war design movement. But the industrial structure through which Spanish design was introduced was the result of a much earlier development, stretching back 150 years, if not further. The prolific manufacturing techniques of Spanish furniture, textile and lighting have roots in tradition started by the Modernist movement at the turn of the last century.
Early Spanish manufacturers recognized the power of design, aligning themselves with a number of nationally and internationally reputed designers. The upshot is an interesting marriage of design and manufacturing, resulting in well-made products with a rich history that can be traced back to those industry pioneers who embraced design in the early stages of their business and have since gained international recognition:
- Metalarte and Figueras International (founded in the 1930s)
- Marset and Amat (1940s)
- Andreu World and Carpyen (1950s)
- Kettal (1960s)
Over the years as new design-focused companies emerged, established manufacturers also increased their involvement with designers and began to build their profiles abroad, cashing in on Spain's image of being exotic, playful, fresh and eclectic. Some examples include:
- Andreu World
- Amat, Kettal
- Marset, Almerich
- Gandia Blasco
The Spanish manufacturing scene today is alive with creativity across the board, in the worlds of contemporary domestic, office and outdoor furniture, lighting and fabrics. Spanish companies are pushing the boundaries of design. Innovation is high on their agenda and this often means collaboration between manufacturers and talented designers such as:
- Jorge Pensi
- Josep Lluscá
- Javier Mariscal
- Lievore, Altherr & Molina
- Patricia Urquiola
- Jaime Hayón
- Mario Ruiz
- Hector Serrano
- Martín Azúa
- Luis Eslava
- Borja García
- Mermelada Studio
- Stone Designs
As well as international designers such as:
- Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec
- Jean Marie Massaud
- Piero Lissoni Alfredo Häberli
- Arik Levy
- Karim Rashid
- Doshi & Levien
- Neri & Hu
Design in Spain underwent a boom in the 1980s and 1990s. When Spain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986, companies that had established a monopoly over their industries were suddenly faced with more competition than ever, prompting them to turn to design as a tool to help them compete and grow.
As corporate interest in design grew, Spanish designers and architects began taking initiative within the creative community. Companies were built based on a need for practical outlets for their innovative ideas and a desire to create products that would match their creative visions.
For example, Bd Ediciones de Diseño was founded in the 1970s by a group of architects looking to showcase modern furniture, finding mostly traditional style products. To realize their vision, they designed it themselves.
Bd (now b.d barcelona design) led the way for the arrival in the mid-1980s of a group of companies which were set up by designers:
- Santa & Cole, Disform
- Mobles 114
- Tresserra & Nani Marquina in Barcelona
- Punt Mobles in Valencia
- Sellex and Akaba in the Basque country
A new generation
Alongside designer-founded companies, Spain is also home to many family-owned companies like Stua. Founded in 1983 in the Basque country by Jesus Gasca, the company has only two designers: Jesus himself and his son Jon, who design and make their products in their own factory.
New companies have been set up that are firmly committed to sustainability in terms of both materials used and manufacturing processes. They promote themselves as brands using social media to keep in touch with their clients, as is the case of Viccarbe and Vondom, who share the same philosophy of working only with world-renowned architects and designers.
This has meant that as new companies are set up and old companies are taken over by style-savvy, second generation family members, these new owners look to the latest crop of creative minds to develop their businesses. These designers are an altogether different breed from their predecessors. Most have either studied abroad or have worked for international companies and explored the industry outside of their home country.
In graphic design, Alberto Corazón, Oscar Mariné, Javier Mariscal, Juan Gatti and Isidro Ferrer are some of the names that have led the way to a new generation of graphic designers and conceptual designers. Martí Guixé is the best example of someone at the highest echelon of design as an art form.
Javier Mariscal will be speaking at the DesignThinkers conference Nov 6-7 in Toronto. Visit designthinkers.com for details.