Barcelonian studio Clase on how they've prospered in our fast-paced world for more than two decades
Established at the turn of the century by Claret Serrahima, Clase is a Barcelona-based design and communication studio that applies more than 30 years of experience and cultural character to the commercial world. We had a conversation with the studio to learn more about their work and how they’ve managed to stand the test of time.
EM What’s been the key to the studio lasting for more than two decades?
C The leading figure of Claret Serrahima, the founder of the studio, has been essential. He is one of the first Spanish modern designers, a pioneer. After founding a big agency in the late 70s and getting tired of it in the late 90s, he decided to open a smaller, culture-related studio where he could work at a lower speed and with better attention to detail. In that sense, our way of working is very influenced by this legacy. To question everything, to believe in quality over quantity, to have a cultural background and to always apply common sense. All these attitudes are an essential part of Clase. The addition of two new senior partners in the early 2000s (Daniel Ayuso as Creative Director and Sandra Parcet as Executive Manager) combined with a regular rotation of younger designers are also an important ingredient of this recipe.
EM What challenges have you faced along the way? And how has it evolved over that time?
C The studio worked mainly for cultural and public institutions until the 2008 crisis. Since the crash, the sector has been struggling, so we opened to work also for commercial clients. We always try to work with people who understand the value design has to offer, something that we found in industries such as architecture, furniture design and manufacture, gastronomy or education. The digital revolution has also been an essential transformation for us: we were designing 400-page catalogues, now we are also building digital experiences and creating audiovisual content.
A brand is about creating a coherent universe.
EM Is there a project from over the years which you feel perfectly represents what Clase is about?
C Unlike other positions in the industry, we do not have a particular style, so it’s very difficult to define Clase with just one project. We could say that our work with Enea all these years is an example of how to build a strong brand language by combining both art direction and graphic design in a very swamped sector. And we could also talk about all the universe we built around Pedro García and the Made in Spain project, where we explored the roots of Spanish artisan culture in order to acknowledge the process behind its products. Or how we combined a documentary series exploring lighting professionals from all over the world with a very precise product imagery to make Vibia’s language recognisable and aligned with A&D expectations. We could go on and on.
Maybe what defines our work is the ability to create very specific languages that work into its particular context and audience, taking culture as the basis. In the end, a brand is about creating a coherent universe: every little thing must be aligned and speak in the same tone.
EM As a studio that’s thrived before the time of social media, how has its introduction affected the studio, if at all?
C We understand social media as a nice tool, but our work does not gravitate around it. In other words, we work for our clients, not for the likes. It feels like there is a permanent demand for content and activity there, but we don’t want to fall into this fast-consumption logic that seems to run it. We publish following our own rhythms, posting our projects when they come out and sharing our archive. We also try to provide meaningful content, sharing not only the final shapes, but also the ideas and references behind them.
EM How has the pandemic affected the way you work?
C The fact of working from home separated us in a physical way, but also opened us to a more intimate version of each other. This can apply to the team, but also to our clients. We have had to learn how to communicate remotely and to be there without sharing the same space. Barcelona is a small city and we are used to hanging out with each other, it’s been tough. Also, here in the South, we are always outdoors. Being inside has made everybody improve their homes. Some of us even moved out.
EM Do you think these changes could stick around once the pandemic is over?
C Crisis always accelerate changes, we are seeing this everywhere. In that sense, we believe that flexibility and a better life/work conciliation have come to stay. We’ve also discovered that you don’t have to drive 100 miles to have a 2-hour meeting. On the other hand, we are sure that our need for physical interaction and the will to live outdoors won’t die.
There is always a strategy going on behind any formal decision.
EM Which methods of communication and software have you found useful while working from home?
C Everybody got a nice pair of headphones, that’s for sure. We also got pro at Jitsi, Zoom, Meets, Teams, Skype, FaceTime, and so on (every client works with its own system, so we adapted!). And we mastered Figma, its collaborative approach has helped us a lot.
EM As well as the work itself, we’ve always admired the way you present it, from the coloured backgrounds to the curation. What does the process of putting together a case study typically look like?
C We are very aware that the way we present our work is a crucial part of the project, even if it comes at the end of the process. This applies not only to the visual output, but also to all the thinking that is behind it, something that typically goes unnoticed. There is always a strategy going on behind any formal decision. In that sense, for us, the concept is as valuable as the formalisation.
Regarding the process, normally the communications manager sits down with the designer responsible for the project, gets the whole picture (brief, counter-brief, strategy, conceptual approach, formalisation) and lays out the case study. Once everybody has looked over it (designers, creative and executive director and, of course, the client) and is OK with the way things look, we publish it in our website, social media and distribute it to professional media.
EM Despite the studio’s seriously impressively output year on year, you guys don’t seem to take yourselves too seriously. The favicon of your website is a prime example. Is that intentional?
C I think the mood in the studio and the way we work is a clear reflection of the way Claret – the founder – takes life and, therefore, the way he’s always worked. Despite being 70 years old he’s still telling jokes every day, making fun of the most simple things, and this is contagious. Some of our idols keep the same vibe: John Baldessari, Bruno Munari, Good Guy Boris, Federica Montseny or Werner Herzog, to name a few. We believe that fun is a must if you need to work creatively, especially if you take your job seriously.
EM What would the studio like to do that isn’t hasn’t been able to so far?
C Maybe our relationship with Barcelona has kept us very tight to our surroundings in terms of projects and clients. We’ve worked for companies in the US, Italy and other countries, but it would be nice to have more international opportunities. Our way of doing things has proved valuable when it has been combined with other cultural and commercial approaches.
EM How do the entries in the ‘Tips of the Week’ series come into fruition?
C The Tips of the Week are our way to share our areas of interest with the people who follow us. We are a quite diverse team, so we have a wide variety of sources and topics. Anything can be a Tip as long as it can be considered a cultural artefact: a song, a place, a historical fact, a photo series, a character… it doesn’t matter if it’s elevated or very popular. The only rule we apply is that it has to be in some way interesting and inspirational to us. We post them almost every week on our website and Instagram Stories, keeping them in the highlights section.
EM Do you think it’s important for studios to engage in extracurricular activities and side projects?
C I think this is something that we do find essential in the studio (check our project Park the Magazine!), but that also applies to all of us. Life is short and it would be very sad to turn 70 and find out that you’ve been doing the same thing for 50 years. Everybody in the studio develops side activities apart from the design practice: Claret makes his own wine, Dani’s been the president of the National Association of Graphic Designers and Art Directors for the last five years, Edu runs a small publishing house, Laura plays volleyball, Josep is teaching at La Massana and is taking human studies, Lídia was a water polo player and Sergi plays in a couple of bands and is obsessed with flamenco. All these ‘extracurricular activities’ nurture our way of looking at the world and broaden our cultural backgrounds and references; the basis of any project.