The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

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Elliott Moody
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The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For the nineteenth interview in the series, we spoke to Maria Vaquero Coira, a Senior Designer at The New Company in San Francisco.

EM Hi Maria, how have you been?

MVC Hi there! I’m good! After a very long year, I finally managed to travel back home to Europe, so I’ve enjoyed spending time with family and friends.

EM Being from Madrid, how do you find yourself at The New Company in San Francisco?

MVC Five years ago, I moved to San Francisco to join an advertising agency. It was a fun experience but I soon realised I wanted to work somewhere that placed more value on craft and design. At the time, The New Company was growing and looking for designers to join their team.

Working here has been amazing. Everybody is so talented and it’s been a great change of pace – definitely challenging but I’ve already learned so much!

The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

The city is full of talent and it’s amazing to see how the creative and tech worlds collide.

EM Can you highlight something you’ve learnt since you’ve been there?

MVC I’ve learned to work faster at the beginning stages of a project, when you need to come up with ideas quickly. My teammates can understand the potential from a quick sketch, so I can be less precious about the details, which saves a lot of valuable time.

EM Do the creative cultures differ between Spain and the US?

MVC San Francisco benefits from the innovation and excitement that comes from working with forward-thinking companies and new technologies. The city is full of talent and it’s amazing to see how the creative and tech worlds collide.

I haven’t had the chance to work in Spain yet, but I definitely follow, admire and constantly find inspiration in Spanish creatives. There’s a distinct sense of heritage and tradition that is completely unique to the country’s creative culture and has still managed to make its way to an international stage.

The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

EM As you’ve transitioned through to senior design positions, what’s changed about the way you work?

MVC Experience brought me confidence and that changed the way I approach my work. With more confidence, you don’t second guess yourself as often. Amongst other things, this makes working far less anxiety-inducing!

However, I know the lack of confidence in your own work is something a lot of us struggle with, no matter the industry. Especially when you’re young and just getting started. It’s understandable to feel this way but my advice to my younger self would be to speak up when it feels right– great work can come from anyone at any level.

EM Do you have a project you consider to be your best work?

MVC I like to think my best work is yet to come.

EM What does your setup look like?

MVC This is what my desktop looks like between projects. It is far messier when I’m in the middle of a project, but I try to clean things up periodically.

The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

EM What do you find makes for a positive working environment?

MVC For me, it’s a clean and organised desk, lots of natural light and very loud music.

EM Do you think you’re good at managing your time and staying organised?

MVC For the most part! Some days I’m not as productive as I would’ve wanted, and I end up having to work longer hours. I try to avoid this though – I find it very important to allow time to disconnect and recharge at the end of a working day.

The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

I don’t think designers should be pressured to have side projects.

EM How did you get into doing illustration in your spare time?

MVC I never used to draw or paint. I don’t have the patience and honestly, I’m not very good at it. When using materials such as gouache or crayons, I make a lot of irreparable mistakes and more often than not, I end up leaving the piece unfinished.

A few years ago I purchased an iPad and drew my first still life. I found the creative process to be more similar to design and it was then that I began drawing in my spare time. It’s something I only get around to occasionally as I’m not very regimented about it. If I don’t feel like it, I won’t draw for months – and that’s OK. There’s always a time when I pick it back up.

EM Do you think there’s too much pressure for designers to have ‘side projects?’

MVC I don’t think designers should be pressured to have side projects – sometimes there’s not enough time or energy at the end of the day. However, when you’re a young designer, side projects are not only a great way of showcasing your talents, but can also act as a window into your personality, interests, and the kind of work you’d like to do more of.

The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

EM How do you approach days where you don’t feel the most creative?

MVC For me, collecting and analysing a wide range of references is the most helpful activity. However, it needs to be an intentional and active process – what definitely doesn’t work is endless scrolling on my phone.

At times, stepping back from my computer and having a break is also necessary. It can be something quick like preparing a snack, or something longer like going out for a walk or on a bike ride.

EM What would you like to see more and less of in the design industry?

MVC The design industry can be incredibly homogeneous at times, particularly in San Francisco. I’d love to see an industry that is more inclusive and diverse. I’m excited about the changes that have been made in the past few years, but we obviously have a long way to go. For example, there’s no point in pledging inclusivity if women aren’t given the opportunity to make important decisions in higher roles. From personal experience, the rare times that I’ve had a chance to work with more diverse teams, are the times that I’ve witnessed the most exciting results.

The Designers: Maria Vaquero Coira of The New Company on creative confidence, culture and diversity

EM Would you like to run your own studio one day?

MVC It’s a tricky question, but the truth is I don’t think I would like to… It requires you to flex so many different muscles – there’s a lot of things you need to do aside from designing. Maybe one day though?

EM Let’s end on a simple note, what's your favourite typeface at the moment?

MVC So many! A quirky one I really like is Steinbeck, published on Typefaces of the Temporary State.