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Fidel Peña – HeyThere
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Fidel Peña

Underline Studio

Partner
Underline’s work is commended both nationally and internationally. Each piece they produce has a timeless quality. From books to self initiated posters Underline’s strong typography is the studios visual signature. We grabbed Partner, Fidel Peña, for a chat into some Underline insights.
HT

Underline is one of Toronto’s most successful studios with a reputation for creating truly world class work. How hard was it to get there and what steps did you take along the way?

FP

We never imagined that starting and growing Underline would be so much work, otherwise we may not have done it, yet it has been completely worth it. We believe that to reach a level of success in this market you need to first work for very good designers while treating this work experience as an apprenticeship. Then, work for more great designers, it’s really not enough in my mind to learn only from one team or designer, as the more exposure to different ways of doing design will be best for you in the long run. Finally, once you feel you’re not learning anymore, it’s best to do your own thing. I think it’s detrimental to work for others when you know that you’re ready to start your own practice.

HT

You work with a lot of Cultural and Art based institutions. Are they naturally more open to more radical ideas or do you still have the normal client relationship which requires a bit of design education?

FP

Claire (Dawson) had some contacts in the art community and I had some contacts in the publishing world when we started Underline which opened the doors for us to do work in those sectors. We love art and books, so it’s always been a great fit for us. Some of the clients are more naturally open to radical ideas, and some are not. Overall, we have found that the best clients to work with are the ones that are keen to work with us and trust us regardless of what industry they are in.

HT

As a studio documenting and promoting your own work can be one of the biggest challenges. What is your internal process for dealing with this?

FP

We’re working on developing a process to better promote our work, it’s somewhat chaotic right now and not ideal. We’ve been reminded of the importance and joy of working on self-initiated projects since designing our Wayward Arts issue with Flash last year. We are now investing more time in doing more self-initiated projects as a way of promoting the studio.

HT

Clearly within the studio, typography is a core interest. Yet most people bring their own tastes to the table. How does Underline maintain a consistent typographic output or “Studio Style”.

FP

We hire designers who like our work. Of course, everyone brings their own tastes and ideas, but overall they’re coming here because they like what we do. We also have specific typographic standards and rules we follow as a studio, which helps keep the work at a certain level and style.

HT

Underline has won a lot of prestigious industry awards. Does entering and winning awards help market Underline?

FP

I don’t think we would have had as much success with clients and the industry without winning awards. Of course, there are other ways to market yourself, but if you’re not a natural extrovert and would like to be perceived as a studio committed to quality, awards are one of the best ways to get noticed. Most of our clients have come to us directly or indirectly because of the awards and recognition we’ve received.

HT

Your primary studio output is print based yet the web is growing exponentially. Is this an area you hope to expand into in a larger capacity and what challenges does that pose?

FP

Yes, and the hardest part has been to learn to be as passionate about digital work as we are about print. Having said that, we have recently done video and digital work for the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and Scarborough Town Centre that we are pretty excited about.

HT

Of all the pieces you worked on recently, what was the most satisfying and why?

FP

There have been several great projects lately in the studio, but the self-initiated posters we did for the World Cup 2014 were extremely satisfying. The best part was collaborating as a team, pushing each other to do better work and coming up with solutions together.

HT

You organized a recent talk by Mucho, Creative Director – Pablo Juncadella, about design in Barcelona which was a great success. How difficult was this to organize and promote and why did you do it?

FP

It was a lot of work, but completely worth it. To do great work, you need great energy around you. The best way to get this energy is by having an active and passionate design community that inspires you to do better work. Worrying and talking about business matters will help you survive in financial terms but won’t help you do better work. Patting yourself in the back will only make you complacent. It is only by being exposed to other people and studios that do amazing work that we can gain an appreciation for great design and will help us move towards a better design city – one that gets noticed globally for our collective work.

HT

Who have been your biggest influences and why?

FP

Many, starting with my dad, who is an artist and who always encouraged me to earn a living by doing something I had a passion for. In design, I’ve been influenced by my mentors, Diti Katona, John Pylypczak and Fernando Gutiérrez, and by many masters of design like Josef Müller Brockmann, Willy Fleckhaus and Herb Lubalin. I’ve also been greatly influenced by art, literature, poetry and philosophy. When I was younger I hoped to become a writer or a poet. I then realized I’m more of a visual person and graphic design allows me to marry the communication of language with visuals through typography.

HT

In your career you got to work at some great studios. How important were they in shaping you as a designer?

FP

They taught me almost everything I know as a designer. I compare it to an apprenticeship.

HT

Both Claire and you mentor or work with students of design in some capacity. What makes this so important to you?

FP

To find great new designers to work with, to bring new energy and ideas to the studio and, of course to inspire talented young designers to continue doing great work for the benefit of our entire design community.

HT

What are the primary things young designers should do to hone their craft?

FP

Design and read. The first will hone their craft, the second will help them think critically and develop good ideas.


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