A Conversation With Álvaro Matías and Marisa Santamaría

Juny 2022 | News

We spoke to Álvaro Matías, director of the Madrid Design Festival and founder of the strategic design consulting agency Almadás; and Marisa Santamaría, design researcher, spokesperson and curator, and strategic director of the Design Network of the Leading Brands of Spain Forum (FMRE), on design as a lever for change in organisations, the company-university pairing, the importance of dissemination or the role of the "Marca España" initiative through events such as the MDF and Valencia WDC22.

“Incorporating design into the structural organisation of a company requires courageous decisions and important changes but, above all, it must become an intrinsic part of the company itself, with its own identity.”

Álvaro Matías

You founded Almadás in 2020 after a long career as a cultural manager that has helped to make you aware of how culture and creativity are fundamental elements in carrying out any change initiative. Tell us about your experience in this company-design pairing.

The birth of Almadás, in such a complicated moment like that of the pandemic, allowed us to stop and reflect on how everything we do has an impact and how there are other more well-thought out ways of acting that are less focused on immediacy and the short-term result. After my previous career as a cultural manager, in which I saw how culture and creativity can be an important and differentiating part of any organisation, Almadás was born from my interest in moving away from the purely cultural sphere and approaching companies, organisations and entrepreneurs who are committed to transformation and change from fields as diverse as sustainability, education or construction processes. A way of accompanying them in the development, improvement and change of their projects, using creativity and content as a differential element. 

Have you seen any evolution over these two years in the mentality of companies? Are they more aware of the importance of having creative strategies and is there a greater demand for this type of design consulting? 

It's an increasingly evident reality but much remains to be done. It is essential for design to become an intrinsic part of the culture of organisations, not only in terms of the final result, but also of the internal organisation, process efficiency and work with people, which has a lot to do with human leadership within companies. Design is the best ally for creating agile organisations with a long-term view and, in order for many companies to incorporate it into their structural organisation, they must make courageous decisions and important changes. Brands like Actiu, Simón or Consentino, which have already internalised design in their DNA, are a good example that can help others understand how investing in design is investing in the company, and festivals like the MDF are perfect showcases to shed light on how these changes are possible. 


Regarding the Madrid Design Festival, how has the festival evolved over its five editions and how has the perception of design changed during this time?

During the first five years, the festival naturally managed to find its own way. It was born with a clear idea, as an open and democratic event for talking about design from different perspectives and highlighting its capacity to interrelate different techniques, open to designers and brands, and integrating all sectors and areas. And although Madrid is not a leading city in the field of design and is located on certain tangents, I believe that it is precisely on these design tangents where the most surprising ideas are often found. With designers from all over the world, good transportation infrastructure and with a wide range of cultural activities, the city has an increasing number of initiatives that help create a living ecosystem and make design an active part of the city throughout the year. 

What influence has the World Design Capital of Valencia had on the Madrid Design Festival and where is the new edition headed?

The idea of the festival is to build bridges. In this case with Barcelona, the capital of design par excellence in our country, through the Barcelona Design Week; and with Valencia WDC22, as a recognition that makes the economic and cultural activity of a region visible whose main essence lies in creativity and the more artisanal component. For the next edition, we want to continue being the link between brands and companies to develop long-term projects that are committed to redesigning the world. 

“Integrating the company into training processes is essential in order to provide knowledge about the new structures and work processes, in addition to promoting entrepreneurial drive. It is no longer just about communicating, but rather it is necessary to divulge and spread knowledge among professionals and the general public.”

Marisa Santamaría

Although the design industry has always been closely linked to Barcelona and Valencia, for many years it has become increasingly visible in Madrid through events such as the Madrid Design Festival. How is this Valencia-Barcelona-Madrid triangle working? Does it already represent a point of maturity and culture for design in our country? 

It is an interesting triangle, but we must not forget about other cities that are developing and making powerful strides with a strong network of designers from all fields and origins, such as Malaga, Seville, Coruña, Bilbao... and I would also point out surprising rural contexts, designers, architects and artisans working on global projects from the "Connected Countryside", such as Loja and its surrounding area in Granada, Allariz in Galicia, or Olot and Bañolas in Catalonia.


From your experience as a spokesperson, how is it possible to use the university/company collaboration to make new talents aware of the fact that there is a future in Spain and there is no need to emigrate to places like Italy or Scandinavia? What stage is this university-company pairing at? Is the collaboration between both sectors sufficient?

There is still a long way to go, companies and entrepreneurs are largely unknown in Spain and universities have historically been somewhat removed from society. It's a matter of breaking this negative circle as soon as possible and understanding that integrating the company into training processes is essential in order to provide knowledge about the new structures and work processes, and to promote entrepreneurial drive. The most interesting phenomenon in recent years is the training and dissemination role of companies, which have realised that it is no longer a matter of simply communicating, but of disseminating and spreading knowledge to professionals and the general public.

What point has been reached with the "Marca España" initiative, both within and beyond the Spanish borders?  

In the "Atlas of the Culture of Design in Spain" research project, which I have been working on for two years together with the Madrid Design Festival and the Ministry of Culture, the progress made in our knowledge of the evolution and impact of design on people's lives is clear, which shows that Spain has arrived late to the party, but is making quick progress. But despite the success, exaltation and admiration for Spanish design outside our borders, the projects are individual and not connected to one another through a common identity or narrative thread of what design in Spain means today. 


How can the Design Network of the Leading Brands of Spain Forum (FMRE) help to introduce a philosophy of teamwork into our DNA and disseminate Spanish design within and beyond the Spanish borders?
  

The Design Network of the Leading Brands of Spain Forum (FMRE) is making slow yet steady and decisive progress, and the first to speak about the transformation of their brands through strategic design are the 140 brands that it consists of. Projects such as the Observatory of Design and Brand X Design, together with Valencia WDC22 and the national "Pacto por el Diseño" (pact for design), promote dissemination and demonstrate how sharing knowledge is learning how to learn. An essential contemporary manifestation to help us move forward towards the future in better conditions.

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