Five Brand and Design Takeaways From Barcelona

This past fall, Block Club’s Residency Program had me living and working for six weeks in another city, in another country. My residency landed me in Barcelona, Spain, where, in between devouring as many bowls of patatas bravas and glasses of vermouth as I could, I met with representatives at several creative, branding, and marketing agencies to talk shop and learn what makes them tick. They provided so much insight into their processes and principles, and I learned a lot of amazing things. For the sake of brevity, here are five of my most impactful takeaways.

Print is not dead; she’s drop dead sexy.


Located in Barcelona’s Sant Martí district, Folch Studio produces a small, biannual hardcover publication called Odiseo. The publication is used to illustrate Folch’s stated mission: “the exploration of new ways of doing and seeing, offering a different vision on erotism, going beyond gender, seeking seduction through bodies and abstraction.” The publication also acts as a self-promotion piece and design exercise, which helps drive business. What’s more, Folch incorporates the seductive design sensibility and strategic partnerships cultivated through Odiseo into its client work. The agency partners with artists, designers, florists, and even chefs to help achieve the desired creative concept, hiding a client’s product in a way that doesn’t feel like an ad and promoting the product through the unexpected collaborative channels created while pushing the brand. The uniqueness of these partnerships helps cultivate credibility, and the partnerships pay off through the audiences their collaborators shepherd.

To me, that shows that someone will always find a place to put something beautiful, thoughtful, and provocative on their bookshelf. At the conclusion of my trip, I had amassed so many books, newsletters, and magazines created by the different agencies I visited that I had to buy an additional carry-on just to get them home to the United States. That’s telling. As we continue to live in a digital world, there is still a place for the tangible. It’s just figuring out when, where, and how it’s appropriate to move in a pulpy direction.


Hide the product.

Folch’s work also demonstrated to me that In order to stand out, you sometimes need to sit back. For your next campaign, consider putting the product or service in an art-directed space outside of where you may normally find the product living, and let that be the focus. Create art, not an advert. It’s an effective way of getting eyes on a product in our never-ending scroll of mobile images.

Collaborate with outsiders.

Also, team up with people outside of your normal set of vendors. Invite them to help art direct and use their skills to bring a unique perspective to your photo shoot. Bonus if they have great social followings, which can be leveraged to showcase the product and your services to their audience and vice versa. These people could be or do anything as long as they do it with creativity–chef, a florist, an architect, a fine artist or even a barista who’s really talented at making pictures in your foam latte. Look up and all around you; there are creative people beyond the portfolio sites.

If you want to learn new skills, you have to spend time developing them.

At agency TOORMIX, when they wanted to reinvigorate their creative spirit and reevaluate the company and its vision, they took a unique approach. One day a week for four years, the whole team took a 30-minute flight to the Spanish island Majorca (Mallorca) to workshop ideas, prototype, debate, do calligraphy, and basically just learn. No computers, no contact from clients. No phones. They were doing this to help move the company to another point, and they succeeded.

I could list like 40 sports quotes and analogies here, but, instead, I will quote a great line I heard on a TV show, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” — Wayne Gretzky — Michael Scott — Tim Staszak. If you’re passionate about learning something new, you’ll find the time to practice it. And once you’ve mastered that skill, you will find these new practices creeping into your professional work, expanding your tool belt and taking your output to another level.

Giving yourself boundaries can be liberating.

At another of the agencies I visited, Herraiz Soto & Co., in the Sant Marti neighborhood, there’s an experimental product lab that only develops products that start with the letters co (think cool gifs, cosmetics that embrace aging, cam-covers for your phone and computer, and even cookies). That self-imposed limitation led to better products and hilariously creative solutions.

Setting up a company-wide or personal project with specific rules that you must abide can be a real positive. Knowing upfront what is and isn’t allowed helps to keep a project on track, eliminates wasted time and effort, and funnels all that creativity to produce solutions that really stand out.

Want to read more about Tim’s stay in Barcelona?