Nuance / by Carlos Segura

The number one, volume one Fall issue of Nuance features an interview of Segura by Zach Kaplan, a graphic designer from Chicago.

Carlos Segura is a name synonymous with the world of Graphic Design. Through his design firm Segura, Inc. and the T26 Digital Type Foundry, Segura has cemented himself as one of the most influencial deisgners of our time. I got the opportunity to talk a bit with him about his world, his process, and what design means to him.


How did you get your start Carlos?
Well I actually got into it by accident. I was playing drums in a cover band as well as handling the promotional side. I’ve always been a creative individual so I began making flyers and designs for the band so that we could promote.

After my time with the band, I found myself in a job at an advertising firm. I had no formal training, but my boss encouraged me to trust my gut and do what I wanted when it came to creative decisions. Nine months later we had won more awards at the art director’s club than everyone else.

Wow, how did that impace the progression of your career?
I got picked up by a Chicago agency and moved out here in 1980. I worked for every ad agency except Leo Burnett. By ’91 I had this discomfort in me that was continuing to grow. I realized that I preferred design to the ad world because to me advertising is about addressing the masses and deisgn is about addressing a persona, soulful and beautiful desire within you to convey an idea to someone else.

In what direction did this take your career?
This led me to create something of my own. In ’91 I started Segura, Inc. By ’94 I had become very influenced by the art direction of Japan and the type direction of the UK. I made the choice to start T26. At the time digital typography was it its infancy and I wanted to create a venue for up and coming designers to get published.

Carlos you said earlier that you have always had a creative mind. As designers, we all have our own creative process. Can you walk me through yours?
My process? Well I think it’s a little bit of different than most people. Most people begin by drawing thumbnails during the exploratory phase. I prefer to let ideas stew in my head. I do “mental thumbnails” if you will. To me, doing physical aspect of creating a thumbnail is limiting and limits what I think I can do. In my brain there are no limits, so I can be boxed in by a physical drawing.

So where does the process evolve to from there? How do you make that transformation from the mental to the physical?
From there I start to enter the realistic phase. For example, the project I’m working on right now, I’m running wild in my mind. But I’m going to have to take into it, consider the realistic. There are buget limitations, location limitations, time table limitations, etc. So I try to massage those ideas into a realistic setting. From there it all depends on the nature of the job. You also have to take into consideration the type of client you are working for when moving into this phase. The goal is to achieve the result they want, yet still staying true to your vision and creative process.

Have you found the more well known you become, dealing with clients becomes easier because they already are familiar with your style of design?
You know, I actually disagree with that and let me tell you why. A lot of people tell me that I can get away with things that beginners can’t because I have a brand. But I’ve always been like this, even when I was unknown. I think the important aspect of my message, is to develop a personality for yourself even at the beginning. I’ve always known who I wanted to be and I’ve stood firm by that, it’s not that you’re more known, it’s that you have a reputation from when you were less known, it is what carries over.

I like that. So one question I was very interested to ask you is your opinion on print work vs. digital.
Well, I personally consider myself to be a more organic designer. I suspect it’s because I’m older, so I got into the business before computers and the internet. We were doing things by hand, the way it had been done for hundreds of years.

I think it’s also because I like the tangible quality of print work. The smell of ink on paper, the way things feel in your hand. I like the exactness and the permanency of print. Anything you do online is able to be changed the second you’re done. I’m not knocking this of course, I couldn’t love that aspect more, but I know the other much better because it’s how I learned everything.

I know what you mean, I’m working on a project now that is all traditional letter press work. Would you agree that this form gives you a better sense of typography itself?
Absolutely. You actually have to work at it. There is so much pre-production planning that goes on because there is no command Z. If you fuck it up, you’re starting from the beginning.

I have to say, and I hope you’ve experienced feeling as well; it is so rewarding to have that finished piece of letter press in your hand. It has a true beauty to it. A feeling that one can never really achieve by staring at InDesign for a solid few hours.

Going off on that, Carlos where do you see the world of design headed? You have print being pushed out the door in many aspects. For example my generation of designers learn everything in a digital sense.
Well I think as a designer, you absolutely need to have the digital aspects in your tool belt. I do think however that analog is making a comeback. As long as human beings are walking this earth, a tangible connection with something physical will always be desired. That said, I do think in general that the digital accessibility of everything has reduced societies view of quality.

Now everyone has access to create anything. While that has introduced the work to a lot great creativity that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, it also introduces the world to a lot of shit that also wouldn’t have been seen. Music has become similar in this way. There’s a good and a bad to these things, but in my opinion it doesn’t make your brain think.

Carlos what would you say is your favorite aspect of design? What do you really love about it? What has kept you going with it for this long? What does the word design mean to you?
Well I don’t think design is about something just visual. I think it’s how you answer the phone, how you behave as a company, how your company is part of the design community. Basically everything you do to exchange ideas with your customers, the full package. This is actually what I enjoy the most.

These days I am not interested in design projects that are the basic – I want a new logo or I want a new business card. That’s just meaningless to me. You need to think of the bigger picture. That’s design to me, that’s design to me, it’s everything, it’s the whole world.

Lastly, what kind of advice do you have for up and coming designers like myself? People trying to make their mark on the design world.
I really do believe you have to be true to yourself, and be firm with your beliefs and convictions. Don’t let people discourage you because someone thinks your work is shit, or that you can’t achieve something.

I can’t tell you how many times I go pretty nasty reviews about my work, sometimes deserving and sometimes not. But even when deserving, don’t let it get you down. You can’t always step up to the plate and hit a home run, it’s normal for humans to fail.

The important part is to always keep moving forward and always keep creating things.