This is Fernando Gutiérrez...
Photo © Jordi Socías
He has beeen recognised for his outstanding contribution to design and society by becoming Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) at an award ceremony held at the Royal Society of Arts. It is Britain's highest accolade for a designer.
I recently wrote a piece about him for Matador magazine in Madrid. Here is is:
It is the summer of 1987. My phone rings and I’m told that a young designer has arrived for his scheduled interview with me – I’m looking to hire a new assistant. Standing in reception is a dark-haired, fresh-faced twenty-something clutching a large black portfolio. His clothes immediately struck me: a fly front raincoat with a Peter Pan collar; a crisp white, button-down Oxford shirt; and some well-polished black penny loafers. I liked him already.
That young man was Fernando Gutiérrez, who, back then, was a new graduate from the London College of Printing (famous at the time for its typographic training). Looking through his work and talking to this quietly spoken young man, I could tell that he not only had real potential but also had the vital ingredient: passion. It is passion that propels the creative being to great places. And so he began his journey in the world of graphic design with me at Carroll, Dempsey & Thirkell (CDT). Over a three-year period, we quickly established a simpatico relationship. Gutiérrez gave as much as I gave him. During that time, he blossomed into his own man. Now, 27 years on, he has certainly achieved that with his personal stamp of understated elegance in this digital world of kaleidoscopic styles and influences.
Graphic design by its very nature is an ever-changing thing, and the web has accelerated that – everything is now available to view, analyse and even plagiarise at the caress of an iPad. Geographical borders have been removed; there is no more waiting to see what is happening in the traditional bastions of design (New York, London and San Francisco) via their yearly design annuals, which are now all out of date the moment they are published.
The internet has democratised everything. Now you can sample what is going on in Shanghai, Moscow, Sydney, Madrid, Barcelona and many more places. In doing so, the once-elusive cultural differences are all being exchanged, absorbed, exploited, reinvented and regurgitated, producing an amazing variety of work. And it is this variety that has diluted the stranglehold of those traditional graphic influences. If there is an overarching style of today, it could be termed eclectic.
The digital age has also made the mechanics of producing design faster, cleaner and more economical. But ideas are still about personal contemplation: living with a problem and discarding ideas until the right one presents itself. The rest is generally an academic process. Alfred Hitchcock, who would mastermind his films completely in storyboard form, loathed the process of physically making them.
Designers, great designers, eventually find themselves and their personality shine through their work like a fingerprint. They often seem to be intuitive, but actually that intuition comes from years of hard work and achieving an open mind to receive inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Fernando Gutiérrez has acquired a modern traditionalist state of mind, and his work has a calm beauty often elevated to the sublime. He tends to use a limited palette of typefaces (ones that have proven themselves with honour and integrity over many years) and he allows images to express themselves, especially great photography or fine art. His work enhances the presence of these typefaces on the page rather than overwhelms them. In another’s hands, ego would no doubt get in the way, but not with Gutiérrez – he knows just how to hold back to create maximum effect.
This very magazine started its creative life in his hands, and he steered its graphic personality for 11 years. It still retains that legacy. For Gutiérrez, it doesn’t matter if it is a wine label, an exhibition catalogue, a major newspaper or a logo: all receive his obsessive passion. This was particularly evident during his time as creative director of Colors magazine, where he stripped back all extraneous elements in order to allow stunning reportage photography to become the hero.
Once an idea has crystallised and the time comes to realise it, Gutiérrez is still reluctant to execute work himself on the computer. He prefers to direct his assistants, who work from his sketches, notes and discussions while he is mulling over the next design problem. He will, of course, oversee every detail, agonising over just the right typeface, colour, paper stock or what percentage of white space he wants. These are the things that excite him, and it shows in the final product.
As he is frequently away from his London-based studio, someone once asked where he is happiest working. His answer was simple: “wherever I happen to be”. He spends much of his time in hotel rooms, train stations, bars, clubs or sitting in airport terminals. There you’ll find him, as sartorially elegant as he was three decades ago, solving design problems with a notebook in hand – the very thing that a laptop can’t do.
The full list of new Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) are:
Fernando Gutiérrez RDI for raising awareness of challenging social and political issues through design, and for promoting the visual arts in the international cultural sector.
Richard Rogers RDI for his pioneering and influential approach to urban design and improving the quality of public spaces to create thriving and resilient cities.
Helen Storey RDI for pushing the boundaries of fashion and design and making challenging scientific concepts accessible to the public.
Neil Thomas RDI for excellence and innovation in structural design and for sustained ingenuity as a structural engineer in collaborations to create ground-breaking public art.
Regarded as the highest honour a designer can receive in the UK, an Honorary RDI award will also be given to a non-UK designer:
Gilles Clément Honorary RDI for his creative and progressive application of ecology and science to sustainable landscape design.
Commenting on the RDIs RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor said:
“The world’s greatest designers consistently challenge convention, discover new insights, and improve people’s lives. These five outstanding practitioners from different disciplines all share an inventive and unshakable commitment to educate, inform and enrich the public realm through design.”