Pioneer of television branding, graphic designer Ana Zelich through the birth of the graphic applied to the moving image. Currently, and after migrating from analog to digital, she has fled from the small screen to create user experiences in real space at Mediapro Exhibitions, where she works as an Art Director. This year, the board of the ADG-FAD has decided to distinguish her four decades of trajectory with a Laus d'Honor Award. We talk with her about how the transformation of graphic language, individualism at the way we consume contents, and about if television is already at the end of its days.
How do you feel after receiving the award?
I did not expect it, because it is an assessment of my way of working, of my contribution to the field of design. The fact that the jury has thought of somebody that has worked in audiovisuals contributes to giving more weight to television branding, which although it now seems very obvious, it was very difficult at that time.
Animàtica is a pioneering studio for your experimentation with the tech 3D. How has the visual language changed from then on?
The aim of Animàtica was to introduce the possibilities that the computers offered to the world of the moving image. Only this time in 3D. The really new aspect is that it opened up the field of visual language to television. It offered a lot of spectacularity, but then there was a moment when creativity started getting coerced as we always had to work with the same graphic language. Zoptic was also a pioneer, as it introduced the multidisciplinarity and the hybridisation of graphic languages. Zoptic was a studio where design was the base and any technique was valid if it worked with the main idea. This was really surprising: it was the epoque of flying logos. After that, we went from the analogue to the digital, and tech was democratised. Many softwares could now be hosted by designers in their own computers without having to go to a big post production company, and this enabled us to create a personal style.
Now there is a very strong focus on 3D again, because it can play out in a lot more fields. It has evolved regarding aesthetic trends. It seeks simplicity, it transmits emotions. We have gone so far into cinema and we have enough visual baggage that techniques do not surprise us anymore. It is the narrative that is doing that. The way we explain things is what makes the difference.
You create exhibitions that travel around the world. How do you work with graphic language?
Users choose content. They are active. Going to an exhibition in which we simply receive what is in the display cabinets or on the screens from a bench is not appealing. We have to accept that the attitude has changed when someone enters an exhibition hall: it is more appealing when the content is around you and not in front of you.
Can prioritizing the container over the content have consequences?
The ability to delve into the contents and play with sensory effects has been lost. I think this is dangerous, because it is important to create baggage and make these contents available to the user. We have to be able to look inward and use our personal experiences.
Is virality a a trap?
There is an excess of frivolity in a lot of productions. I see a lot of productions that seek visual impact and reach a lot of people by surprising with different aesthetics. But next you say: “What were they trying to tell me?”. Virality is so easy.
Are analogue aesthetics back?
We feel a need to recover these graphic codes, to seek hybridisation, because in the end it all is very similar aesthetics-wise. With analogue techniques and a return to this idea of the artisan you can confer personal values and differentiate your project. We have been digesting standard images for too long.
Does branding television contribute to creating culture?
Branding television consists of creating a personality, so that when somebody is watching a channel or program, without viewing the logo, they can identify it from a series of elements retained in their retina. Television visually educates viewers who, from so much consumption, have acquired an audiovisual culture.
What gives you guidelines to design?
More than any technique that might inspire me, I like to have a life full of curiosity and exploration. That is why I take photographs, I draw, I take care my garden. I have a parallel world far from being obsessed with paying attention to what other designers are doing all over the world. I think that it is a way of always giving a personal projection to your works. If you do not have a nice bank of references in your suitcase, your work will end up looking similar to someone else's.
At the onset, how did you imagine the television of the future?
I never thought of it. Television is a discovery. When I was small and there was only TVE in black and white, it surprised me that graphic labels were a static thing and I thought: "This has to change". I have always been eager to introduce graphic design to the TV world, which were environments and languages very far apart. We did not think about the future because the rules of the game were being created, we would not have ever imagined that we would be doing virtual reality.
According to Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, television will cease to exist as we understand it now.
We do not watch television in a linear way as before. We are in a transmedia stage, and we do not choose channels, but content. Netflix has managed to be a content container, and I believe that this has been its success: offering programming and content on demand, moving away from the traditional TV format.
Is it dying?
Probably. I do not know how many more years it will last. There is still a good population group that watches it, perhaps because of its cultural background, because of tradition, because they still have a television in the middle of their living rooms. Everything starts and everything ends. Television will work for the live broadcast of a big event, like the final of a football league. People need to gather around a screen, a collective experience is produced, you want to share it.
Platforms such as Netflix and HBO are orchestrating the transformation of the creative industries. Is it a forced leap?
It is not. Our way of life has changed. These platforms have understood the possibility of accessing a program that they broadcast when you were not at home, of being able to choose the moment, with whom and where you want to watch it.
Individualism also manifests itself in our way of consuming culture. Even so, and in parallel, communities of users are created behind the screens that generate public debate.
There is a moment of conversation with co-workers or friends in which everyone talks about the series they are watching. The follow-up of a series such as Game of Thrones has created a kind of individualized community that comments in a group and enjoys a moment of shared passion.
There are people who join a popular trend to not feel displaced.
There are fictional series that do not interest me as much as crime, thrillers and politics. Sometimes I watch Game of Thrones, which interests me especially for the special effects and not so much for the plot, to be in the conversation and to be able to comment. This creates opinion groups and you do not want to be left out.
In that case, does it make sense that TV channels are still trying to create community?
Channels try to create loyalty so that you feel that you belong to a club. Graphic elements are the last consequence, the language that coincides with yours is what makes you feel part of the community. Perhaps it is a consequence of the loneliness of modern times.
Ana Zelich is one of the designers that form part of the permanent exhibition of the Design Museum of Barcelona “Do you work or design? New visual communication. 1980-2003”, in which a selection of her works from 1997 to 2001 is on display. The temporary exhibition “The best design of the year” brings together the shortlisted and prize-winning works of the awards organized by the FAD associations. There, you will find a section dedicated to Ana Zelich’s career, an audiovisual voyage for the history of the moving image and television branding since the 80s until today.