Maria Pia Miro-Quesada
IDA 2022 People’s Choice Graphic Design of the Year
Tell us about your definition of design?
For me, design is a tool that connects people to their surroundings. When you take an intentional look at your surroundings, you will see that everything has a layer of design to it. The computer software I am writing this on, the water bottle I am constantly sipping water out of, the bright pink pants I’m wearing, the ergonomic chair I’m sitting on, the highway signs that got me to the office, the branding that caused me to pick a particular coffee shop over another one — everything we encounter daily has been designed.
What impact has winning this IDA ‘People’s Choice Award’ had on your career / opportunities?
Considering I won the award with one of my favorite projects to date, it has been a true honor to win the IDA People’s Choice Graphic Design award. It has shown me how many people have been impacted by my design, but more importantly, how many people are watching me grow as a designer. I have had unconditional support from my family and friends, classmates and teachers, and now colleagues who push me to become the best designer I could be. Winning the ‘IDA People’s Choice Graphic Design of the Year’ as a designer at an architecture firm has made me realize how much more I can bring to the table as a multi-disciplinary designer. And it excites me for my future growth, not only within this firm but holistically.
Can you explain what was most important to you when planning the project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
When planning this project, it was imperative that I researched gin in general to learn as much as possible about The Gray Whale Gin. For the design to happen, I had to understand specific details about gin – such as the six botanicals that pair well with this gin, their distillery process throughout California, and their involvement in the community and conservation of the ocean. This information can be seen in its inclusion in the packaging – the six botanicals, the California coast-inspired pattern on the left side of the whale tale found on both the bottle and the wooden box. Furthermore, the idea of the wooden box came from repurposed materials throug my school’s lab. The biggest challenge I faced during this project was mapping it all out, measuring the various thicknesses of materials, accounting for the different intensities for rasterizing, sending it off to cut, and accounting for multiple attempts (and therefore the constant change of measurements again due to new types of wood) was not easy. Especially with my flight boarding later that day!
What is your guiding design principle?
My guiding design principle is my ability to captivate an audience. I design with an intention to leave a lasting impact on those who see my work. I believe most aspects of our daily life are a direct product of design. Where we live or work, how we dress, what we drink, what we see and feel — it is all interconnected. By crafting interior spaces, I provide an opportunity to experience things the audience otherwise would not have known existed, in the hope of igniting a positive emotion. The thing is, you can’t satisfy an audience with just the built environment. It is the “little things” that make an experience remarkable. By crafting tangible objects, digital publications, a brand’s identity, or practically anything else, I can provide people with a more holistic experience.
Is design for you a creation of an individual or a group?
For me, design is created by a group of people, whether or not you are aware of it or believe otherwise. In my first year at SCAD, I read a book called ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon. He said that a good artist understands that nothing comes from nowhere and that when people call something original, they are probably unfamiliar with the references or sources involved in making it. This mentality has resonated with me because the feeling of being “uncreative” and “unoriginal” sometimes feels unavoidable. It showed me that design radiates from everything around me, which is evidently: the result of various groups of people. Even if you are the only designer tasked with a project with no contact with the client until the final deliverable and receive no feedback through the process, the moment you gather research and inspiration, read a book, watch a movie, buy a coffee, walk around the city, or do anything else you could do in life, you experience design made by others that can consciously or subconsciously make its way into your design.
Tell us about your background. How did you develop a passion for design?
If you ask my parents, I have been creative since I learned to walk. My dad loves to share this story from when I was little when a mysterious number two appeared under the stair handrail. He asked my brother and I who was responsible. I remember wondering whether I had drawn the number two with or without the loop since I had already started to develop an ability to associate different handwriting with different things. Something which I still have and use today.
Being from Miami, I grew up in a city immersed in art and design. With constant access to the beach, the design district, Art Basel, and museums like PAMM and ICA Miami, I have been fortunate enough to create a subconscious art bank in my mind. When I wasn’t in Miami, I was lucky enough to travel the world with my family, affording me an exposure to different cultures, art, and design which enabled me to grow. This “subconscious art bank” made me realize I wanted to be a part of the creative world.
Where does your motivation and inspiration from your work come from?
My inspiration for my work comes from many experiences and opportunities. I have designed a company’s headquarters based solely on the idea that it would be a place I would personally like to work at myself. I conceptualized a restaurant with a community give-back opportunity while brunching one Saturday with my Goldendoodle Simba. I would say 25% of my ideas are due to some form of research, while 75% come from a random, unrelated experience that sparked an idea in me and had me sketching. I would say that what motivates me through every project, no matter the size, medium, or realm of design, is the idea that I want the result to be an experience. I want it to be memorable for everyone who experiences it.
Tell us about a time when a client disliked your work.
During my last semester at SCAD, I had an opportunity to represent my graduating class at a high-level portfolio competition. As a finalist, I partook in eight one-on-one interviews with judges representing the top eight architecture firms in the US. I remember being ecstatic to show my capstone project, ‘Redesigning the Airbus A380’, which took me over 40 weeks. Seven of the judges were impressed by my work, but one judge made it seem like there was no creativity nor originality in the project, and in his words precisely, he said, “It’s not like there is anything special to it. If you wanted to wow me–you should have added a Ferris Wheel.” At first, I was heartbroken. It was the first negative comment I had ever received about that project. Then, I was furious — I thought to myself, “What kind of designer wants to put a Ferris Wheel on an airplane? That’s not even logistically possible.” After I went through what some would call the ‘Seven Stages of Grief,’ I learned a lesson that would stay with me forever: Always take feedback with a grain of salt. Negative feedback does not belittle a project; it only provides opportunities for improvement.
What’s your creative process and what software do you use?
Being a multi-disciplinary designer, I take one of two paths. Path One is my most used and it involves research. I love to do as much research as possible. It allows me to truly understand a project, giving me the knowledge to incorporate hidden gems. Path Two is the path which I find more fun and involves me opening up Notability on my iPad and sketching what comes to mind spontaneously. Although not my most common path, I enjoy immersing myself in ideas immediately, which allows my creativity to flow, and eases variations and connections. It establishes a personal connection to a project – it helps me own it. Those are the projects I love.
Once I end up with ideas and sketches, they are mocked up; physically for a packaging project and Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, or Photoshop for more of a digital deliverable, or building software like Autodesk Revit and SketchUp for projects that relate to the built environment.
What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you?
Currently, I am a designer at Gensler out of the Miami office. For the past five months, I have been working on a one-of-a-kind, people-first 1.5M square-foot headquarters in Shanghai, China for a major tech and media client that shapes the world around us as we speak. This project has allowed me an opportunity to bring all I have learned, front and center, by using my education in interior design to spatially design an array of cutting-edge spaces (multiple lobbies, typical workstation floors, lounges, VIP floors, commissaries, etc.) within their headquarters. At the same time I am using my education in graphic design to incorporate the brand’s identity into the built environment, through both, 2D and 3D applications. Soon, I will begin a project which we recently won based in Miami, which I am enthusiastic about because it’s an exciting client, space, and overall ask.
I want to thank my team at Gensler for allowing me to be authentic and to share my passions, while allowing me to work alongside designers whose works I studied at school. Who knows! Maybe the spaces we create together will inspire the next generation of students!
What do you see as the future of design?
Although the future looks like it is shifting into the Metaverse, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and the currently unknown, I believe that as long as there are humans, design will still be instilled into our daily, physical lives – as it already is. We will still design buildings; we will still need way-finding and signage, we will still wear clothes, and cars – or a version of them. These things will still be in use. Even if we get sucked into this world of the currently unknown, we will still have a foot in the physical world, allowing design to stay irreplaceable and with us.
How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?
I have been fortunate enough to travel the world. My parents always emphasized that there’s more to the world than what we know and see. Different people, different perspectives, different cultures and lifestyles, and my favorite: different art. I have experienced everything from the grandness of Versailles in France and the Hagia Sophia in Turkey to the simplicity in the ruins of Machu Picchu and Greece. Aside from my travels, I spent four summers attending a military boarding summer school and camp program that instilled a unique level of time management, discipline, and team-building skills I would not have received anywhere else. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have this experience, as it played a pivotal role in shaping me creatively and professionally.
What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a design project? What piece of information is of utmost value?
When planning a project, it is imperative that I do as much research and know as much as I can about the project at hand. I like to know what this is about, who is it for, and how it will be used to have a better idea on how to make this the best experience I possibly can.
Just as important as research is planning. My iPad is full of notes, timelines, excel sheets, and calendar entries to ensure that the time allocated and the time needed become one in the same. I like to live by the mantra, “work smarter not harder,” because I believe that while planning may be an extra step in the beginning, throughout the process, it makes planning, organizing, prioritizing, and making decision easier. The positive about approaching everything with a plan is quickly realizing that when challenges arise – which they tend to do — the plan pivots, and sometimes even drastically. The biggest challenge that I continue to face is not being able to decide which field I enjoy more: graphic or interiors.