Marta Cerdà Alimbau on her expressive, trial-and-error approach to graphic design

Working between control and freedom, the Amsterdam-based designer refers to her practice as a “dance”.

7 July 2020

For the past four years, Marta Cerdà Alimbau has been living “happily” in Amsterdam. A few weeks ago, however, she was meant to be moving to Barcelona – a transition that was disrupted by the global pandemic. “Right now I”m stuck at my place in Amsterdam,” she tells It’s Nice That. But despite the fact that she’s unable to move house just yet, this is a welcomed time for slowing things down and for a moment of contemplation.

A graphic designer by trade, Marta studied in Elisava, Barcelona, before working in various agencies and studios between Spain and Germany. Then, in the latter half of 2008, she won the ADC Young Guns award – a moment that inspired her to go out on her own and set up her studio. It’s now been 12 years since the launch, “time flies!” And since then, she’s come to work on an abundance of global projects in the fields of art direction, design, illustration and custom typography for the arts, culture and advertising sectors. “The way I tackle projects hasn’t changed much since then,” she tells us, “just that I have more tools now to express myself, like 3D”.

First and foremost, Marta believes that every project has a specific need and is something that she can adapt herself to. “For me, graphic design is not a surgical practice,” she says, “there is also room for self-expression in it. I don’t believe in a pure aesthetic design; we design for people, not for robots!” With this outlook in mind, the designer applies flexible process to commissions from agencies like Wieden+Kennedy, Droga 5, as well as magazines such as Espn, Goop, Fortune, The Guardian, and brands like Apple or Beats, as well as smaller clients. The projects that she tends to take on usually circle around visual identities, helping brands and magazines to create a custom typeface for products or building visual concepts.

“Magazines have been a playground for me,” she adds, explaining how printed matter is the medium that she finds the most liberating – for the fact that it enables her to work alongside talented art directors who “push boundaries” and bring ideas forward. A project that Marta is most proud of is the debut issue of Goop, as well as the work she did for Espn magazine – “but I also do a lot of illustration, mostly for brands.” For Goop – Gwyneth Paltrow’s quarterly publication that looks at clean beauty, nutrition and healing – she designed a range of retro-inspired typeface that pair amicably with colourful backdrops, the perfect companion to lifestyle photography.

Goop is just a small example of her varied portfolio, which is one that she describes as “expressive and colourful, yet has some containment in it.” She continues: “I like to dance between these two radical elements: expression and control. Joan Miró used to say: ‘The works must be conceived with first in the soul but executed with clinical coolness.’ That’s what I try to do.”

This aesthetic is achieved through research and a structural approach to design. With a love of old books and records, Marta will search out the hidden gems from these sources to develop her work. Push Pin Graphics is an example that she refers to for inspiration, because of its “intensive graphic investigation” into history books before the process or job begins. Elsewhere, she cites Bridget Riley, U. G. Sato, Igarashi, Alfred Roller, Tom Wesselman and various others as her main influences.

Continuing to explain her process, a further word that she uses to describe it is “chaotic” – simply because she adheres to this trial-and-error approach to analysis. “I like to get really lost and then find myself in a different place,” she says. “I find that this the way I get to be more free in terms of creativity. I usually set a scenario first that maps out where to move so I don’t get totally lost.”

With all of this mind, the latest project of Marta’s – which is yet to be published – will see the designer produce the album artwork for a theorist, Josep Maria Martí Duran, launched in accompaniment with an essay on the philosopher Ramón Andrés. “It’s going to have the shape of a book, but it’s an album,” she concludes, telling us how she’d developed the concept design for it. As well as a further project for Wieden+Kennedy’s current exhibition in Amsterdam, it’s clear that Marta has many versatile tricks up her sleeve.

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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