Interview by Jyni Ong, It’s Nice That, Design is Never an Innocent Practice, London, UK



Since we last wrote about you, what has changed at your studio? What was the reason behind the rebrand?




A new universe might pop when the elements are right for it. The Royal Studio, led by João Castro, never rebranded. It paused from 2017 to 2019 in its market-oriented approach, operating as a parallel artistic and cultural practice to Studio Degrau. This was a deliberate move to shift client-oriented work to a beloved team of 4 over this period, together with Ana Areias, Raquel Rei, and Tiago Campeã, as a sustainable method that leveled the role of the designer with the client's needs.

The Royal, however, never meant to be effective at the core. That was the trigger to switch back to an exclusively dialectic practice that refrains itself from client-oriented projects. Back in 2011 it was, and still is, a collaborative and derivative approach that challenges the performative and literary practice of design, instrumentalizing it as an artistic discourse.



Tell us about three recent projects that you are proud of. Talk us through the creative process and the idea behind them?


Suspecting that the visual arts are elevated by social contexts, often at times of conflict, the selected projects are: 1 an editorial book/inventory/catalog and exhibition design for "Frontiere, Contemporary Design Expressions"; 2 a graphic expression that takes the form of an exhibition/identity design system for the Lovie Awards 2020 "Yay"; and 3, "Everything Everyone Everywhere", a commissioned mural that integrated Porto Design Biennale's exhibition "Millennials — New Millennium Design".

When designing a book, an event, or a piece for an exhibition, I believe that we are facing different aspects of the realm of identity, where I try to define the object of graphism with words, emotion, pace, time, and speed. These are all subjective categories that allow me to research the subject and, frame it in a moment or in a specific context.

Frontiere, for example, was an exhibition and catalog design with the migrant crisis in mind, in particular the migrations from northern Africa into Italy, to explain the syncretic nature of Italian product design and ways of manufacturing. Using this as a tool, the frontier became the element to explore, and it was clear that it needed to be tangible that the social-political boarders are conventions that limit territory. Following this perception, the spine of the book splits the Mediterranean in half; the index and captions separate PT from EN; the exhibition forces the public to be constantly in or out of defined areas, including the objects.

The Lovie Awards 2019 happened in BFI, London, and it is an event that celebrates the internet, awarding the most prominent personalities and projects that happened on the European web that year (by IADAS). Considering that political instability that was so blatantly obvious in 2019 in the mids of the protests in Hong Kong, the Mueller report, Brexit, and oh-so-many challenges to the web and user privacy, we've opted to celebrate the opposite. Fed by a twist on the '80s and 90's post-modern imagery, pushing the boundary between nostalgic dreamscapes and contemporaneity, to create an experience of child-like excitement with luxury and humor. To embrace the web with a tone of chrome and ice, expanding on how it allows joy with a vibrant, yet quite shallow, hint to advertising. Design is never an innocent practice, so this extra-extra-tone was as fun as it was ironic.

Everything Everyone Everywhere was a commission to design a central piece for one of the main exhibitions in Porto's Design Biennale 2019, featuring worldwide projects with a social tone designed by Millennials in the age of the Internet, with the freedom to interpret the Millennial context in any way we would see fit. To embrace this, we had fun with sarcasm. We've built this project strictly from noting bits of conversations from strangers while traveling in their commute, especially if they were on their phone. It was an ongoing visual reflection about the supermundane, instrumentalizing stolen thoughts in their respective time, to build a satiric critique around a globalized sate of meaning. And have a reason to eavesdrop as much as possible to stay away from newsfeeds on the phone.



How have you found the adjustment to work during these difficult times?




I did find it hard to stretch in a 43 sq meter apartment. Recycling became hazard management. Jogging was new, but it felt underground. Chitchatting with the kiosk was a path to mental health. Using the national court's wall as a social distancing tool to read books and sunbathe twice a week as a rule. Skypes didn't end; projects kept rolling with way too much calendar-stretching; working extra long hours became an escapist hobby; Understanding that this unrivaled moment in history is unparalleled while struggling to meditate at 4 a.m.; hard to breathe in the morning; struggled not to kiss random strangers; most projects didn't end; the Internet was the unsung hero of this singularity; The Midnight Gospel was a Netflix champion; skateboarding became impossible in the midst of a virusfobic transdermic obsession; the studio never actually stopped; stream-distanced classes became therapy sessions for the students; students became therapists for me; while it was hard to focus, confinement made me appreciate the beauty in anxiety, Instagram & front-door neighbors; never learned how to bake bread; breathe in, Skype out; It made me rehab from everything except love and a lot better at making Spaghetti Agli Oli. I am good at answering phone calls now, mindful about coffee, and ok with being fully awake only after 11 a.m.


What's next for Royal Studio in the future?


Insects have always been attracted to the light. There is yet to be designed an object that does anything other than to shape society. In a context where the individuals struggle to meet what they had planned, COVID-related-or-COVID-free, The Royal is planning to design with words other than graphism, poems other than strategy, and trying to see a world that is designed as a consequence.






Interview by André Cruz, Studio Dobra, for Sumo Podcast, PT


In this episode of Sumo podcast with 01:04:41 moments of introspection, poetry, education, death and a design. It was a fantastic conversation with André Cruz where we go over a decade of design processes, growing up and growing in.






Interview by Margot Mourrier, Étapes:, Paris, FR


MM—Why are you claiming Royalty as a value? What is your philosophical viewpoint about graphic design? It looks like you have a critical link, a specific distance with your practice thanks to humor (I think about your project “Dishonest Manifest”): why do you embrace this positioning/statement?

The problem of the form and function is no longer alive; Comic sans might be a good friend; the golden ratio is an old book setting and the Swiss style is no longer Swiss, nor a style, anymore; First Things First can now come second when designers have fun, and interestingly, our relational reality can be quite stagnant to the public's perception; Authorship is a weird trend and trends are old fashioned. It is our task to communicate and our burden to be influent in every project. As designers we make perception our routine partner and we shape it as we communicate, therefore, it is our responsibility to deny the canons and strive to be intelligent - to be definite utopians with a strong sense of reasoning so that we can build culture as we proceed. This very reply should be understood, then questioned, contradicted, and if it holds together then it is a bingo! We tend to feel resistant to the design practice, understanding that it is always happening between being too self-conscious in its own importance and the oversimplification of the practice to the external view. We couldn't not laugh and endorse that view in our work.


MM—Since the beginning of your studio what are the main evolutions you experienced?

The main thought to strive is the process of jumping between an OCD'ish logic reasoning and the notion that good knowledge only happens when consciousness is allowed to go wild. Technique improved hand in hand with the skillset, but the reason got lost and found while romancing with experimentation.


MM—Do you think you have a particular portuguese visual vocabulary? How do you use it? Or what are the main visual influences of the moment in your opinion? Who are the Portuguese graphic designers you admire?

To get stuck in the geographical boundary is an enemy of global inspiration. We do not believe that Portuguese culture gets a big spotlight in our approach other than, perhaps, the hard working stubbornness of our design ethics in context. The contemporary scene is highly connected to external inputs, and the nerve for elite-quality is rooted in our system. Our gratitude for our colleagues comes in the name of studios like Non-Verbal, Bráulio Amado, And Atelier and This Is Pacifica. We admire our illustrators Marta Monteiro and Lorde Mantraste. Greet the blasting energy from the photos of Álvaro Martino. We pay great respect to the work of historic landmarks Sebastião Rodrigues and Maria Keil. We couldn't but praise Ana Types Type as our partner is most crimes with sheer recognition and we welcome the inspiration shared by anyone in We Came From Space, our flagship space, energetic vortex and research hub. Sweet.


MM—What helps you think creatively as graphic designers? Are you traveling a lot in looking for new sources of inspiration?

In order to be creative we need a good problem to solve, a cup filled with dreams and a cold cocktail in Berlin. A good brunch in London is the best way to start a lecture and workshop series. To stroll around Porto's iron bridge is the best way to start the project that will fly us out to a rooftop sunset party in New York City the week after. To typeset Cyrillic text has as much to do with research as it has to do with finishing a cheese-bread-with-vodka in Basel, Switzerland. We have a never-say-no attitude towards traveling anywhere and an eager appetite to understand the details of the space. Most of our ideas happen out of the sketchbook - with words, topics, and GPS.


MM—For the posters you made, it looks like you are between traditional arts, like drawing or engraving and collage techniques, and new digital tools or process: why do you choose to use both of them? How do you manage to mix up this traditional approach and vector illustrations? Is this something proper to our times? In your work, is there something which looks like mix or remix (musical one)?

We find it fascinating that we can make decades collide by sketching in a piece of paper and randomizing the same assets with Processing. At the same time, we have a letterpress and a screenprint lab downstairs side by side with sharing the workspace with Lyft Studio who have a strong focus on Video Mapping. With a computer to mash it all up, we see the graphic development process as plural as possible - seeking inputs and remixing, cutting and repeating the main visuals until they speak the tone and allow the expression that we established as a possible solution in the first place. Pushing music: we feel much closer to an MPD with a blasting boombox than to a funky jazz set - we love to resample.


MM—Many of the visuals you create have several levels of reading and seeing: how do you proceed to compose an image? It often refers to the labyrinthine image or the idea of  puzzle: what kind of way for the eye you are trying to set up?

There are two key players that we respect when designing any object: context and concept. Scaling out, when branding, for example, the architecture and experience should be the benchmark. Scaling in, when illustrating, the composition and the poetry hold the fire proof. With this in mind, we treat both architecture and composition (the context) at the same level to design something completely in tune with it's scale, dimension, and specs. This stage is set according to the key concept. When the two speak fluently, we have the eyes and the brain connected by perception.


MM—We could see the same idea on your website: why do you choose such communication strategy?

The website is the result of an ongoing "in development" hiatus that lasted 2 years. Two solutions here: a) to develop it properly; b) to think smart without a). Because we are elite-freaks with high expectations, we couldn't wrap our mind around a) so we jumped into b) as in a visual essay. It is sustained by the visual aspects of the most important projects linking back to their Behance for deeper understanding. It is also a stage for additional material, which is sometimes humorous, satirical or part of a particular conference, lecture or experience. A visual feed meant to be overwhelming, inviting the user to be brought to the studio and to be part of the rich production atmosphere felt around here - unpretentious, honest, incomplete, straight-forward and free. Quite a counter-statement to the industry standard - an invitation - not a final product.


MM—How do you integrate type in your work?

Type is the quickest road to historic moments, it carries the sensibility of the decades and it is deeply rooted in anyone's perception of it's contexts. A blackletter sets you centuries ago, but it also part of the second world war - it is a heritage and a tool. A Grotesk is a universal standard and Nike told us that those fat condensed Futura weights are for running. We integrate type with great care and respect as one of our initial mood board-anchors for any project that calls for it. To play with it, treat it, break it, mix it, remake it or design it from scratch are essential everyday tools.


MM—How do we give shape, turn into pictures Adobe tutorials advices? Does data-visualization help you in the process of creation for the Adobe projects?

The main goal is to think laterally to the topic to depict. It is much more in tune with poetry than with data visualization - we want to tell stories and inspire the freedom that a specific set of tools allows. Magic, not tools. Inspiration, not examples. To name an example: the thinking to illustrate a topic on responsive design for the general public has much more to do with the hand-to-device relationship than to the liquid qualities of designing the UI. We work with words, poetic dissociation and lexical sets to find the root to our topic storytelling.


MM—In your opinion, does the graphic designer have a part to play and to take in society as citizen? Which one?

There is nothing that a designer does other than to shape society.





Texto curatorial para a Exposição: Experimenta Design, As Far As The Mind Can See.
Curated along and with Marco Balesteros & Mirko Ilić, Lisboa, Porto, PT



Vivo no século do novo. Mais! De novo.  Das construções, das redes e da realização do indivíduo; Da procura da consciência e na ciência da eletricidade que a constitui; Da destituição do núcleo, da construção da matéria negra, do opensource, do downgrade, do nano, do humano e da quântica – que é a filosofia. Mais! Eu, com todos, vivo na lucidez coletiva, na requalificação do valor, da síntese e do relacional; No século da procura; No século que nunca aconteceu (de novo) e onde o contexto do indivíduo molda a plataforma do grupo. Onde a plataforma perde o teclado e ganha o verdadeiro portátil. O que demonstra a imprevisibilidade da capacidade de inovar. O tempo em que pela primeira vez se publica, em que verdadeiramente se publica. Mais! Que traz para cima da mesa toda a novidade à luz de uma nova efemeridade. Volto quando voltamos aos princípios, à procura da nostalgia do passado, à abstinência, à família e aos anos 90 como autorreferência. Aconteço quando acontecemos na originalidade do córtex central, no responsive, no feed e na catadupa; No individual, nas partilhas de cada um; Nas relações interpessoais que se amam algum dia e também nas que ganham um timestamp, um post e um update. Mais! No tudo do tudo e no mais.


Em que a necessidade de crescer é lúdica e que a sociedade se encontra dentro de si mesma. Mais! Que a consciência e a cognição são intrínsecas e caminham dentro de si mesmas. Esgotam-se a si mesmas, esgotam-se em símbolos, e alimentam-se na ordem universal da comunidade sem épocas e sem a consciência temporal do histórico. Mais! Os pensamentos intrínsecos são coincidentes com os externos! Não compreendem a análise nem o motor — são a imaginação extraordinária! A cognição é filtrada pelo coletivo. O novo é a nossa opinião na interação! Mais! O desenho do projeto monumental, humano, é tão lúdico quanto erróneo! Mais! O eu. O autónomo. A satisfação do agrado e a procura da compreensão. A comunicação a partir para o mundo partindo da cognição do mundo — quão redundante? Mais!


Estas segundas linhas que são muralhas numa folha e cujo risco seguinte se relaciona enquanto prisão com o primeiro. O segundo que é relacional, o primeiro que é virgem e o terceiro que será o seguinte. Mais! O seguinte que virá do próximo e o último que é então previsível, mas não se preveria antes. Mais! A química da cognição ultrapassa a compreensão, mas cria as marcas do jogo. O desenvolvimento do homem social enquanto sistema lúdico. A imaginação enquanto infinito e um sistema neuronal que se liga ao mundo, e brinca — Homo Ludens. Mais! Mais!  A mente não vê senão aquilo que já viu: essa é a beleza da emergência das ideias, que se não são colaborativas são íntimas, e mortas, e lentas, e fechadas. Assim como uma sociedade. Ma-a-a-a-a-ais! A utopia do projeto responde às condicionantes impostas, é desenhada com todo o peso da compreensão da humanidade e da monumentalidade da interação. Mais! Essa, a utopia, é que é o quão longe. É ridículo que não sirva para nada.


Mais! Uns dentro dos outros e todos dentro de todos e todos sendo um só com as paredes apontadas aos outros todos. Todos nós que nascemos neste tempo e ao mesmo tempo, no mesmo fenómeno social que se perde de vista ao longo dos anos. Não existe o desenho em qualquer outro exercício senão o da conexão? Mais! Público e narrativa. Mais! Mensagem e condicionante. — Mais! Briefing e cliente. Mais! E o público. Mais! E o público. Mais! E o designer que os media quando se media a si mesmo. O domínio livre da arte é inimigo da consciência coletiva — do projeto aplicado — mas não é assim que vem nos jornais. Mais! Mais! A negação e a positividade. O prazer extraordinário de ser o desenhador e o humorista: o sarcástico escritor e o demoníaco economista. Ah! O show! O questionador ácido e o procrastinador anulado. O curador de vertigens e o selecionador de equipas.


O Mais que começa na soma, que é a resposta! Isto que quero responder é de outro sítio longe das palavras. Na catadupa de sentidos e na sinestesia consciente. Na perceção e na anulação do óbvio. Começa na procura e termina no vazio. Num objeto de exercício diário que nunca é isolado. Na perda da resposta e na necessidade de metodologia. Na folha começa na baseline… na vida, na interação. Nas pessoas. Nas conversas. Na predisposição para o abismo e na de ver mais longe — sem saber o que se vê.


Só vemos tão longe quanto nos permitimos ver! Não há verdade alguma tão longínqua desta senão a completa perceção do vazio compreendendo que só nele está o francamente geométrico. Eu—social. Eu—moral. Eu. Que sou os outros.


Mais! Na procura do texto, este texto não existiria. Limitaria a curadoria a uma direção distinta e, como tal, anular-se-ia no propósito do mote: de ver tão longe quanto a mente pode ver. A procura de sentido anula a emergência das ideias, em tempo e em honestidade; elimina também a própria biologia – a evolução pela conexão e a inteligência como fruto do sistema social. Não cabe ao projetista a procura do infinito ou do ideal — cabe-lhe a mestria da adição para coordenar os inputs à moralidade da narrativa final. O filtro crítico distingue a marca autoral e conota a obra gráfica, que, obviamente, joga com a estratégia e mestria do cliente-emissor ou motivo-génese.


Com a honestidade de assumir que a autoria não serve, fantasticamente, para nada, que uma exposição é extraordinariamente desinteressante e que desenhar não é mais do que uma mestria vazia — sem público. A validade de tudo isto está nas conversas dos cafés.


O problema da forma e função está morto; a matemática é um cenário velho e um livro velho e o estilo suíço não é Suíço, nem um estilo. Mais! A autoria é uma tendência estranha e tendências são moda à antiga. Mais! É a nossa responsabilidade assumir a negação dos cânones e sair correndo a gritar inteligência. Mais! Defender o raciocínio para que possamos construir cultura. Mais! Bingo! Não podemos andar senão a parir poemas, a reprimir posts, e a esquecer que se não marcarmos o tempo-livre no calendário estaremos atrasados para a privilegiada oportunidade de reunir por Skype para algo soberbo. Soberbo! Agora, que somos uma lenda, a cuspir planetas sapientes e a queimar layers estonteantes. — Público!


Mais! De ego às costas: sem lógica e com a consciência de tudo e a dos outros. Este cérebro é tudo e eu encerro-o. Das 9, e com 9 horas, conto estas palavras todas na próxima conversa e procuro a reação ao ignorar a pergunta. — Mais!





Description of Everything Everyone Everywhere.
Exhibited at Porto Design Biennale, Post Millennium Tensions, Millennials - Design do Novo Milénio, by José Bártolo, 2020, Porto, PT



Since 2011, Porto, The Royal Studio is a derivative practice by João Castro that instrumentalizes Design towards an artistic discourse. Subversive, performative and layered, both in commissioned work and in autonomous practice, it often operates between the boundaries of identity, culture, and authorship. Expanding on the role of the designer as a source, it operates in the fields of design, art direction, consultant, education and research. Content and client-driven it sums routines from -9h to + 11h in 24h.



"[...]That is natural - even for us. - Stamina, I heard, football and museums. - 10 million steps up while 93 kg is the weight of a human body. - East and the West, Syria, People defending, you know. - Less work, right? - A friend of mine lives by the lake. - White slim jeans. - While they go down, the cilings go up and the stairs stay. - If in doubt, wear blue. - We’ll be closed from august to nevermore. - Here, drink some water first. - Mainly because I am often dressed as ego. - Cairo people are really beautiful. Really beautiful human beings. - Have a good trip to utopia. - I took your purse and rubbed it in the sand. - Make me my makeup as if I was young. - That could be therapy. It is the transparency. The honesty. The psychotic breaks. - to get up in the morning. - You know, it’s just like that. - It is a different world now. - I feel like I am following breadcrumbs. - I didn’t remember it was going to end. - Sometimes I drink water, other times I don’t know[...]".



That Could Be is a project that visualizes outcomes from lifes that could have been but never were, built strictly from noting bits of conversations from strangers while travelling in their commute. An ongoing visual reflection about the supermundane, archiving stolen thoughts in their respective time, to build a satiric critique around a globalized sate of meaning. In the context of PDB 2019, the thoughts were collected from May 22nd to August 18th.