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Creative Careers: Rafa Prada on passion projects, social movements and the importance of collaboration

Image shows a white and grey light projection on the side of a building accompanied by a small shadow of someone standing in front of the light source.
Image shows a white and grey light projection on the side of a building accompanied by a small shadow of someone standing in front of the light source.
Image credit: Rafa Prada.
Written by
Chloe Murphy
Published date
04 August 2020

At London College of Communication (LCC), we support our students to become the future of the creative industries. We're proud to give them the tools they need to develop key critical and technical skills, to build their confidence, and to grow their professional networks.

Our Industry Mentoring Scheme matches postgraduate students with experienced mentors who can offer helpful tips, information and advice on ways to kick-start their careers.

As we congratulate LCC's Graduating Class of 2020, we asked some of our mentors to share the stories behind their professional journeys, as well as their top tips for ways that young creatives can stay inspired and make a living by doing what they love.

Rafa Prada

Rafa Prada is a product designer and founding member of Made Abroad, a creative studio which focuses on creating meaningful products and experiences across a range of areas, from digital to animations and short films.

His work lies at the intersection of art, design and technology, with an emphasis on collaboration practices. He's also the founder of Conscious Digital, a not-for profit organisation which works with social and creative enterprises.

Here, he discusses the ways that his creative and collaborative experiences have shaped his career so far.

A photograph of a man and a woman smiling accompanied by text that reads: 'I think I want an absolute truth'.
Publication for the exhibition, Art Education in the Age of Metrics at Herbert Read Gallery. Image credit: design and art direction by Rafa Prada.

"I have a very academic background in Fine Art. I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Seville, southern Spain, where I learned the trade and craft around traditional drawing, painting, sculpture and printing. All of this was cemented by a great foundation in History of Art, and I also took part in a year-long print workshop at the Athens School of Fine Arts in Greece.

During my university days, I spent most of my time in the drawing and print workshops. Even then, I thought (and still think) that drawing is the base of any learning. This has proved its value in many ways, especially when we talk about creativity, visual language (in a broad sense) and lateral thinking.

I also spent a lot of time with my peers working on side-projects, and I engaged with the poetry and performance scene in Seville in different ways. One of the first of those projects was Rojo Bossar, an experimental zine on writing and visual poetry. I think there's still live content somewhere online…

Early in my career, I explored different creative areas, including exhibition design, filming and editorial. Still, it was contemporary dance and my first encounter with dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch where I really understood what multiple narratives could achieve simultaneously, and how this method could be applied to any creative input.

I never worked directly with dance or choreography, but this experience helped me to understand the strength of non-verbal language in any sphere of communication. It also helped me to develop my own design language for editorial, digital products and other digital experiences.

Another meaningful lesson came from my contact with developers and engineers. While working closely with them, I quickly understood that everything changes constantly in digital, and we have to make sure that we as creatives can constantly change with them. There's no better mindset to have than one which accommodates those changes, and once again, I found further inspiration in improvisation and contemporary dance."

A table is filled with a range of independent arts publications.
Salon Flux Archive at Self Publishing Saturday, Vienna. Image credit: Rafa Prada.

"My first paid project as a designer (and still today, my proudest one) was the creation of the book, En Nuestros Jardines Se Preparan Bosques (Forests are getting ready in our gardens), a beautiful editorial of work by Rafael Sanchez-Mateos Paniagua, where we discussed ideas around democracy, social rights, autonomy and nature.

This work was finalised in August 2012 after 4 years of social movements and conversations, and after a 15-year-old boy was killed by police in 2008 just 2 streets away from my student flat in Exarcheia, Athens.

Fast forward: I continued practicing conversation as a way of collaborative practice. Together with a group of artists from around Europe, I also contributed to the underground art scene in London through Salon Flux.

Salon Flux started as a way to exhibit and mix work with live performance and nightclubbing. However, it transformed into a place for conversation, experimentation and exploration of alternative artistic practices, as well as exhibiting independent programmes. We ran what we called OH (Open House) for several years to create a space for conversation outside the official art circuit.

Today, the Salon Flux Archive is still open, and continues our contribution to supporting and publishing independent creatives, with an emphasis on photography."

A black and white photograph depicting a discussion at a Salon Flux event.
Salon Flux Open House. Image Credit: Rafa Prada.

"The quality of a particular creator has been often measured by the awards or public recognition that they've received. From my point of view, if I’m honest, I’m not really interested in pursuing or working towards either of those as outcomes of the work I do. If they come, fine, but that’s not my end-goal.

On the contrary, I’ve always spent my spare time working on passion projects, like Hey Hey Hey! Approach to the city, an editorial which creates a portrait of cities with a different focus based on Guy Debord’s Theory of the Dérive.

Another very important step in my career has been to start my own company together with my partner, Rosa Beiroa. This has allowed us to focus on the work we care about, and personally, it has given me the autonomy I require to move the needle and stop working for people and rather work with people. In this journey, I've met very interesting people, and some of them have now become friends. I’ve learned that you can find your tribe, and also that things don’t only exist in the ways they present themselves to you - instead, you can make them the way that you want.

At the moment, I work mainly as a Product Design Consultant. Some people call it ‘user experience design’, but for me, designing digital products comes from the union of users, tech and business. I help organisations to understand the value of talking to their users while they make new products and services. You’d be surprised to know how little some companies know about the people who use their products.

As a generalist, I’ve definitely struggled with settling into a specific discipline or practice, and that has played a very important role in my career progression - as both a challenge and as a great opportunity. Being able to position myself on the edge of disciplines has always allowed me to get to work on things that I found interesting rather than spending long periods of time learning a trade by bringing coffees or shadowing other creatives.

As an example, I regularly participate in MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC, where we talk about context beyond format in photography. I also talk to students from the MSc Digital Innovation in Built Asset Management at The Bartlett, UCL.

As you can imagine, photography and asset management don’t sit very closely; however, creativity and collaborative practices are two of the many transferable skills that we can share as generalists."

Rafa and his colleagues collaborate on a project over a table of post-it notes.
The Red Badger team work on a design session. Left to rIght: Rafa Prada, Kaylie Green, Áine McKay and Sinem Erdemli. Image credits: Rafa Prada and Red Badger.

As our 2020 graduates prepare for their future careers, we asked Rafa to share his top tips for starting out as a creative.

"1. Have a strong sense of the process and understand why you do the things you do.

This will be your North Star to follow. How you make things will change almost constantly, and the result of what you create can vary dramatically. However, your why will always stay true.

2. Your work is always part of a collective effort.

You rarely work alone. Even when you're hired as a freelancer for a specific piece of work, you will be part of a larger objective, and that will probably involve more people. The sooner you embrace this, the easier it will be to progress in your career.

3. Make one side project a year and treat it as a job.

There are two key things here: if you spend only 15 minutes a day working on a side project, in a month, you’ll have spent 14 hours on it - almost 2 working days!

However, side projects can also dry out. Be vigilant about a project that is dying and let it go when the time comes - then it’s time for another one! There’s no concept of failure here. My latest one is taking a bit longer than expected: Your Digital Rights, a tool that helps people to exercise their rights of privacy online.

4. The most interesting insights will come from an unexplored discipline.

If you surround yourself with colleagues from a niche specialisation, you will share a lot with them, but probably a lot of the same things. Talk to dancers, engineers and makers from other disciplines - and, most importantly, people from different cultures. Those are the ones who will most inspire you to get to ideas that you’d never find sitting in your own studio."

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