Thursday, July 7

Ludita, the pioneer who designed the guts of the Spanish Internet: “We were very badass”

There was a time in Spain when the elderly did not know anything about the internet. All large companies wanted to have their website and a group of twenty-somethings, fresh out of the race and very savvy, learned to do them and work for corporations from small consulting firms. Some remain, others were acquired and others went bankrupt. “They handled hallucinatory budgets. People received very high salaries with less than thirty years. Then the bubble exploded and they offered jobs in half. The interesting thing is that there was everything: I studied Advertising, others were lawyers, others from Fine Arts or Physical Education. We were seduced by technology and the internet. ”

Isabel Inés Casasnovas (Madrid, 1973) was one of those young women. Alias ​​Ludita —a nickname that a colleague gave him because it was difficult for him to create a user on Flickr and that defines how “analog” he feels in the digital world—, has just received a Special Mention in the National Design Award given by the Ministry of Science and Innovation. She is the third woman recognized in the professional category (the award has been given since 1987) and the first in which her “pioneering work in the establishment and expansion of emerging design disciplines stands out.”

All the previous winners are graphic or industrial designers, but what about the new digital design? At a time when screens are so much in our lives, in which even some ideologues of digital artifacts (such as the ‘Like’ button on Facebook or the ‘pull to refresh’ on Twitter) have shown regret for their creation, it is necessary to recognize the professionals behind it. Inés has been designing for almost three decades, stuck in the guts of large national projects: among others, she has worked on Administration websites, on the ‘back side’ of Idealista and on the prestigious Prado Museum website. In addition, for years he has dedicated himself to training at his own school, La Nave Nodriza, a fact that has been highlighted by the jury.

“I had thought about studying Architecture, but my father made a mistake when he signed me up for Selectividad and I thought: it’s okay, I’m doing Psychology. In the end I got good grades and I got into Advertising, which seemed to me that I was halfway there. idea of ​​how oriented it was, “he explains laughing in conversation with “A sociology teacher changed my life. We read The Seduction of Opulence, which explained how advertising generates needs for people that they do not have in order to acquire products that they do not need with money that they lack. There I discovered that design was the opposite: understanding people’s needs and proposing solutions. In the fourth year, in 1997, I set up a design studio with my sister. ”

Chopping HTML

Tisana, the Workshop of Isa and Ana, was the small company that Ludita created with her sister, who came from Fine Arts. They were in a little house on Calle Marqués de Viana, in Madrid, where his parents had had a pharmacy.

“I had not touched a computer in my life. And the internet was something that was in the computer science departments of the faculties. We did editorial graphic design,” he says. “One of our clients made proxies, software that allows many computers to connect to the internet. They were floppy disks: we designed the stickers, the instructions … This client had other modern clients who started creating web pages. They needed designers. They proposed to teach us for free. to make websites to serve their customers. I started. And that’s how I got to the internet. ”

At that time, web pages were made by directly chopping the HTML code (the basic language of the web). “It was a wonderful time. I learned HTML in three months. Now that craft no longer exists. You can because it still works, but it’s not worth it,” he says. Among others, Inés made the website of the Nubenegra record label, that of a Gran Vía doctor who offered penis enlargement and that of a Valderrama oil cooperative, of which José Ignacio Millán Valderrama, then president of Software AG, was a member.

Software AG is a German multinational software company that arrived in Spain in 1984. “They had consulting and development. They made databases in natural language and not so many corporate websites, but applications. In the 80s they had digitized the entire Spanish public administration”, keep going. The all-powerful Software AG became a client of Tisana, and when the studio closed, Inés went to work there. “Tisana lasted five years. It was going well, the clients kept repeating and we saw that we doubled our billing. But that implied doubling the team, changing offices and stopping designing to be entrepreneurs. I didn’t want to, so we talked to the clients and each one of the six employees went to work one “, he explains. “At Software AG there were a thousand people and I was the first designer. They came with the HTML made, saying: beautify it. There I learned that the visual was the least of it, that it was more important that the process was well designed. It was called usability.”

That was also the era of Teknoland, a contemporary consultant to Tisana who started out small and ended up swallowed up by Terra. In Teknoland they set up the first Argentaria, Santander, Renault, Bankinter or Sanitas websites. The Web Teknolanders collects its history and that of its employees, who today hold important positions in large companies or have set up their own (among others, Pocoyo). The testimonials are a great reflection of what was cooked. “Those of Argentaria wanted us to make a website for them above all else and we were collapsed. I told them: look, if you pay us 100 million pesetas, maybe we will think about it,” recalled the co-founder, Luis Cifuentes. “They put them on the table. From that moment on, ours was listed, they were like works of art on the internet.” Teknoland burst when the bubble of dot com.

“At that time,” Ludita continues, “many of us were reaching the same conclusions in different places.” In addition to Teknoland and Tisana, there were several other consulting firms: Experience Consulting, Dnextep (changed its name to DesignIt), The Cocktail or Ifigenia, a branch within Terra in charge of making the web pages. Then there were no social networks but forums and the new designers met in Cadius, the Community of Information and Usability Architects. “We would meet once a month to mourn sorrows and share experiences. And I proposed creating training events to share resources.”

Some of the work at Software AG was left in a drawer, such as the redesign of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We hired an external designer, Nacho Puell, who went to the foreign offices to see the queues and what the services were like. It was the first time that we made a web approach not based on the Ministry’s organization chart, but on the services that the Ministry offered citizens. There were some procedures and the quarrel between departments was who was in charge of the customer service mailbox, “he says. “A splendid job was done, but there were elections and it did not come out.”

In the private world, he adds, it is the same. “We always joke that the bank of the future is in a drawer, because it has been designed a thousand times.”

Inés is part of a working group that is advising the Ministry of Science to modernize the Administration through design, with references as clear as that of the British Government. Among its proposals is to change the contracting systems so that the design can go outside the package and have specialized teams, because the usual thing is to entrust the conceptualization, design, technology and communication to the same company (see the case of Lepe’s “smart tourism” app, which made a single company for 200,000 euros and does not work).

“If they take out a tender to redo Social Security, they are going to put everything in the same package. And although the large companies that opt ​​for these tenders do have designers, they are technology companies and do not usually give it as much value. You have to understand that the definition of the product or service, the initial phases of the project, are made from design. That is not the end, it is not painting “.

It is very common among developers to despise the user, to think that he does not know how to do anything. But it’s not about that! If someone does not know how to use something, they can say: it is that you have not designed it well

Investigate the “user”

The processes prior to painting the screen (putting the beautiful website on, deciding the colors and where each button goes) help to better understand this new discipline. At Idealista, for example, he worked designing the application that real estate agencies use to raise floors.

“For the commercial department, the client was the director of the real estate agency, with whom they took the canes. But the user of that application was the secretary, someone who printed everything on paper, handled the excels and had the list of flats in the head, “he continues. “I discovered this by going to interview them. And he took me to the developers. Among developers it is common to despise the user, to think that he does not know how to do anything. But that is not the point! If she does not know how to climb the floors, she can say: You did not design it well. There were some very serious quality principles and the user was always defended, for example, eliminating duplicates even if that hurt the agencies. But we worked for those who were looking for a flat and their experience would be better without duplicates. We were very badass, but it was a way of doing didactics in the sector “.

By the same rule of three, Canal Cocina, for whom it designed an application for iPad, understood that the buttons had to be fat because people were going to use it while they were cooking and with dirty hands. And the Prado Museum, one of the last major projects he has worked on, whose website should also be aimed at people who were not going to visit the museum in person.

“We did a lot of work to understand the mentality within the Museum. And we defined possible profiles of non-visiting users, such as teachers who want to tell the Museum in their classes or academics who seek documentation. From there we got four strong ideas and proposed an architecture of the information. You can save favorites, create your own collections, share pictures, browse through different parameters … “, he says. The redesign of the Prado was done with Ilios, a group of designers who work on their own but under the same brand to compete with consulting firms. “And so we have managed to work for all the large companies passing self-employed bills. We have screwed up,” he laughs.

The profession of digital designer —which has different ramifications: product manager, service designer, interaction designer, strategy designer, etc.— has become popular but still pays well. There are specialized schools, masters and bootcamps, or intensive courses that promise to teach you in three months. The most common salary is between 30,000 and 40,000 euros per year, although experienced people can exceed 100,000. “There is a trajectory. And the profession has expanded,” he concludes. “Every time you start lower because more and more people come in, but that is positive for us, because when we started the fight it was that the design was necessary.”