22 questions with a designer: Hugo Cornejo
Something a bit different for you...
I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to hear the voices of other designers here, and wondering how to do that in the right way. This week I can finally share the fruits of those labours with a short illustrated interview with the legendary designer Hugo Cornejo, who I had the pleasure of working with at Monzo.
Loosely modelled on Vogue’s 73 Questions (only a bit shorter!) my hope is 22 Questions with… can become a regular monthly fixture that celebrates practicing designers and helps us understand how they approach their work and what inspires them. In that vein, please do reach out to me with names of designers you would like to see here or, better yet, can introduce me to 😉
1. What’s your name?
2. What do you design?
Digital products. But at heart I’m a “from the spoon to the city” kind of designer so I apply the same universal design principles to whatever you throw at me.
3. How long have you been designing?
For a living? Since 2005.
4. What are you designing right now?
Packfleet. Product, company and business.
5. What are you most proud of designing?
Monzo. I joined on day one as their first designer and we quickly became one of the UK's best banks. I take a lot of pride in the fact that most of the structural pieces I contributed during the early days are still ageing well, almost a decade later. That’s uncommon.
6. What do you wish you could design?
As a Brit/Spaniard dual-national I dream I could help build a GOV.UK equivalent for Spain. It’s desperately needed.
7. The moment you knew you were going to be a designer?
I never did. As a kid I always loved design and architecture in a romantic way but it surely didn’t feel like something I could actually get to do for a living. Instead I became a software engineer and slowly hacked my way into interaction design.
8. Your very first design project?
When I was six or seven years old I designed an icon library. All I had was MS Paintbrush on Windows 3.0 so each icon was 32 by 32 pixels in 16 colours. No layers or advanced tools, all done pixel by pixel. I spent months drawing over a hundred icons. Then, right after I completed the library some shitty virus got into our computer and destroyed the floppy disk where I was storing all my files. No backups. Poof! Gone forever.
9. Biggest design lesson you’ve learned?
Design is all about tradeoffs. Every decision you make comes with upsides and downsides so in a world where there’s no such thing as a free lunch your best strategy is to be able to inspect those tradeoffs, communicate them to the people you work with and articulate decisions based on them.
Well, that and to make backups regularly.
10. Something you wished you’d been told about design before you started?
You don’t need to look “like a designer” to be a designer.
11. Where do you go to get inspiration?
12. Your favourite designer?
13. Your favourite piece of design?
Any classic Vespa.
14. Design guilty pleasure?
I’m terribly good at spotting double spaces and formatting errors during film credits, posters, signage at museums and things like that. I usually keep the finds to myself though so people don’t realise how big of a moron I am.
15. Design hill you’ll die on?
Good orthotypography is non-negotiable.
16. Form or function?
At a personal level I go with “form follows function”. But then again it’s all about tradeoffs: If I worked in fashion I’d surely have a more nuanced view about this.
17. Can design be art?
It sure can but in my experience this is usually an unintended consequence of great design. If your starting point to design is self-expression chances are your work will miss the mark in both accounts.
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18. Most important quality of a designer?
I’ll cheat a bit and say three: Curiosity to scrutinise problems, intelligence to understand it in all its complexity and vision to simulate elegant solutions.
19. At the end of the day, why do you design?
I design because I believe in tomorrow. I see it as an exercise in optimism.
20. How do you relax when you’re not designing?
Play tennis, walk in the park, and enjoy watching my wife work. I’m basically a dog.
21. How can we stay in touch with you?
22. Which designer should we interview next?
Hope you enjoyed today’s 22 questions. I’ll hopefully have another one ready for you sometime in January 2024. Have a great week!
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