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The Royal Studio’s Uncommon Approach to Design

By Robert Ordoña

Much of The Royal Studio’s commissioned work is rooted in bold street art and infused with the vibrancy of musical genres such as hip-hop and electronica, making the design agency, which is based in Porto, Portugal, popular with an international roster of clients that includes innovative bands and tech behemoths. And The Royal’s templates, which are offered free on Adobe Stock, remain true to what agency founder and front man João Castro describes as an “explosive” style. He says the agency’s creations must always “generate enthusiasm for the client or user.”

THE LOVE CHILD OF SCIENCE AND STREET ART

Born in 1989, Castro grew up in Porto and began a course in biology at Porto’s University of Aveiro, to satisfy a curiosity that he hoped a command of science could satisfy.

Publicity materials for the 2016 Lovie Awards, by The Royal Studio.

“I’ve always believed you should question everything,” says Castro, “but using a very practical sense.” And he brought his questioning nature with him when he shifted his interests from science to design—a transition he made early in his biology studies when he discovered a passion for graffiti art and hip-hop, which he immersed himself in initially “to impress a girl”—Anna Areais, who would later become his partner in both his personal and his professional life.

Castro says that his biology studies had become isolating. “In order to pursue science, I understood I’d have to work in a team but would always have a strict role,” he explains. He realized that the rigid hierarchy of the science field wouldn’t allow him to work on an equal level with others. 

This poster was commissioned by Câmara Municipal do Porto to advertise the Criatório prize.

Graffiti afforded him a freedom he craved. And unlike science, street art allowed him a means of “instant communication” and a connection to a community. He says that it’s largely “about the people that you know, the feeling that you are doing something in a city together.” He continues, “You’re occupying spaces that are not occupied by other people—railway stations or an abandoned factory, for instance.... Those become places where you belong and meet people, and you get to collaborate with them. And if you are doing a big mural with eight different artists, you’re spending your whole day with them. Then it becomes the night.  And you’re thinking, ‘How do I connect my form with theirs? How can I mix my piece with someone else’s?’”

Castro’s passion for creating graffiti on the streets waned because the work, he believed, was ultimately “ego oriented” and didn’t reach a greater audience—which Castro wanted to do.

But still enamored with the collaborative aspects and visual communication of graffiti, he decided to continue his education in graphic design. And after graduating with excellence in Communication Design from Portugal’s ESAD Matosinhos, he created The Royal Studio.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE ROYAL

Castro’s budding agency remained true to the spirit of graffiti culture—collaboration, sharing, edginess, innovation, explosiveness, and a contextual approach to design—as did the name of the agency itself. When a graffiti artist’s work becomes well known, well liked, and prominent in a city, the artist becomes “king,” says Castro. He adds that he was never a graffiti king, but he believed he would rule his world of design. So he founded The Royal Studio.

The Royal Studio recently paid tribute to the typeface Bruta Pro

“Since the beginning, The Royal has been me,” says Castro, who serves as creative director. But he does not conceive or execute the projects all by himself—and those projects include a noteworthy list of successful campaigns for international clients such as the electronica music duo Bicep, Facebook, and Europe’s Lovie Awards.

But, he says, The Royal “is not one brain alone.”

His partners include Anna Areias, his former hip-hop muse and now his girlfriend, who has been a designer for The Royal since its inception. “The Royal is evolving,” says Castro, and the agency expands to a core group of four or five additional collaborators and designers depending on the scope of the projects the group undertakes.

An illustration commissioned for the 2015 Facebook Awards

TYPOGRAPHY AND TEMPLATES

The Royal’s dedication to contextual, user-friendly, and enthusiasm-generating designs has carried over into customizable templates—for postcards, creative pitches, business cards, social media kits, books, brochures, and many other uses—offered on Adobe Stock.

“Adobe reached out to us because they enjoyed our graphic design work and asked us to contribute to Adobe Stock. We were asked if we wanted to do random graphics, vector work, model work.… But I said we wanted to do templates,” says Castro. He believed that the work would be “fun and challenging.” 

The Royal Studio makes a wide variety of Adobe InDesign design templates—such as these, for a digital magazine, for a social media kit, and for a whimsical cookbook—available for free on Adobe Stock

And Castro wanted to offer the templates for free, because he welcomed the opportunity to build a better practice and “share good principles of design throughout the world with people who use Adobe Creative Cloud—which is most of the creative industry.”

Adobe Illustrator and InDesign are key to the creation of the templates. Castro explains, “We use Illustrator to create the mood and the feeling of a project—and then once it’s time to make it final or to articulate a little bit more on the system, we translate into InDesign, which makes the design work better because it's faster and easier…. It has everything one needs to compose and recompose an image. InDesign lets you go back in time—it gives you a recovery system better than others.”

Another The Royal template—this one for a creative brand guide. 

Usability is always at the forefront of The Royal’s templates—and to that end, adherence to good typography practices separates their templates from others’, says Castro. “We didn’t want to be presumptuous about the way the templates would be used in terms of crazy typographical styles and wild ways of composing text. Users don’t need that,” he explains. “So we’re very careful.” As an example, he points to line spacing and how measurements must be made in accordance with the page and framed logically.

He says, “We didn’t want our templates to have any particular personality that would overshadow the brand that people would use them for…and I think that’s very rare to find in templates.”

The ultimate question Castro asks when crafting a template is, “If you turn off the parts of the design that say ‘art,’ are you left with good space to fill in your information?” 

ON THE HORIZON FOR THE ROYAL

“I don’t say, ‘I’m the graffiti guy who has turned into a graphic designer,’” says Castro. His roots in street art continue to inform The Royal’s designs—and its spirit. “Graffiti taught me to have no fear—just fall in love with something and do it for the joy of doing it.”

As head of The Royal, he wants to keep “building emotional experiences and brand emotion” for the agency’s clients and users.

But The Royal Studio is evolving past simple graphic communication. Castro wants it to become a “major storyteller” and envisions designs more akin to performance art than to simple graphic communication—work that creates “the intensity of feeling one may expect from music and video”—and he wants users to be part of the experience.

The former biology student and graffiti artist who has become king of his design world believes he and The Royal Studio have many more realms to conquer.