Alejandro Magallanes says he doesn’t usually give advice about anything. But the Mexico City-based graphic designer, in advance of his talk for Look Upstairs, has some advice for people working in graphic design. Not just one piece of advice. Three.

One is, “Do not be naive”, another, “Play with clear rules.” The last piece of advice – and it’s an important one – is, “Have fun with the process of work.” Across Magallanes’ animations, images, books, posters and artwork, this sense of fun is obvious. Often, it takes the form of a wry sense of humour.

“I think it has to do with the way I usually see life; it’s related to temperament,” he says. It also relates to something a favourite teacher of his said years ago, which he still remembers to this day. Writing in Magallanes’ first exhibition catalogue as a student, the teacher said, “He who knows how to say things with humour, knows fully how to say them seriously.”

Before his teacher wrote this, well before he even started studying graphic design at the National School of Visual Arts in Mexico City, Magallanes simply loved drawing as a child. Many others working in graphic design, he says, share a similar story.

The crucial difference in his case is the fact that he loved – and still loves – reading. Magallanes’ passion for the written word might seem unexpected for someone who works so closely with images, but he doesn’t see a conflict. He recently released a collection of poetry and has written nine children’s books. If anything, he believes images can learn a lot from words.

“I encourage my students to read poetry when stuck in a creative void,” he says. “The strength of images we create in our minds from words is extraordinary. We often cannot even make a picture out of it. If I say ‘tree of tigers’, the image created in the mind has a lot of power. And, of course, with a powerful image, you can create words in the mind of the beholder.”

One particular example of the written word that sticks out to him comes from a poster he once designed, which read: “It’s not the paper’s fault that so much shit is printed.” Magallanes has taken this slogan up as a clarion call. “It is related to the commitment we take with the work we do,” he says. “I think we are responsible for the content we communicate to people.”

Over the course of his career, Magallanes has been tapping into the power of imagery to communicate – both with words and without – by founding a number of poster activist groups addressing social and political problems, such as women’s rights.

“I try to get involved with the issues I am interested in, as a citizen. I try to find people who are related to these issues so that the images I produce can be printed – not always as posters, but stickers, flyers and postcards too.”

No matter what the content or the message is, Magallanes seems thrilled about just the idea of communication.

“What excites me the most is the exposure of pictures, and that someone can make this image part of his visual memory. For me, seeing my work printed always excites me. Either small or large projects, the feeling when I see them printed is similar to receiving a gift.”

He’s equally excited about the chance to come down here to give a lecture. “I’ll talk about my thinking, inspiration and process behind some of my work,” he says. “I am happy to know a country like Australia, and very honoured by the invitation.”

Alejandro Magallanes will be speaking at Look Upstairs at Hamer Hall on April 3 from 4.10 - 5.40pm.

Presented by agIdeas, Look Upstairs design conference runs from April 1 to 3.

agideas.net