In Conversation: Carlos Segura

In Conversation: Carlos Segura

Author and designer Carlos Segura had no intentions of becoming a graphic designer. However, a chance encounter changed his perspective and introduced him to the complex world of design. 

Founding Segura Inc. in 1991, Carlos has worked with many reputable ad agencies and developed an authentic style, aiming to blend fine art and commercial as much as possible. With his new release, The ABCs of the Automotive Industryhe is doing just that.

Focusing on a logo, emblem, or hood ornament design for each letter of the alphabet, Carlos details the unique history of a list of cars, known and unknown to many. The project is sure to delight both current and future car-lovers as well as design enthusiasts. 

The ABCs of the Automotive Industry is available for preorder.

You started your creative career as a drummer before transitioning to graphic design. How did you get your start in the industry? 

Well, I got my start purely by accident because it was my intention to be a drummer for the rest of my life. But life, you know, gets busy. And then things shifted and I eventually left the band and took a bunch of odd jobs. I worked at a woman’s shoe store. I worked at a tire store. I worked as a gardener. I mean, all kinds of stuff that you must do to survive. And I was just super unhappy. Then one day, I had lunch with my godfather, who worked for an engineering company in New York, and they had just gotten a contract in New Orleans to build the underground caverns that the Department of Energy stores the crude oil in. They needed a graphic artist.

When I was in the band, I had three jobs. I was the drummer, I was the truck driver, and I was also the guy promoting and creating the flyers where we would play. I had no idea I was doing graphic design, but he told me to put all that stuff in a portfolio and interview, and I did. I got the job and I moved to New Orleans, and that changed the rest of my life. 

Why did you decide to launch Segura Inc.?  

I launched Segura Inc. because, as I mentioned earlier, I had basically been a drummer my whole life. I got into the band when I was 12 and I left when I was 20. So I did nothing but that. I didn't know any better and I didn't really even go to school. I guess I had a little bit of creativity inside me, and because of my move to New Orleans, I took a chance, applied to an ad agency, and I got the job. Because I had no education, I really didn't know that there was a difference between graphic design and advertising. I was just creating.  

After being in the business for 14 years or so, I realized there was still something empty inside me - something that was missing - and I wanted to explore other options. So I quit my job in 1990 and I started Segura with my wife. 

You know, it's funny because when I was in the advertising agency business, there was a thing at the time [where] all art directors wanted to do was broadcast. But I focused on print and I got known for that. So when I left the ad agency business, I was a free agent. And when I quit, I had no clients, no plans, no money or nothing, but it worked out because I got known in the industry for that. A lot of the agencies I used to work for called me for their new business pitches and doing creative exploration, and that's how I started the business. 

What was the inspiration behind creating The ABCs of the Automotive Industry 

I guess I am absolutely consumed and hypnotized by the automotive industry. It's funny because when I describe the automotive industry, as a listener, I assume that you hear automotive, but it really isn't even about automotive. It's about creativity. It's about achievement, invention, and just incredible life changing moments.

Everything that happens to create a vehicle from marketing, to design, to manufacturing, to distribution, to safety, to electrical - if you took the automotive industry away from humans today, the earth would stop. And I'm not even joking. Not just because you can't get from A to B, you can use a horse for that. It's all of the businesses that it supports and allows to exist.

And so the creativity of the marketing side of the automotive industry intrigues me because it combines my love of typography, creativity, and automotive all into one. I was very interested in the backstories of what all these logos mean and why they were created. Who did them? When did they come about? What do they mean? All that kind of stuff. I just got an idea: what a great way to get the kids involved in it from the beginning, and learn the ABCs, and also see typography. You know, how bad can that be? So, that's what that book is about.  

What was the process like finding these iconic automobiles? Did you already have knowledge of them, or did you have to do a lot of research? 

Well, I have been doing deep research. I started an online blog called Cartype in 2014 that is trying to archive every company that's ever made a car and the history of it. It's currently down because we're redoing the website, but you can see all the content on our social media channels. The specific marks that were included in The ABCs of the Automotive Industry were chosen because those marks specifically used a letter for their logo.

So, for example, I didn't pick a company like Toyota because they don't use the letter T. They have a symbol that's familiar but it's not the letter T. So, H For Honda, for example. They used the letter as their brand, and that goes right into the alphabet part of it.  

Did you have any favorite cars or brands that were included in the book? 

I have many, many favorites. You know, there's so many little secrets in the automotive industry that are not known to most people because they're just forgotten. And frankly, because there's so many. It's hard to believe how many there are because most people think there's only the big three - GM, Ford and Chrysler - which isn't Chrysler anymore. But there was a time when there were thousands of car companies and in the early 1900s, most of them were electric. In fact, some were steam. So I think that some of my favorites are the ones that go back a long time. 

I just like the historical aspect of some of these brands, particularly European brands, because a lot of people think that the car was invented in America and it just wasn't. So I find the history side of the whole thing very interesting.  

What inspired you to create the Cooltype poster using car logos? And how long did that take for you to create?  

I mean, have you seen it? Isn't it amazing? If I should say so myself. I've been working on that for a good seven, eight years, and I think what started it was, I feel like every decade has its own body language of typography. And I was working on a book called 1900 that only featured ads, cars, logos, and typography from the early 1900s. Which was extremely difficult to find because back then cars didn't even have emblems. They weren't even named. They were just a car because each company mostly had one car.

But I started to see the delicacies of each decade and I thought it would be kind of cool to try and find all of them. Although I obviously don't have all of them because it's in some cases impossible to find. But I've found as many as I could, and I put it all together into this collage of logos for the automotive industry, and I just think it looks fabulous. 

In terms of your designs, how would you describe your style?

I think my style would probably fall under the modern category, if someone from the outside was describing me. I don't even think I have a style. I know people tell me that I have a style, but I don't think I do because I'm not one of these designers that has a style and applies that style to every client, because actually, I don't even think that's responsible. I think the style that the advertisement should reflect is the client, not me. And so I really work, I think, pretty hard to stay true to the strategy, the customer’s needs, and the products efficacy. 

So, I feel like my style is responsibility. You know, there's been many times when I've done a project that I initially thought, I want to do this really cool thing, but then I studied the strategy and feel like, no. I’ve got to go traditional because that's what represents this brand.  

For example, I did a project for the Schweikher House, and it has a kind of 1920s, 30s vibe to it because that's when the house was built. I initially wanted to do something else, but after researching it, I thought, I can't do it. I have to be true to the brand. So I think my style is really more about that. Like, I really work hard to stay true to the assignment. 

How does your process differ depending on the project you are working on? 

I think my process really is all couched around curiosity, and I just get completely immersed into what I have and the problem I have to solve. I’m also a one man shop, so I kind of have some limitations because I'm a human being. There's a million ways to come up with an answer for a problem but obviously the answer that I come up with is my answer. And so sometimes, you know, it's limited because [again] I'm a human being. I do try to let it roll around my head for a long period of time before I touch a computer and I'm a very physical person.  

For example, if I'm doing a book or a catalog, I first build a dummy and I see how it's going to feel and all that kind of stuff. Then I design to that. I don't start on the computer, some projects I do, but for the most part I'm a very physical person. So I would say my process is just measuring my surroundings and finding out the facts, the details, and doing research on the project.  

What do you hope to see more of in the graphic design industry in the future?  

That's a really good question because I feel like the industry is in a delicate state right now. Not just design in advertising and communications. It's extremely cluttered. It's very difficult to break out and there's so much bandwidth out there, there's so many people creating so much stuff that I don't even know if the majority of it is even worth much, to be honest with you. It's couched in special effects, and trickery, and all that kind of stuff. I think ideas are falling through the cracks.  

And now the thing with AI, it’s just becoming a little bit more difficult. Soon we're not going to need us anymore. Eventually the planet is going to go to AI. So honestly, I don't know that I have an answer. I'm a little pessimistic about it. 

I remember when I was getting out of the ad agency business, it was already shifting to more of a corporate style mentality, about the profit, which is perfectly fine. But it does change the tonality of how you drive a creative shop, and I mean, when I was in the business, it was just let's do the best we can. The creative is just all about the creating. And I don't know that it's like that anymore. Of course, there's examples that break that rule. There's always an exception to the rule. But I think that in general, at least from the friends that I have that are still in the business, they're not particularly super happy about it.  

Are you currently working on any new projects?  

We just redesigned all the fonts for Harley Davidson and they're about to launch a new website and all that kind of stuff. And I am focusing 100% of my time right now on these books for Cartype. 


Learn more about Carlos Segura