Print to Web: How Rafael Esquer Made the Switch

Some time in the mid-’90s, everyone suddenly wanted a website. So Rafael Esquer decided to take the plunge into web design by building a site for himself. That first project was nothing more than a series of static pages made in basic HTML, but it put Esquer on the road to leading all kinds of digital projects in his current role as principal of Alfalfa Studio in New York.

What resources were most helpful as you added interactive skills to your arsenal?

rafael esquer, interview web designer, Photo by Daniel Gebhart

I was lucky because the job that brought me to New York City was an interactive agency. Before moving to the East Coast, I was designing books for museums in California. Mostly everything I was doing was print. Once in New York, I learned tons by being surrounded by interactive designers and art directors. The web was pretty new, so all of us were pushing the boundaries of interactive design.

What kind of interactive projects do you work on now?

Almost every single project we work on has an interactive component to it. Our portfolio encompasses various categories like sports, fashion, art and culture. It is imperative to all of our clients, regardless of their category, to have a strong online presence. The web has allowed us to give them the tools to bring their message to their intended audience. For instance, we are currently working with a new lifestyle brand. Besides the traditional graphic design, we are helping them deliver seamless interactive experiences, which will include social media, e-commerce, branding and messaging.

In 2009, we launched Alfalfa New York, our own online lifestyle brand. After creating many e-commerce projects for clients, we wanted to challenge ourselves by taking charge of all aspects of a brand, including the behind-the-scenes technology. Having an online store has expanded our branding expertise into product development and, most importantly, online retail. This experience has given Alfalfa Studio the online retail expertise. We understand better what our clients need when operating an online store. We “walk the walk,” so to speak.

What do you think is the hardest thing for long-time print designers to grasp about web design?

The first thing is not to be afraid of interactive design. One must learn to welcome the possibilities and the challenges. Print designers, or designers in general, tend to be a bit of “control freaks.” Web design is liberating in that sense. What matters is the end result, not so much other facts we don’t have much control over, like the color not looking exactly the same on all monitors. The moment you understand that web design is about the overall experience and not about seeing your work looking perfect in every environment is the moment you will be ready to make web design work for you.

Any advice for print designers who want to make the switch?

Knowledge is power. Educate yourself and be curious. Question why some sites work and why others don’t. Try to see the bigger picture. Remember that design has to communicate to an audience. Often times we are quick to criticize a project without seeing beyond what meets the eye. Don’t be afraid to try and embrace the challenges. Find programmers and barter skills. If you don’t have a real client, then become your own client! Create your own projects like we did with

Alfalfa Studio created this website for George Singley, a fine artist based in New York City. It’s designed as a visual road trip for visitors.

For the theatre company Amphibian Stage Productions, Alfalfa Studio designed branding and created a website with a custom content management system and secure ticket sales.

Kate Spade New York commissioned Alfalfa Studio to create an original animation as part of the fashion brand’s Year of Color campaign.