ILVZ Estudio

A small but mighty designer-led
studio bringing beauty to fruition
from Puebla, Mexico

Íñigo López Vázquez wasn’t sure what to expect when he graduated from college and began taking on projects as a freelance designer—and it wasn’t long before the work started piling on past the point of manageability. It was then that he teamed up with fellow designer Mariana Luna de la Cruz to form ILVZ, a passionate group of creative professionals based in Puebla, Mexico.

Today, ILVZ is an elegant and process-perfect graphic design studio that brings beautiful websites, typefaces, brands, and prints to life for clients across the globe from Hong Kong to Amsterdam to Madrid. Louder Than Ten spoke with Íñigo to learn more about ILVZ’s trajectory and approach, as well as how the Louder Than Ten Apprenticeship program helped him evolve from a freelance side hustle to a deeply intuitive design studio creating highly complex, breathtaking projects.

Organization
ILVZ Estudio

Based in
Puebla, Mexico

Website
ilvz.net

Program
Digital PM Operations Apprenticeship
(cohort LTT-017)

What convinced you to try an apprenticeship?

I was a graphic designer first. The way I started the studio was really accidental. After graduating, I had a nice job lined up in the US. However, my visa never arrived.

I began working as a freelance designer in the fall of 2015 and by the beginning of 2016, I had more work than I could manage. That’s when Mariana entered as an additional designer and the studio was born without us even realizing it. We’ve been bootstrapping the studio ever since.


What struggles or challenges were you having before the apprenticeship; how was it impacting you, your team, or business?

Creating high-quality work was the only important metric when I started the studio. As time passed, I realized quality is the result of structured planning, serious business relationships, and comfortable budgets. We began to sacrifice our profits in order to take projects that “could be cool.” However, we had little time to do them since we needed more projects to pay salaries.

Needless to say, these projects rarely prospered. We simply couldn’t put out the work that we knew we were capable of with the existing style of project management. It’s a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of.

At some point, you grow up and you are not as excited as when you graduated. You start appreciating a good night’s sleep and financial safety.

As time passed, I real­ized qual­i­ty is the result of struc­tured plan­ning, seri­ous busi­ness rela­tion­ships, and com­fort­able budgets.

A portrait of Íñigo López Vázquez

Íñigo
López Vázquez

Director
at ILVZ Estudio

How did you know you were ready to press the trigger?

As we started growing and getting more interest from clients, what was once a solo show became an exciting but poorly-improvised studio. We didn’t even have a chance to pick a name, so I just named the studio after the domain I bought in college to put my first portfolio on. Clients demanded more professionalism and I was really struggling to deliver. I started feeling bad for all of the missed deadlines and mismanaged projects. I knew we had to do something.


What were you most nervous or excited about when you think back to when you started?

I believe that for me Louder Than Ten was more of a consultancy than an apprenticeship. You do learn the skills, but the way you do it is by applying it to your own business.

To me the scariest part was being transparent. If you want to make anything out of this program you need to be brutally honest with your mentors, your team, and yourself. You’ll see a lot of things that you don’t like, you’ll think too many times that you are an idiot for the bad habits you are stuck with, but that’s why you are here. Louder Than Ten is a lot about seeing your practice from afar, re-learning it, and then starting again. It’s quite liberating.


What have you learned about your team over the last year?

As an owner this is a tough question to answer, because as the apprenticeship progressed I realized most of the problems I had running the studio were issues that started at the top.

The structure wasn’t working and a lot of my assumptions had to be challenged. It’s really easy to start a blame game but that won’t get you far. We didn’t have a people problem, but we did have a bunch of missing processes and workflows. I am humbled to work with Adriana, Mariana, and Diego and I hope I can always make the studio a good environment for us to collaborate and grow.

Loud­er Than Ten is a lot about see­ing your prac­tice from afar, re-learn­ing it, and then start­ing again. It’s quite liberating.

What makes your teammates special? And how are you making sure they understand sustainability on projects?

They are the most passionate people about design I know. They love the craft and that’s why I believe we all understand each other very well. We try to approach every project with a lot of curiosity and are really happy to do good design in a place that isn’t exactly a design hotspot. From the beginning, we all committed to quality and I think that’s the best objective there is: make good things for nice people.


What surprised you about your team’s reception?

I think they’ve all been incredibly supportive and have a good understanding of when things need to change and why. We’ve had countless trials at tools and workflows, and I admire their patience for the many times I’ve introduced things that simply didn’t work.


Talk about the biggest changes you’ve implemented since starting the program. How have they impacted your team? Your business? What impacts are you seeing?

This will be a really long answer because everything has changed. The good thing is we are a small studio, so big changes are easy to implement.

We switched to Notion to centralize all of the studio’s PM needs and from there we’ve established and documented all the steps for managing projects in an intuitive and simple way. Everyone knows what everyone is up to, when things are due, and how they are progressing. I’m really proud of how it’s all centralized and tailored to our needs.

Without so much order in our processes, I don’t know how we could’ve handled going remote during the pandemic. When it was time for all of us to start working from home, the changes were barely felt because we had a structure that could support us and I’m grateful for that.

With­out so much order in our process­es, I don’t know how we could’ve han­dled going remote dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. When it was time for all of us to start work­ing from home, the changes were bare­ly felt, because we had a struc­ture that could sup­port us and I’m grate­ful for that.

What were some of the trickier changes you’ve made or still want to make? What made this process harder or easier?

Definitely the trickiest one has been rethinking the sales process, creating budgets and moving towards value-based pricing. It’s daunting because it will change your relationship with a client and the workflow you are accustomed to.

Also, if you change the first step, all the other steps up to hand-off will need tweaking. Finally, it’s risky to move out of your established habits. You are afraid you’ll start getting quotes rejected and you can alienate old clients with new ways of working.


How has your approach to estimating and risk analysis changed?

I think the good thing is you go through so many examples and case studies that you end up memorizing all the scenarios where something could go good or bad. Knowing this gives you a vocabulary and a playbook that will help you stay ahead when red flags appear.


How have your client and team relationships changed?

I think we now have a very clear understanding of the responsibilities of the studio and the client. “You’ll pay your part and we’ll do this by this date” sounds like a really simple promise, but it’s hard to achieve.


How have your projects changed?

For one we charge more, which allows us to allocate more resources to the correct clients and create better products. Our clients are happy with the results and we have fun making these projects. We are still running from time to time, but things feel quiet overall and work is a lot more enjoyable.

By the numbers

20% higher rates

profit margin within the year

100% booked through pandemic

ILVZ Estudio Metrics Summary

Read ILVZ’s full met­rics sum­ma­ry (PDF)

What are you doing now that you weren’t before? What have you stopped doing? Why?

I stopped making concessions and I’m much better at positioning why things need to cost what they cost and why they should be done a certain way. I don’t want to give advice that resembles a self-help book, but really understanding your worth as a studio will make you draw certain lines. Drawing lines is good.


What do you want your legacy as an owner/employer/apprentice to be?

If we can make meaningful work that we are proud of while having a good work environment, I think we’ll be happy. We don’t have great ambitions—we like our trade but I know it’s just a job. I prefer doing it without too many ambitions and simply enjoying our projects.

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