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Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot… And Like Designing

Guest Editorial by Dado Queiroz

Forget what you know about Brazil. Unfortunately, for decades the official image the country shows the world is one of samba all the time and barely naked women on every corner. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the secular belief – that luckily seems to be fading away – shared by some first world (1) inhabitants, that completes the myth with monkeys walking around old dusty buses full of chickens. With such a mental image, how could one expect a foreigner to believe that we not only have Macintosh computers but also — get this — graphic designers?

For some decades, we even had some design exponents, such as Ulm’s former student Alexandre Wollner, whose work represents a time when design alone was regarded as the ultimate corporate weapon, when highly educated designers were given very important jobs and were actually respected; and the editor of award-winning design/art magazine Gráfica, Oswaldo Miranda, member of the Type Directors Club, the Art Directors Club of New York and the Alliance Graphique Internationale (sponsored by Saul Bass), and whose career is highlighted by some 450 design prizes, most of them international.

Then, the computer age came in and, as it did in most places, changed the scenario in a way we’re all familiar with. Now, we don’t see such exponents anymore. The design scene is generally sad, and the “high sphere” of the practice is pretty much restricted to ad agencies and a few design offices, that really have nothing extraordinary to offer in visual terms. Brazilian advertising is actually highly respected abroad, and its design is, as expected from the wages the art directors are paid, very well done, efficient, financially successful and, well, mostly boring. The big design firms, by their turn, have to bow to the corporate speech of design as a near scientific practice to survive the multi-million-dollar games. Still, the work is good, sometimes even fresh. However, when a Brazilian company decides to invest heavily on identity, they usually turn to American or European design offices. Not so recent examples are the bank Bradesco and Varig airlines.

The structure of design practice in the country is not bad actually, with plenty of graduate programs and some post-graduate ones popping here and there, two of the biggest printers in Latin America, and the most important weekly magazine — Revista Veja — reaching 1.3 million copies print each issue call Brazil home. Graphic design publications exist both on and offline, and some are very good.

But what about the design exponents we were talking about? What about exciting, interesting, alternative design? On the one hand, you have a dozen ad agencies and a handful of design firms handling the huge, the big and the medium jobs. On the other, you have hundreds of small offices struggling to convince potential clients to invest in design — only after, and if, they succeed to explain what it is first, of course. How could exponents arise out of a market that knows no mid term, no relevant cultural or “alternative” production, and that ultimately sees not much value in design?

The answer seems to be somewhere else. The search for Brazilian designers acting outside Brazil can lead to some surprising results: There are many not-well-known-back-home-yet-very-good designers out there. It gets clear that, in most cases, Brazilian designers aiming at developing something like a “personal” style, or at least something minimally independent from the winds of market trendy dogmas, have to either make it in their vacant hours or try to make their way overseas.

Now, that’s interesting — to me, “Brazilian designers trying to make their way through European and/or North American environments” sounds similar to a high school soccer team from Kentucky, that had enough of their society’s misjudgment of the sport, come down to face Brazilian national soccer team in Maracanã stadium. The odds are obviously very remote. For those not familiar with soccer, Brazil is sort of universally considered the best soccer team in the world, today and for some five decades now. Anyway, it’s not that difficult if you stick to the fantasy-fed Brazilian “idiosyncrasies”, to quote Mr. VanderLans — who I respect enormously, by the way. You know, the usual formula: nudity, smiles, natural creativity, beaches, laziness, saturated happy colors, no regard for serious methodologies and pride of nonstop laughing, even if it’s in the shadow of a government that spends more than the yearly budget intended for Culture in illegal ways of electing a protégé to a position in the congress that is able to decide, for instance, if a presidential impeachment can or can’t be taken forward. And here I was, thinking that Fidel and Chavez were big problems, when at least they do their crap in daylight…

But the thing is, I’m not an indian, I don’t dance samba, and Curitiba (where I live) has nothing to do with Carnival or the Amazon forest. It’s not unusual at all to meet people whose last name is Schroden, Maschio, Nakamura, Raad, Gertzenstein or Socachevski. I mean, I’m writing this listening to BeastieBoys, not “Garota de Ipanema”. Not that I’m proud of a culture like this, with an apparent lack of identity, but if that’s a reason for shame (although I’m not sure it is), pretending that we walk around naked, carrying bow-and-arches, and that we were born with the swing in our bloods is just stupid, although highly profitable in the first world — as the sales of Brazilian handmade seeds-and-stones jewelry in Europe shows.

It seems an appropriate moment to state that I do feel, recognize and love true Brazilian idiosyncrasies in my environment, my work and the work of many others. Even some of the listed in the previous paragraphs, to be honest. All I’m saying is that they’re not necessarily the ones most people would “expect” — as if it’s something that must meet certain prior criteria, other than just be real, to be considered valid. Nor are they immaculate, invulnerable to exterior influences, such as design trends and consumption desires. What’s wrong with the picture of someone sitting in a Swedish bus, listening to an American band through &ldquot;assembled in China” head-phones, heading towards a French store to buy a Dutch LCD monitor, after having Argentine meat and Brazilian juice for lunch (2)? Then what’s wrong with a design that reflects those influences? That is not to say that local production shall or can be taken for granted. On the contrary, it must be much more fomented. But it must be real, natural. And natural, today, is to mix and celebrate and understand and show and respect positive influences present in one’s culture. That doesn’t mean the “original” culture will be extinguished. It’s really the opposite — it means that the given culture is evolving, surviving, perhaps even gaining momentum to influence others.

I think you can only do well what makes sense to you somehow, what comes naturally. The harder you work, more natural and developed the work becomes. I guess that’s why even though we may feel certain affinity to a designer’s work, it doesn’t necessarily mean that to do similar work would be natural and/or easy. I like Caravaggio’s paintings very much, but even if I could paint like him, I probably wouldn’t, because it would make no sense to me really, just like it would to pretend I’m some stupid prototype of a third world tropical citizen.

So, to finally get to the point — if you’re a Brazilian designer that stays true to yourself, how can you make it? Because that probably means you won’t be neither a slave of the market trends, nor a mere technician making your clients’ brilliant idea and design conception look professional, nor an artist doing jungle-like stuff to sell in England’s stores; all of which meaning you have chances close to zero of making a living.

It’s not a happy picture, and I can say that from personal experience, as I’m part of a small start-up studio myself. We are currently redirecting our efforts to (not at all original) initiatives of design products, such as Veer, Emigre, House and so on, and so on, and… well, so on. We came to realize that a chance might come out of doing limited edition posters, fonts, t-shirts and all that. But, again, we turn to the quest of making way through very stormy waters, such as Europe and US, since Brazil is not at all a market to consider, unfortunately.

Anyhow, we might get successful. Who knows? As I pointed before, there are good examples of sustainable-yet-somehow-independent-and-not-much-soul-for-sale design down (or from down) here. However, it’s intriguing how we don’t hear about them, although some have been showcased in many countries’ different media. I mean, I came to know of this people by accident. The list ranges from design studios (like ours), to designers’ art, to video-makers; with work ranging from common place to innovative, from traditional to edgy… well, like any other list, I guess. So, here it goes:

Estudio Crop (our studio, Curitiba, PR);
Misprinted Type (Belo Horizonte, MG);
Grafikonstruct (São Paulo, SP);
Nando Costa (NYC);
Colletivo (São Paulo, SP);
Dimaquina (Rio, I guess);
Nakd (NYC);
Lobo (São Paulo, SP);
Nitrocorpz (Goiânia, GO);

A finer, broader and much larger list can be found here.

Thanks to Armin, who was kind enough to pretend he had any interest in the subject; to my wife Fernanda, for her infinite patience and support; and my EstudioCrop partners Beto Janz, for pointing out potentially dangerous parts of the text and Anderson Maschio, for his unbelievable searching skills – the list just wouldn’t exist without him.

(1) The terms "first world" and "third world" are really old and inadequate. I’m not sure why I preferred them instead of "developed" and "on-development countries". This note is just to clarify I’m aware of the anachronism.
(2) Of course there’s the problem that the goods coming from first world companies have much, much more value added to them, due to their natures, but that’s another story.

Dado Queiroz was born in 1980, in Curitiba, Brazil. His dream, as a teenager, was to become a comic book penciler, but that didn’t work. After one and a half year studying Architecture, he entered Unicenp’s Graphic Design graduation program in 2000. In 2002 he interviewed David Carson in São Paulo, for the 16th issue of the boardsports magazine where he then worked. At that same year, he won the first prize on both Brazilian and Latin American stages of Philips Art Expression for Young Talents. Finnaly, in 2004 he started his own studio, called EstudioCrop and, in 2005, joined forces with fellow designers Anderson Maschio and Beto Janz.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2482 FILED UNDER International
PUBLISHED ON Nov.28.2005 BY Speak Up
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Penelope Frankfurter’s comment is:

I think most designers struggle between creating work they love and having to serve a client's purpose, but it is interesting to hear it related to a country's identity (or lack thereof as you note). I browsed through some of those websites you listed and it seemed so beautiful and art-based, flowing and layered, with a lot of life. It's a fresh break from my everyday world of Helvetica. Thanks for your view!

On Nov.29.2005 at 09:17 AM
christina’s comment is:

Great post! As a designer in a developed but often overlooked country, I can relate to your exasperation with stereotypes and the search for your countries voice in our field.(That being said, see Mark Busse's article about the Canadianesse in design.) It also doesn't simply apply to design alone, we base our concepts of a nation on what little gets filtered down through the media, and also what seems differant or unique about that country. Thus, I seemed doomed to live with mounties and frozen wasteland, while you fight the carnival and rainforest. We would all do better to remember that every society is infinatly more complex than the one dimentional view we often end up with.

On Nov.29.2005 at 09:28 AM
Rodrigo De Toledo’s comment is:

Great article Dado. Your panorama of the "designer's market" in Brazil is very informative. I am a Brazilian Designer, teaching Design at an american university. So I apppreciate your view on the brazilian stereoptypes, as I deal with them in a daily basis. But stereoptypes tend to become less important as you interact further with your students and clients. Thank you, Rodrigo // neurondiva.com

On Nov.29.2005 at 11:13 AM
Spencer Cross [5000!]’s comment is:

I'm a huge fan of Eduardo Recife and Misprinted Type. You might be interested to know that, according to his last email newsletter, he's actually trying to move to the US.

On Nov.29.2005 at 01:01 PM
Dado Queiroz’s comment is:

Yes, I heard about it. I guess it's bad for Brazil, but it's surely good for him, as it seems more likely he will be able to make a living out of his work in the States. But I can't resist to point out the oxymoron it is an anti-consumerism and critic of the illusion of the masses, as he is, to pack up and move to the US... Not that it bothers me, it doesn't — at all! I love his work... but still... it's a bit odd.

On Nov.29.2005 at 02:07 PM
Tyson Tate’s comment is:

Eduardo is one of the reasons I changed my major from Computer Science to Graphic Design (well, "Art with a concentration in Graphic Design", as they call it at my university). I've been involved in design since 1999 or so, when I started up a small literary journal (now web-only). But, it wasn't until I started looking at some of the portfolios online (specifically Eduardo's) that I became seriously interested in Graphic Design. His work is so intricately crafted that I can't help but stare at his work and try to pick out all the little elements and where he might have found them. His fonts are amazing, too.

But now I feel dirty because I just designed a brochure using Rosewood Fill and Gill Sans and stole the (beautiful) spot colors from "Stop Being Sheep". I'm a cheap hack!

On Nov.29.2005 at 04:19 PM
Dado Queiroz’s comment is:

I just reminded I should have written about this great portal on Brazilian design, run by Nando Costa:

Link

Most of the names on the list were taken from there.

Sorry, Nando, my bad...!

On Nov.29.2005 at 08:08 PM
Paulo de Almeida’s comment is:

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On Nov.30.2005 at 10:19 AM
Valon’s comment is:

What a great post! I haven't ran accross a post so insightful that deals (in many levels) with the current state of graphic design not just in brazil, but throughout the world.

Dado, I would like to say that actually my view of Brazil is almost 90% of how you would like me to view Brazil as. I am not so sure why that is - but I think it's mostly because of many great designers and design work that comes out of Brazil.

What's happening in Brazil with design is really what's actually going on with design in varios areas of the world that are looking to follow an ideal greater than their own - wrong or a right thing to do - I don't know (?!). But, one thing is that losing Brazilian designers to US (by them moving here) - it's not really a los after all. What they're doing is that they're showing someone like me who lives in the States that there are great Brazilian designers out there, which in turn makes me believe that Brazil has more to offer than cliches you mention. Well, I don't really want to say much...I tend to go on and on and on...

Just to compare Brazil with another country - Kosova (located in Southeast Europe - originally where I am from)...design firms and studios that are run by few people have no absolute chance in the market, because few of the 'successful' ones that have managed to sell their souls to Ogilvy and such get all major projects going their way. Is it right? I don't know - All I know is that money sometimes tends to make a bigger difference than ideals. Why? Again, I don't know...

However, your article has oppened up the door to so many questions and issues. But, overall I think the bottom line is this - what you want do in life has to do with what you want to do with yourself, once you achieve that - then you can influence the rest... I have to work a bit on this thought, but it goes something like that.

Great Aritcle!!

On Dec.06.2005 at 04:54 PM
Dado Queiroz’s comment is:

Thank you, Valon.

Kosova... really?? When did you manage to move to the States? Was it because of the war?

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. I could see, from your website, that your work somehow fits the "alternative" description. It's the kind of work we would like to do. I guess one of the great things of practicing design in the US or other developed countries is that, with such a strong economy (for the most part), small/alternative business don't have much trouble finding an audience that can not only apreciate but also afford their goods. From skatewear brands to indie record labels, it seems that nearly anywhere you dig up there, a bunch of "alternative" companies pop up.

We see this happen in Brazil, too. But in a much smaller scale — wich, added with few or no money at all and no esteem really for design, makes the scene sound a bit discouraging.

But, no problem! Really! Unfortunately, it seems that the way that I, particularly, will have to follow, is that described by Peter Bilak on Emigre. He said that most people have day jobs that pay their bills and do after hour works that feeds the spirit. He was lucky enough to "do the work I (he) like during the day".

I wonder if the fact that he lives in Holland, although he is Slovak, has anything to do with this.

On Dec.07.2005 at 06:58 AM
Dado Queiroz’s comment is:

What I meant is that I'm not sure if I'll be as lucky...

Note : "luck" is not a good word here, since it obviously takes an enormous amount of dedication and talent to get successfully estabilished in any area. I realize and admire that, and don't think it's a matter of "luck". It's just a saying, really.

On Dec.07.2005 at 07:05 AM
Valon’s comment is:

Dado:

American market is a huge one in terms of opportunities. There's many industries you can tap into and try your 'luck'. I'm not sure who said this one, but I've seen it being credited to Denzel Washington (Google), anyways it goes like this: Luck is Where Opportunity Meets Preparation.

...Overall, I think you have to be picky with every project. Sure, sometimes money is not all that great, but at least you know that you did something that you wanted for a company/cause whatever that you really liked and believed in. As far as keeping the lights on...what we do here is that we get ourselves into doing tons of programing and backend stuff. This stuff keeps us going from one great project to the next. Really, that's it. Hopefully, I can get to a point where every project is a crazy-cool one, but till then I'll work my ass off to grab and be picky about each one.

Sorry, I'm going off on tangent here...

Kosova... really?? When did you manage to move to the States? Was it because of the war?

Actually, I landed here a year or so before the war and my comming wasn't related to it at all, however it had a lot to do with my stay.

On Dec.07.2005 at 11:10 AM