How to Organize a Brazilian Design Festival with Felipe Rocha
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Member Felipe Rocha is a Brazilian art director and graphic designer based in New York, recently serving as a Senior Designer at Sagmeister & Walsh. Currently, Felipe is putting the finishing touches on a Brazilian design festival called Bonde, which will take place on Saturday, July 22nd in New York. We talk to Felipe below about the logistics, challenges, and breakthroughs of organizing a design festival.
Felipe and co-founder Leo Porto (another Brazilian designer based in New York) have learned a lot on the fly. But they remain driven by the ultimate vision of what they're working toward. "One of our main goals is to raise awareness to many of Brazil's contributions to design and to provide a more thorough perspective on what Brazilian design is to an international audience. And New York, being a multicultural epicenter of design and arts, seemed like the best place to discuss the role of diversity in the creative field and more specifically, the impact of Brazil in the industry. Especially now, at a time when diversity is being challenged, we find it important to celebrate it on stage."
Felipe also offers advice on relocating to a new city and considers some of the similarities and differences in the creative scenes of São Paulo and New York.
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. Who is Felipe and how did he get here?
I'm a Brazilian graphic designer and art director based in New York. I worked as a senior designer at Sagmeister & Walsh between 2016 and 2017 and I recently decided to go freelance. Prior to S&W, I co–founded Arnold, a graphic design studio in São Paulo, and worked as design director at Flagcx. In 2012 I was asked to join Fabrica, Benetton’s creative laboratory in Treviso, Italy, where I worked at Colors Magazine.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
I don't have a signature style. I approach each project according to its needs, but I can see some common threads in my work. If I had to describe it in a few words, I would say my work is bold, vibrant and approachable.
When you think of Brazilian design, what first comes to mind?
This is such a hard question to answer! Especially considering this is a topic I've been thinking about a lot since I started Bonde, which is a platform dedicated to Brazilian design. Brazil is so big and so diverse that it is impossible to explain its aesthetic like one would with Swiss, German or Japanese design. When you search "Brazilian design" on Google, you will probably see a lot of colors, organic shapes, ornaments and tropical-themed illustrations, which I don't think are misinterpretations of Brazilian design necessarily, but there is so much more to it.
You’re co-organizing a Brazilian design festival in New York called Bonde. What was the impetus behind this endeavor?
In 2015 Leo Porto (another Brazilian designer based in NY) told me he was thinking about organizing an event to bring together the Brazilian creative community in NY, so we started making a list of all Brazilian designers we knew. At first, it was supposed to be a small event but it grew organically as more people and partners found interest in the initiative. One of our main goals is to raise awareness to many of Brazil's contributions to design and to provide a more thorough perspective on what Brazilian design is to an international audience. And New York, being a multicultural epicenter of design and arts, seemed like the best place to discuss the role of diversity in the creative field and more specifically, the impact of Brazil in the industry. Especially now, at a time when diversity is being challenged, we find it important to celebrate it on stage.
What have been some of the challenges and breakthroughs that come with organizing your own festival?
Neither Leo or I have a vast experience organizing events like this so everything (not related to Graphic Design) has been new to us. I don't think I ever wrote so many emails in my life, which has been a great learning experience.
The biggest challenge we have faced with Bonde is that it is "in-between." It's a Brazilian design conference outside Brazil, which makes it hard for Brazilian partners to justify any sort of investment overseas. And on the other hand, it is a pretty niche design event in NY, which makes it hard for partners in the US to justify investing in an event that is "too specific." But fortunately, we found the great support of partners such as Flagcx, Collins and Commercial Type, which are companies that live in these in-between places and that believe in supporting initiatives such as Bonde.
What advice can you offer to creatives interested in organizing their own festival?
You need to be passionate about your idea and you need to find people who want to make things as much as you do. I would never be able to make Bonde happen without Leo and vice-versa. It's also important to build a strong team and recognize you can't do it all. I'm terrible with Google Sheets, for example, but I'm lucky to work with an awesome production team that is killing it.
Was it a complicated process relocating to New York? Any surprises or unexpected challenges?
I'm from São Paulo, which is also a huge, urban city, so to be honest, I didn't have a culture shock when I first moved to New York. Besides that, during my time at S&W I was lucky enough to meet lots of foreign people that I could relate to so I never felt like an outsider in NY. This helped me a lot in my reallocation process. But obviously, I had (and still have) many challenges in NY. It's a city where you need to be awesome every day and talk about it. I had to become more confident about my work and start sharing my accomplishments, which I wasn't used to. The O1 Visa process is a good example of how important it is to show off and make sure you document all your achievements as an immigrant living in this country.
What does the idea of relocation mean to you? Were you conscious to pack a particular mindset and creative style with you, or are you more just looking to absorb everything you can from a new city?
Relocating to a multicultural city is very different than to a small town. I had both experiences: when I lived in Treviso (Italy), I could feel the impact of the local culture much more than NY. Here is the opposite, the culture is so diverse, I absorb so many different things and the local culture is one of them. I don't think I was ever conscious about my mindset or creative style, I didn't plan it. I did my astrology map a few months ago and my astrologer told me I tend to not plan things but go with the flow. I guess she's right.
What are some of the differences and similarities you’ve noticed between the design scenes in Sao Paulo & New York so far?
Designing in New York is designing at a global scale. That is probably the biggest difference between working here and working in most cities. Many of the design decisions and changes in brand positioning of companies that operate globally take place in New York. So even if you are an awesome designer, working for an awesome brand, it's harder to make impactful work if you are not in the place where decisions are made. On the other hand, São Paulo is known for its creativity in Advertising, and I would say the design scene there is very much driven by that context. But there are also many amazing new design studios popping up in São Paulo and I think the scene is super promising. One of our hopes with Bonde is to open a conversation between these new studios and designers from different areas and backgrounds.
Do you have any advice for fellow jet-setters on how to relocate to a new city?
Send emails, as much as you can. Work hard and be nice with people, as Anthony Burrill would say. Consider sharing your place with other people, it helps a lot.
What are some steps that creatives can do to find their niche?
Not sure if I can answer this question properly cause I don't know if I found my niche. But I feel much more inspired and excited when I'm working on projects that relate to topics I care about, such as diversity, immigration, gender and LGBT rights. I think it's amazing that, as designers, we can use our work as a tool for sharing ideas we believe in and ultimately make changes, even if it's a micro-change. So the only step I suggest you take is to figure out things you care about and try to find a way to connect your skills to them.
Who are your biggest creative influences and inspirations?
The people who have affected my work the most are the ones I have worked with. So I end up being influenced not only by their finished work but also by their process and their approach to design. I also got closer to the work of many inspiring Brazilian designers and artists since Leo and I started our research for the conference. Jonathas de Andrade (one of the speakers) is a good example. It's impressive how his work talks to a global audience but at the same time is truly Brazilian.
Who are some Brazilian creatives on WNW whose work you admire, and why?
Hick Duarte is one of the most promising photographers of his generation and is documenting the youth in Brazil. Luiza Dale does design that is both beautiful and smart. When I think about a multidisciplinary designer, Rafael Kfouri is the first name that comes to my mind. Paola Saliby has such a unique illustration style. Pedro Veneziano is a good example of great taste and flawless execution.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Bonde, July 22. We will serve caipirinhas. Buy your tickets here.