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Is Brazil Design's Next Superpower?

I recently returned from a trip to São Paulo where I was a member of the IDEA/Brazil Award jury. Arriving I expected to find a chaotic, dangerous and gray metropolis. Instead, I was more than surprised to find a colorful, dynamic and vibrant city. These same qualities are uniquely evident in Brazilian design.

For those of you who may not know, IDEA/Brazil is the Brazilian version of the IDEA Awards. Now in its third year, IDEA/Brazil is promoted by the design organization Objeto Brasil and led by Joice Joppert Leal, who according to my friend, Helen Walters of BusinessWeek, is "a force of nature." After a week with Joice, I couldn't agree more! In a partnership between Objeto Brasil and IDSA, the winners of the IDEA/Brazil are entered automatically into the IDEA awards judged here in the United States.

In 2008, Brazil made history with 12 award wins in the U.S., a feat never achieved by any South American country. This secured the third position among participants, trailing only the U.S. with 114 podiums, and South Korea with 19. Last year, two Brazilian projects, including the Havaianas store in São Paulo (above), won IDEA gold. Design work competed in 18 categories, including one exclusive to Brazil:  jewelry. Industrial products, personal accessories, home living, environments, eco-design, packaging, transportation and student projects, among others, were awarded.

I learned a great deal on this trip, though a few things naturally stood out:

1) Billboards suck. In 2007 São Paulo instituted a billboard ban because the city was overwhelmed by what the authorities call "visual pollution." The result lets you see the true fabric of the city. Seems the U.S. could benefit from this type of bold civic thinking.

2) The IDEA Awards can be a powerful marketing tool. Imagine that! It was clear from my experience that companies in Brazil take these awards quite seriously, leveraging placement in communications and marketing activities, essentially wearing each win as a badge of honor. While the design industry in the U.S. embraces award wins as a sign of excellence, for whatever reason, the business community’s acknowledgement seems rather slow to catch on.

3) Brazilian design is not only world-class, but has a unique identity forged by its context. The country's relative isolation, fabulous weather and craft-based heritage has given rise to a vibrant, expressive design identity. Add to that the sheer size of the market—200 million people—and I'm confident we'll have a new design superpower in our midst very soon.

I should also mention my host's tremendous hospitality:  Many thanks to Objeto Brasil for their kindness and generosity.

After all the hard work we enjoyed a wonderful night in a corner café-bar that was serving local drinks and local food to a local crowd; it was a super atmosphere, with incredible food. At the bottom of my beer glass I noticed an emblem that read, "As Coisas Boas Nia Mudam." My host translated it for me, "Good things don't change." I hope as Brazil emerges into the global economy, it can retain its distinct and refreshing design identity.

Read more of John Barratt's Design This Day blog
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As the President and CEO of Teague, John Barratt is responsible for positioning the company for future success and building upon Teague's rich heritage. During his three years in this position, Barratt has guided Teague in building and strengthening partnerships with some of the world's leading brands. The result of these collaborative partnerships is design work that has been recognized with a growing roster of international design awards.

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  • Robert Blaich

    Just caught this via Fast Company. I totally agree with your statements and am very pleased to see the progress in Brazil. I was in Brazil many,many times during the 1980-1992 period as head of Philipd Design, directing 2 teams of Philips designers and participating in conferences, exhibitions and workshops in Sao Paulo, Brazilia, Florinopolis and Rio. My key contact was Joice Joppert Leal who has been a design leader in Brazil for many years. It is heartwarming to see that her committment and hard work is finally paying dividends.
    You have only touched the surface in your IDEA/Brazil Awards program and I hope that other U.S designers will have the opportunity to participate and help in the future....sign me up!
    Bob Blaich

  • Michelle

    Hi Bob,
    I am Brazilian and am currently living in the US. I am pursuing my major in Product Design at Drexel University in Philly and was wondering if you know anyone from this area that I can connect with exchange design ideas and make connections.

    Thank you so much,
    Michelle Moskalenko

  • Tucker Viemeister

    The IDEA program's formula of including US designers on the Brazilian juries is pollinating both cultures (as i see in your blog: you've fallen for their cool culture!)

  • Fernando Pedron

    Hi John. It is "As coisas boas não mudam" from a traditional beer brand Original.
    I think it's harder to be a designer in Brazil than in US, or maybe WAS, with the crisis I think the Brazilian market will explode in creativity, an obiviously, ca$h.

  • Daniel Moskal

    I think the answer to the article question is obvious. Just browse 'art' via StumbleUpon and you come across many Brazilian artists! I should consider moving to Brazil just for inspiration.

    Daniel | Let's Draw Attention!