Brazil's design scene reveals more than just soccer and samba

If you're looking for a creative scene bursting with colour, attitude and multicultural influences, you need look no further than Brazil - home of FIFA World Cup 2014. "You can find people from all over the world here," begins Guilherme Marconi a prolific self-taught illustrator from Nova Friburgo, north of Rio. "Some [designs] have a big Oriental flavour; others are inspired by Cordel literature, a typically Brazilian visual language. There's even German-influenced design in there.

Coca-Cola asked Guilherme Marconi to reflect Brazil's victory at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. "I've mixed icons from Brazilian and Oriental culture," he explains

Drawing on a tropical colour palette to create rich, mosaic-style patterns for a healthy global client list including Nike, Coca-Cola and Absolut Vodka, Marconi believes that his style echoes the character of his native country: "Like my work, Brazil is a great mixture of colours and races; a salad of cultures and people from the four corners of the world."

"Sometimes I think we can be too bright and colourful," muses self-taught illustrator Kako from his base in São Paulo. "I wonder if this is really who we are, or just what someone wants us to be. Brazil has so much to show - it's not always as bright as it seems."

In 2010, Kako worked with 55DSL on this T-shirt to represent Brazil's football team, shaped like its coastline: "Our culture and myths are beautiful and rich. Why not spread the word?" he smiles

It may be tempting to pigeonhole a cultural patchwork of almost 200 million individuals with a certain brand of vibrant creative work raised on tropical rays and Samba beats, but Kako is keen to set that record straight. "We're deeper than that," he insists. "This is a huge country, and very hard to define. Unfortunately, we're stereotyped because it's easier for others to understand the whole. When we can show all of our faces at once, then you'll know how difficult it is to describe Brazil."

Drawing inspiration from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and graphic novelist Dave McKean, as well as traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e painting - fitting, given that his sprawling native city has the largest Japanese population outside Japan - Kako's own work has plenty of depth to it. "I like my illustrations dark and dirty," he admits. Advertising commissions for the likes of Ford, Microsoft and South American drinks giant AmBev help pay the bills, but he's more proud of his edgier editorial work for Playboy.

One of a series of intricate graffiti-style black-and-white character montages by São Paulo-based illustration partnership Mulheres Barbadas

Kako isn't the only one making the most of more muted shades. "A lot of us are working with lines, limited colour palettes and an overall feel that's a bit more organic," reveals Henrique Lima of illustration duo Mulheres Barbadas ('bearded ladies', in translation). "In the early 2000s things got really 'vectory' and mechanical, but I believe we're past that now. I hate it when people just draw a woman's face with birds and flowers and shit - but that's mostly because we can't draw girls."

A recent Mulheres Barbadas project for Havaianas involved not only illustrating a huge gallery space, but also a range of flip-flops and trainers - all in the duo's unique style. "We live in a city that's fun and diverse, but also ugly and chaotic," Mulheres Barbadas co-director Julio Zukerman shrugs, "and that's what we draw."

Mulheres Barbadas illustrated these flip-flops for leading brand Havaianas in its own unique style

And throw any notions of lazing on tropical beaches out of your mind - passion, dedication and long hours form the cornerstones of the Brazilian creative scene, according to Marconi. "From talking to other designers and artists, I think we have one thing in common: sleeping the minimum possible amount per day to meet our deadlines," he grins. "We're all keen to be recognised for what we produce, and for the effort we put in."

A page from a cookbook for Adidas Originals, designed by renowned Brazilian creative agency Colletivo

It's a mutually supportive environment too, with many keen to name-check their peers wherever possible to acknowledge their talent and influence. "Colletivo is a design studio that holds a special place in our hearts, mainly because they were so inspirational about six years ago when they were getting started and we were still little babies," is Henrique Lima's example. "There are a bunch of small studios now, but these guys are the ones who started it all, at least for this generation."

'Enox', a poster by Danilo Rodrigues for online mag IdeaFixa to display in local venues. "The concept is the creation of the universe," Rodrigues explains

"I think we're finally getting there," is Kako's assessment of the Brazilian design community. "I wouldn't say we already have a scene like Europe, Japan or the US always had, but we have brilliant minds that inspire us all to reach another level.

"Talented people are remaining here now, instead of going to work outside Brazil - and that's the best way to create a powerful Brazilian creative scene," Kako concludes. "It's a great environment to work in, and increased demand for new ideas only helps us to be more and more creative."

Brazil's design scene at a glance

Creative hubs

With over 17 million people between them, cultural and business centre São Paulo and stunning former capital Rio de Janeiro are magnets for Brazil's established creative talent, with most ad agencies and design studios clustering in the former, dubbed 'Sampa' by its residents. But there are pockets across the country too, such as Goiânia in the centre, Salvador in the north and Curitiba in the south.

Design schools

There are a number of prominent design schools in Brazil, including Senac, FAAP, FAU-USP, the Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial (ESDI) and the Brazilian branch of the European Institute of Design (IED). But many successful local creatives admit to being self-taught, and share the belief that formal education is not the main catalyst for the creative scene.

A cover for issue 20 of Computer Arts Brazil, by Estúdio Alice: "It was based around the dream of working freelance," explains Roberto Panarotto. "We love doing mag covers - it uses all of our creative juices."


A strong sense of creative community has led to intimate events such as the Bistecão Ilustrado, a monthly gathering of designers and illustrators that started in São Paulo and has since spread to other cities. Online magazine and creative community IdeaFixa organises various courses and meet-ups, while annual events such as creative design festival Mercado Mundo Mix - which started last year, also in São Paulo - include workshops, screenings and exhibitions.

The country

As the world's fifth largest country by both area and population, Brazil has a burgeoning economy to match - putting it alongside China, India and Russia as one of the new global design players. Its landscape is as diverse as its population, from tropical rainforest to desert, with plenty of palm-fringed beaches too.

Words: Nick Carson and Rob 'Roberto Carnos' Carney