With this latest interview in our Design Around the World series, we're excited to introduce Sweety & Co., a branding studio based in Porto Alegre.
Sweety & Co. may be located in Brazil but you'll find their work all over, from the U.S. to the Netherlands. The Sweety team lives up to its name, owning a vibrant, emotional style that just makes you happy. Grinning cashews dive into lively pools of milk in one package design, apples and blueberries dance across the next.
Isabela Rodrigues, the studio's founder and creative director, is sweet too — but she doesn't hesitate to speak her mind in this interview.
Tell us about yourself and your studio. You have a background in digital but now focus on packaging and branding. Why did you choose this path and what made you decide to open your own studio?
I worked for a long time in the digital world, but I was always highly requested as a freelancer for branding — and my dream was to work with packaging, but I had no knowledge. I began to realize that although I had a lot of experience in the digital world, what I did best and what my portfolio showed best was branding. So I dived deeply into learning and relearning print design. And I never stopped.
I opened the studio in 2011 as “Isabela Rodrigues - Sweety Branding Studio.”
In 2015, we went through our own rebranding. It was motivated by the fact that from time to time there were misunderstandings with our brand positioning; people did not understand that I did not work alone, I had a team.
So "Sweety Branding Studio" became Sweety & Co.
Packaging for Wild Leaf, a tea company in the States.
“Incredibly, we have become better known outside Brazil than inside.”
You work with companies in many different countries. How do you form these international relationships as a studio? Is it common in Brazil to work for clients overseas?
It is not that common for design studios to provide services outside Brazil. I don't know many who work this way.
The most interesting aspect is that we captivate our clients in a very organic way; we have never done any kind of prospecting. It comes naturally from our portfolio. I also believe that we are able to charm and provide a sense of security for our customers, having worked with different cultures and methods in the past.
Incredibly, we have become better known outside Brazil than inside. Now we are balancing things around here.
Sweety's work for Ofélia, a Brazilian startup.
I picture Brazilian design as being colorful, joyful, full of life — this could certainly describe Sweety & Co’s work. How would you describe Brazil’s design style, and how does your culture and history influence it?
Brazil sells itself culturally because it is multi-ethnic, very colorful and diverse. The carnival, the tropicality and the heat influence the way Brazil is represented in the eyes of those who see it.
Our design relates a lot with the happy vibe of Brazil, although we are located in the south of Brazil that is not so influenced by this tropical heat of Rio de Janeiro and Amazonas. We certainly live with this aesthetic, but try to reinvent and transcend this style.
“Crises are extremely interesting for the creative industry, because it is at this time that people reinvent themselves…”
Brazil went from a huge growth period to a sudden economic crisis within the last decade. Yet the digital market and startup scene continues to boom. How have these ups and downs impacted your work as product designers?
As nonsense as it may seem, crises are extremely interesting for the creative industry, because it is at this time that people reinvent themselves, come up with products and seek to escape the crisis.
That's where we come in. Most of our clients are new projects, new products, people who have left their daily lives, left their jobs (or lost a job) and are ready to invest and to undertake. It's really cool to see that passion.
Work for Aura, a group of art curators in Brazil.
What job opportunities are available to designers in Brazil right now? Are most local designers seeking to work with startups?
The Brazilian market is very divided at the moment. I see lots of people venturing out, setting up their office and making it happen. I also see a lot of people leaving Brazil.
It is extremely difficult to be an entrepreneur here in Brazil. Taxes are high — not only the standard monthly taxes but also the taxes we pay to have the best equipment. If you are successful in Brazil, you are at least very good.
Tell us more about the local design community. There seem to be many events and platforms for the tech community to connect in Brazil. Is there a strong design community outside of that?
There is still much to be developed in this regard. Behance and its Behance Review event have a very interesting role in terms of dissemination and deepening in design. I see that there is an enormous willingness of the designers to exchange experiences, but I do not see common sense. There are many micro-events of little relevance and others fostered by universities, but I still see them as shallow and purposeless.
A cheerful corner of the Sweety & Co. Studio.
What’s the quality of design education like in Brazil? Do most designers seek a formal education or are they self-taught?
I'm very curious about education in Brazil. I took a technical course in industrial design and I started working very early, at age 15. I went to college at age 19, a big gap compared to those graduating high school and going straight to college.
With this I developed a "self-taught" critical eye and when I went to college, nothing impressed me. Now when I talk with students, I see a lot of discontentment with college, especially with shallow and/or old-fashioned teachers. I speak of people I have access to. I don't know all the teaching methods of all Brazilian colleges, although I know that the Rio de Janeiro Design College, ESDI, has huge cultural value.
Why is good design important? What does good design mean to Sweet & Co. and how do you see it impacting Brazilian society?
Good design for Sweety & Co. is design that excites, sells and perpetuates.
We always want to be remembered for making products and projects highly recognized, and for solving problems. Each project that leaves the studio should be a reason for pride and desire.
More vibrant packaging from the Sweety studio.
Is good design valued in Brazil as a whole?
The way people see design is changing as they begin to understand its importance. The visual references of people are also changing, adapting and improving. With this, a graphic "caution" is essential in everything. Our clients always come to us with very high expectations and complete research, wanting to create and innovate.
In your opinion, what are the top 10 designers or studios from Brazil that everyone should know?
Below are some studios and designers that I believe to be located in Brazil:
How can designers and design communities from other countries do a better job of communicating with each other? How can we become more engaged with the Brazilian design community? Are there any blogs or magazines we can follow?
Design is practically a universal language. I believe there are not too many barriers between the international community other than language, since we are all connected.