Less than two decades separate the dreams of a graphic design student, resident of São Mateus, far east of São Paulo, from the hectic daily life of the director of one of the most prominent design and branding agencies in the New York scene today, Porto Rock. “My coming here happened in an unplanned way. I ended up staying because of the opportunities that arose, in addition to the incredible people I met”, says Felipe Rocha, one of its founding partners, alongside her husband, Leonardo Porto.
With a portfolio endorsed by brands such as Apple, Nike, Netflix, Spotify, W Hotels, Sundance Film Festival, to name just a few, and already acclaimed by D&AD – one of the most prestigious British educational organizations in the international communication industry – such as the best independent design agency in the world, in 2022, complimentary quotes are not exactly new in Porto Rocha’s curriculum. Nor are important international distinctions, such as the Type Directors Club, Latin American Awards and AIGA 50 Covers awards. Designers are responsible, for example, for the corporate image of Coinbase’s Solana cryptocurrency.
How all this happened, in such a short space of time, and in such a competitive market, is a question that the duo poses. “Deep down, we don’t believe that there is a single answer, but a set of factors that ended up differentiating us. Leo and I are designers, we don’t have any training in administration. All the decisions we make in the studio are guided by our look while designers”, says Rocha.
Added to this, according to him, is an industry that is divided between small studios, but with a more attentive look, and large consultancies, with a more strategic bias, which work with larger clients, but who neglect certain precautions. “It’s rare to find studios at the intersection of these two worlds, and that’s where we position ourselves. We do work that has great scale and impact, but we don’t neglect the details,” he says.
Finally, Leo suggests that brand building is an ever-changing discipline and that, today, the most admired are those that are able to adapt and connect with the surrounding culture. “To create a relevant brand it is important to be connected with what is happening in the world. Working with people from different backgrounds”, he says, highlighting the multicultural composition of his work team.
Leonardo Porto says that, currently, at the office in Brooklyn, the Porto Rocha team has 21 people, including designers, strategists and managers. It is an international team, with people from different cultures and countries. “From this point of view, I must admit that being in New York makes a lot of sense, as we are exposed to multi-diversity. Both in terms of different cultures and the people we interact with.”
Graduated in industrial design, Felipe Rocha worked for a few years in advertising in Brazil. Until he won a scholarship at the famous Fabrica, a communication research center maintained by Benetton, in Treviso, Italy-and lived there for a year. The move to New York only took place in 2015, with an opportunity to work at Sagmeister & Walsh studio, where he stayed for two years before transferring to Spotify and directing several projects for artists such as Cardi B, J Balvin and Dua Lipa.
In the meantime, Leo was already living in the city, where he had moved at age 18 to study advertising. Shortly afterward, dissatisfied, he moved into graphic design, working with major New York studios and agencies such as Pentagram and the cult Collins, where he was director for nearly five years. The partnership with Felipe started in 2016, in a campaign for Melissa Brasileira.
The visual identity of Yaga – a music festival that brought together avant-garde artists in São Paulo in 2018 – and, shortly after, Samba, a photographic publication focused on the Brazilian queer scene, were successful works. Other opportunities arose, forcing the duo to choose to continue their solo careers or open their own business. Thus, in August 2019, Porto Rocha was born, focusing on the creation (and evolution) of brands.
“What makes us more fulfilled is working for completely different industries. From small institutions to technology giants. I think we are also very attractive to Brazilian clients who want to communicate locally, but with a global perspective”, explains Leo, citing recent brand repositioning projects for Brazilian companies QuintoAndar and Olympikus. As well as the identities created for Vevo, the global leader in music video distribution, and for Be True, Nike’s LGBT platform.
Despite being physically far away, Felipe and Leo still feel connected to the national culture. And they point to the identity created by the agency for the National Museum of Brasília as an example. “In addition to being inspired by Brazilian creativity, we are also inspired by resilience, by the power of Brazilian innovation”, says Felipe.
Informal promoters of the country’s culture in American lands, the idea of holding a meeting of Brazilian designers in New York came from the two. “We suspected that there were many, but that something was missing to connect them”, recalls Felipe. Thus, Bonde emerged, initially thought of as a happy hour, but which ended up becoming a series of lectures with prominent names on the national scene.
Last month, the first edition of the event brought together names such as Marina Willer, Jonathas de Andrade, Marcelo Rosenbaum and Pedro Sanches. “We were happy with the quality of professionals we were able to attract”, says Leo, who is already thinking about a second edition. “It will still happen, it’s just a matter of time. Who knows in Brazil?”, he adds.
Climate threat and diversity
Faced with the global climate threat, sustainability, according to Felipe, has come to occupy a central position in the studio’s projects. “In the field of graphic design, we must go far beyond printing on recycled paper. We must think about each day-to-day action”, he says, noting that Porto Rocha does not expect to work only with 100% sustainable companies. “On the contrary. The greatest potential is in customers who need to reinvent themselves. Be better versions of themselves,” he says.
Diversity is another issue that demands urgent answers, even more so with the emergence of movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too. “I believe that, as communicators, we have an important role in promoting diversity in our choices, from setting up the casting of a campaign to hiring people”, says Felipe.
For all these reasons, the duo sees Porto Rocha as an opportunity to do things in a different way. “It is indeed possible for a studio in New York with a global reputation and impact, whose founders were two gay men and Brazilian immigrants, to influence generations of designers yet to come”, concludes Leo.
The information is from the newspaper. The State of São Paulo.