Brand and creative director Rodrigo Gianello: ‘Being organised is the key’

Rodrigo Gianello is a Brazilian brand and creative director based in Los Angeles with a passion for product management, archetypes, mythology and gestalt.
Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am an Italo-Brazilian, my family is from Italy and I was raised in Brazil. I really enjoy art and love blending the classical European shapes and composition rules with the vibrancy of a Brazilian colour palette. My mum is an art visual teacher and artist, who taught me the first elements of art and how to appreciate a good composition.

You’ve previously worked in Brazil, what made you move to Los Angeles, USA?

Since I was a child, my dream was to see ‘the Hollywood Sign’. I remember watching movies with my father and seeing the intro to the films and I would say, “I want to go there”. I was fascinated by the movies and how they applied effects and design elements.

When I did my post-graduate degree in multimedia design, my passion was for design and cinema. In that time, I started searching for schools and courses that would offer a specialisation or a summer course in this field. I found a school which had a partnership with Universal Studios and in the summer of 2008, I was there studying design and post-production in movies. Also, I took some acting classes as an extra to overcome my shyness.

“I was fascinated by the movies and how they applied effects and design elements.”

Why did you decide to make branding and design a full-time career?

My first degree was in advertising and marketing, it wasn’t design. By the time I graduated and started working in the field, I could see how design had this potential to grow in the future and how its tools could change not only companies in which we work, but also the way we do business. I just followed my intuition and as we can see today, design is huge, and it is dictating new rules in business, marketing and art.

I quit my job as an art director in 2003 and I dove into this design and branding world. My first course was in strategic design which was a master’s degree that I started in Brazil and finished in Italy. The course introduced me to branding methods, product development tools, visual methods to compose graphic messages and valuable techniques that are the base of any project that I design today.

I remember getting a lot of multimedia design projects (skills that I learned in my first post-graduation, 2003), I used to merge the multimedia design techniques with the strategic design tools. The results were amazing, clients used to say that the projects were different, they were more meaningful and accurate. Actually, I can tell today that all these techniques make my projects less subjective and more rational.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?

I believe my biggest challenge has been the informality in which people treat or still see design as a career. When I had my own company, I used to teach design and I tried to educate people that everything we do in projects we do by searching, researching or making association to ideas or relevant information that we have discovered in the research process. Most people think that we design beautiful things because we have good taste, or we use our eyes or our talent to do that. They even think we understand art and we know better at what is beautiful and what is not.

This is the trick part—talent or art skills are not valuable, people think that everybody can paint or can do a colour combination. Nobody sees that to do a logo you have to study golden ratio, or you have to know about proportion or configuration rules. Most people see the design job as something artistic, superficial and in most cases something that “my niece can do”, as a client told me once. This kind of thought inspired me to open my own company back in 2006 which was a design school—I owned this for 10 years before selling it to move to Los Angeles. Through my company I developed theories about design and business, simple methods of how design could change the way people think without it being just pretty.

Today, any app can do a ‘beautiful’ photo, a graphic poster or logo. This is the proof that our challenge is not about visual or artistic techniques, but how design can change life, perception, business model or by bringing inspiration through its process.

My motto is; explain to your client all the tools you use in the project and why. This brings not just security and confidence to them but also avoids you to re-do the project. This can help your client or people to understand that you did study a lot to be a designer.

“Nobody sees that to do a logo you have to study golden ratio, or you have to know about proportion or configuration rules.”

Tell us about your design process.

I honestly don’t have a design process because each project has different challenges and problems. What I do have are methods that I usually organise onto a big canvas and apply to the project like a big puzzle. At the end of the day, some methods will be applied but others will not.

I have my base methods which are trend research, graphic visual competitor research, brand value analysis, shape and type research, problem ideation, personas map, empathy board and an idea segmentation canvas. These methods were created by studying different methods and creating bridges between them. I also use a lot of psychology and biology methods—I love them. I usually take these subjects and create my own process by making analogies between them and the design methods.

Do you ever have a creative block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Of course! In my case this happens for two reasons—the first one can be caused by the lack of research or relevant data. It’s not that common but sometimes it can happen. The second reason is about the elaboration. Jean Piaget is an academic teacher and a scholar who studied creativity and how we generate ideas. He mapped the whole process of creativity and he found that each person has a different time of elaboration. He calls ‘elaboration’ the stage that you are already familiar with the problem and start making cognitive connections for solution or ideas.

The elaboration in an average person can happen between 16 to 23 hours. That’s when you’re most likely to have an idea or solution for your project or problem. Taking a shower for instance—In this case the shower doesn’t relax you or even provide you with ideas, but it was your elaboration time that has just ended.

When I do everything in the project and I can’t come up with an idea, this is a sign that my block comes from my elaboration process. We have studies that show we can decrease the time of our elaboration. We can make it four hours instead of 16 for example. It’s very simple, we just have to use the creative board—yes, that board we collect images for inspiration is a tool to decrease the time of elaboration. The reason is simple, the more inspired you get or the more images you see, the more your cognitive synapses are accelerated and the elaboration time decreases. That’s why my projects are full of boards and visual researches.

What do you consider to be your most successful design project, and why?

My most successful project is definitely my old company. I started a design school with my family and we built it from zero. Of course we have so many challenges, but I can tell for sure that my greatest achievement was to be able to deliver a meaningful design message to our city. The city is not that big, around 830,000 people, and we saw a market opportunity and then created our design school. In 2006, people in my city didn’t have access to design methods and techniques, the internet didn’t give us this global information access as it does today. Everything that we had brought in that time, it was new to our customers and potential students.

I had this big responsibility to create good campaigns, to manage a brand and to show a good design technique through my work because it was from there that we would advertise and grow. I was able to deliver a good image and message in five years. Also, we have changed an entire culture of the city. People know better what design is and its functionality because of our work and dedication.

How do you handle both your personal projects and your client work? What is the key to keeping it all balanced?

Being organised is the key to handle personal projects and client work. Also, I always tell my friends to not take on any new projects that they know they won’t have time to deliver.

Now I am working full time in Los Angeles, I do my personal projects and my freelance work during the weekends or after my work. So far, I have a decent schedule and I try to not overload my life and my computer with projects or promises that I can’t accomplish.

“Being organised is the key to handle personal projects and client work.”

What are some of your greatest accomplishments?

We all make mistakes at the beginning of any career. Sometimes we put ourselves first and don’t think about the client. Other times our ego speaks through us, the client takes advantage of us, our project is copied, or the client ends up cancelling the project at the end of it—it’s hard to manage all of this at the beginning of a design career. I’ve realised after 15 years on the road that we need a balance, we need to understand that design is a process of understanding desires, behaviours and culture and we should apply this to our professional life.

In the beginning of my career I had a lot of projects that were cancelled or disapproved by clients. I ended up having to re-do projects, and this was a big frustration for me. By the time I started doing meetings and putting the client in the centre, the game changed completely. I started to explain my design process to all my clients and they would usually participate with me in some process of the project. Since then my projects are usually approved within the first presentation and for years now I haven’t had to re-do any of them.

Overall, I can tell that my greatest accomplishment was to overcome all these design challenges—clients ego, my own flaws, my frustration when the project is cancelled, and so on…

You’ve got 15+ years’ experience in design and creative direction. What first got you into this line of work?

When I was finishing my first degree, I got an internship in a computer company as a marketing assistant where I worked on the advertising material for the company. I had in my mind that when I was done with the internship, I would get a job in art direction. However, it turned out that my boss was launching a new gym brand in the city and he invited me to be part of the project. He asked me to draw the logo of the gym and to be a designer of his new enterprise after seeing my desire and also some projects that I had done within the company.

Wellness Sport club was my first branding, design and art direction project. It was also the first gym in my city to offer customising classes, a variety of classes, pool, restaurant and child care in one place.

What type of design work do you enjoy the most; print or digital?

Both—I don’t really have a preference. However, I usually look for projects that challenge me in some way, or a project where I will learn something new. Today my projects can be shared like this; 40% print and 60% digital which I think is pretty normal as the digital market is growing.

“I usually look for projects that challenge me in some way, or a project where I will learn something new.”

How long on average do you spend on a project?

It all depends on the projects complexity. Less complex projects usually take me two to three weeks to complete. However, highly complex projects can take me anything from three all the way to six months to complete.

What are you passionate about other than your work?

I am a very active person and when I’m not working you’ll usually find me either hiking, playing volleyball, hanging on the beach or socialising with my friends. I love reading design, fiction and fantasy books in my free time. I also try to play video games once a week and have a huge stamp collection. Stamp collecting has always been my favourite hobby—they are historical, thematic and graphic and visually inspired.

Two other important things to me are movies and photography. I love taking photographs and will take them of absolutely anything. In my down time I do some experimenting with photo compositions and using different lenses. I am in love with Affinity Photo for iPad because it allows me to mess around with my experiments. In regard to movies, I go every Saturday or Sunday to see one—not just because they hold inspiration or repertoire, but they carry dynamic through their stories and art direction.

Collage created in Affinity Photo for iPad by Rodrigo Gianello.

First, it’s important to highlight how important this day is for Brazilians. We really do celebrate it, from restaurants to government departments, we usually give flowers or a symbolic gift for women on this day.

Every year my staff and I used to prepare an exhibition, special courses or some sort of gift when I had my school. In 2015, we had this idea to do a special week with seminars, free classes and exhibitions about the women in the history of design and art. We set up everything six months before, but in January we made a partnership with a technology company and they offered to create an app to help us have more engagement in this special week. I liked the idea and we started to sketch how the app would be, not just visually but also interactively. We first did the information architecture of the app and through that we interviewed some students and teachers to understand their needs and what they would like to see in an event school app.

When we drew the interface, my team was very busy in our campaigns and daily duty, so the project turned to me. I started searching for interfaces for inspiration and then I remembered that I could use the word Ela as a theme of my art direction. Ela in Portuguese means ‘she’ and from that I drew the whole app using a 60s style. The app was in a test category because we just used it in my city. The results were amazing, and we had a lot of downloads and subscriptions for the courses and seminars.

Overall, it was a good experience and the staff at the technology company were amazing. They taught us a lot about UI and code.

What would you say has been your favourite project to work on and why?

Wellness Sport club was my first brand project and it’s also my favourite as I learned a lot—I had so much fun with the clients and their team. I understand the real value of collaboration and it was this project that gave me confidence, awareness and true commitment to follow the design path. It was an awakening project and process.

As this was my first project, when I look at it I can always see improvements, but despite the communication that it’s a little old, the logo is still good and fresh. For a first branding design, I can say I have something temporal in my portfolio.

How would you describe your typical week?

I usually wake up early, check my emails and organise all my freelance work and personal projects. I go to work around 9am and then I dive into meetings, projects and planning until 5:30pm when I leave to go to the gym.

During my day I have three main tasks—first; new projects. I usually do future projects and campaigns in the morning with the marketing team. After lunch I do my normal work; taking care of the branding, the current campaign and image of the company. The last task is the support that I give in the UX department of the company.

After work I like going to the museum (it doesn’t matter which one—I like them all) to relax and get inspired. It’s a ritual that I do at least twice a week. Other times I leave my night free and just relax or do my freelancing projects. During the weekends I usually do things to relax, run errands and sports.

How did you first start using Affinity Designer, and what do you like about it?

I found Affinity Designer in some research that I was doing to help a student who asked me if I knew of any affordable vector and photo software. He told me he wanted something without subscription. I saw the Affinity website and the whole product line, so I told him about it. However, in that time I didn’t download or try it.

Months later I went to visit a friend in São Paulo and I ended up extending my stay. I had to start a new project and for some reason had to use his computer. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any graphic or image software on there, it was a virgin Mac computer as the Brazilians like to say, so I downloaded Affinity Designer and started using it as if I already knew everything. The two main things that I noticed in the beginning was that one; the app was easy to navigate, and every action was smooth compared to other software that I have used. And two; the movement of the pencil and mouse wasn’t as rough as others.

The whole project was completed in Affinity Designer. When I got home I downloaded it to my computer but still continued to use my previous software because at that time Affinity didn’t have art boards. When you guys set up the art boards that was when I made Affinity Designer my main tool for design.

I love it and I don’t have my subscription anymore. I am waiting for more improvements and of course, Affinity Publisher. I hope for the next update of Affinity Designer, you guys add the tool to vector images, like trace.

Lastly, what would you say makes a good designer and what advice would you give to others?

My advice is:

  • Study and be aware of visual laws and creative processes.
  • Be consistent in any project that you are working on.
  • Treat your client as a partner and not someone who has to appreciate your masterpiece.
  • Be aware that your ego won’t lead you anywhere.
  • Get experience by making mistakes in some processes of your personal or professional projects.

Remember: you can know a lot of tools but don’t try to use them all in each and every project. Each project is unique and will require your creativity to set up new rules and new methods.

You can find more of Rodrigo’s work here