Argentina is a melting pot of races and cultures, and its people have developed a complex identity. Tango, political passion and soccer are just some of the features of this South American country’s make-up.
Argentina is an important cultural center, with a plethora of museums and art galleries where the European influence on design, architecture and lifestyle is palpable. Since 1981, UNESCO has distinguished Argentina by including certain properties of natural and cultural significance on the World Heritage List.
And what about the design industry? I asked Claudio Lucero, Creative Director of Naked, for an insider’s take on Argentina’s design scene:
“Creative types and developers working on interactive projects in Argentina have accumulated loads of experience thanks to the dot-com bonanza in our country at the end of the ’90s. All of a sudden software developers and graphic designers who were used to offline assignments were hired by dot-com companies to produce new portal websites that probably made them millionaires.
“Finally, when the bubble burst and investors refused to offer new rounds of money, most of those dot-com companies disappeared but the know-how and experience remained. This is why Argentina has one of the highest levels of IT experience worldwide, and in 2005 UNESCO declared Buenos Aires its first ‘City of Design’ and ‘one of the most viable and productive design industries on the South American continent’, giving local interactive firms and freelance designers a big opportunity to transcend the local market.”
The design industry in Argentina consists of thousands of freelancers and agencies. Through commentary, interviews, links and a big showcase of websites, we’ll introduce you to some of the most talented designers and studios in the country. Your opinions and suggestions are welcome. Please share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom.
Ricardo is the interactive and graphic lead designer at RTDG. During his professional career he has overseen several projects, ranging from institutional design to producing and publishing dynamic websites. Gisele has been featured in Lee Munroe, Smashing Magazine, Web Creme, Blog and Web, Blogger Buster, Weblog Tools Collection, Vandelay Design, CSS Drive, CSSelite, Best CSS Gallery and FantastiCSS. She has a strong artistic background, and her designs are an inspiration to the entire Web design community.
Q: Could you please describe the life of a freelancer, developer and designer in Argentina?
Gisele Jaquenod: I think it depends; mainly because, unless you live in a very commercial area—which I never did—getting clients to invest in design is the most complicated part of the process. However, I have always been grateful that whatever the economic situation is, I have always been able to live off of design. But it can be complicated at times, for sure. Design in general is still underestimated by most small companies, and the fact that you have to sometimes work hard just to make them understand its potential (and costs) really doesn’t work in favor of the designer.
Ricardo Teruel: I don’t think the life of a freelancer in Argentina differs much from that of any other worker. The difference is that the designer’s job is still not appreciated by the customer. Argentina’s design clients are not trained to appreciate the results of investing in design and building an identity. Working in the domestic market is not always easy because of the complications in charging rates and setting priorities for a project. Working abroad is almost always more desirable, either because of the favorable exchange rate or the culture among clients who are used to paying for such services.
Q: What made you decide to become a freelance Web designer?
Gisele Jaquenod: It was actually just the fact that freelancing is open to anyone to try it. I was already working part-time as a designer at the local university, and the type of project I was required to do was not really related to what I wanted to try, or do, in design. This made me try some personal projects on the side, like illustrating and actually building websites and blogs for some of my artist friends. And while doing that, I found what I liked working on the most, so I just thought, “Hey, this is worth trying.” And, well, that’s how it all sort of started.
Ricardo Teruel: The profession allows remote work and makes face-to-face relationships secondary (they’re important, but not critical). Operational costs are low and allow anyone to get started in the business—and be competitive—without taking major risks.
Beyond their function, there’s the professional issue. The world tends to over-exhaust agencies and suffocate designers. Plus, a very low percentage of media staff really know what they’re working with, so the equation always seems to fit: design + no extra pressure on client + flexible hours + chance to improve economic standing + independence = freelancing.
Q: What’s the condition of Argentina’s market, in your opinion?
Gisele Jaquenod: I think the design market in Argentina is growing, and new technologies keep opening up new areas for designers to enter. However, as I said before, all of this is concentrated in the biggest commercial areas of the country, so for a designer who is looking for a challenging and well-paying job (or should I say, decent-paying job), relocating to one of these areas is almost a requirement.
Ricardo Teruel: It’s a growing market that has yet to explode in infrastructure, which would lead to an increase in use of Web services. The country remains reluctant to commit to the online world, still deeming the printed page more secure and profitable than a 24/7 digital presence.
Gradually, we’re seeing more flirting with Web development, but it’s still a young market in terms of the quality of design and power of Web applications. This is not a critique of Argentinian designers (we have excellent designers and commentators on the subject). It’s a critique of Argentinian clients who do not ask for, or understand, high-quality design. And, as in all other work, excellence comes with a cost that few are willing to pay.
Q: How usable are Argentina’s websites, in your opinion? Do you give a high priority?
Gisele Jaquenod: I think usability is a minor consideration on many of Argentina’s websites. But it’s also a minor consideration in most design-related careers where designers learn their craft. Of course, there are exceptions: many design studios and independent designers stay up to date and challenge themselves in this area, providing great examples of Web design. But the truth is that most of the time budgets are limited, and that means that this aspect of design is not prioritized. Personally, I try to give it my best shot, but I am not an expert in any way!
Ricardo Teruel: Projects are becoming more focused and receiving greater functional planning. But usability is still a problem that remains to be solved. For the new generation of Web designers, usability is a pillar of design itself. Design is communication and because of this, designers must adjust to the needs of clients. Usability makes this dialogue easier and allows for that comfort and safety that is needed in order to not be on the defensive and to let the message get across. Obviously, there has been a large deficit in this area, but today both usability and design are becoming a focus for websites.
Q: Do designers still use tables for layouts?
Gisele Jaquenod: For sure, a large number of old websites in Argentina still use tables for layouts, but as far as I can tell new designers do not use them anymore.
Ricardo Teruel: Each tool has its specific use. The Argentinian designer, like every designer in the world, becomes informed and aims for the highest standards of quality. As for myself, I respect the common standards of most browsers when working on a website’s structure. There are certain circumstances in which tables can be useful, faster to create and more lightweight, without having to maintain such a strict separation of aesthetics and content. In such cases, I use tables.
Not everything has to be HTML and CSS. I remain a believer in the power, versatility and beauty that Flash offers as a platform for website development. It’s up to every developer to choose which tool is appropriate for the project.
Q: How do Argentinean designers handle typography?
Gisele Jaquenod: Well, I know that typography has always been a basic teaching and interest at Argentinian design schools, so a lot of well-educated designers of typography are out there. We also have some amazing font designers, such as Sudtipos, that do a lot to raise standards. And when it comes to usage, I can say that I have seen a lot of creativity, perhaps because a lack of resources forces designers to be creative with what they have.
Ricardo Teruel: The Argentinian designer is a great typographer and a design lover. Perhaps because Web design is still emerging in Argentina, the technical and aesthetic richness of local professionals is still unknown.
We have had great printers, publishers and artists whose skills have been passed on to all who have grown up studying them and following their work.
Q: Which design-related Argentinean blogs and magazines do you read?
Gisele Jaquenod: To be honest, most of what I read online is from outside Argentina, except maybe Foro Alfa, and several blogs by illustrators who I follow (but not particularly design-related). As for print magazines, unfortunately my favorite, Tipográfica, is not published anymore.
Ricardo Teruel: More than anything I read blogs: they’re easy to save and share. In any case, you can’t miss Foro Alfa. And some more are Diego Mattei, ilovecolors, Designio Studio’s blog, Creative Closeup and elWebmaster.
Q: What is your main source of inspiration? What is your best method of overcoming a creativity block?
Gisele Jaquenod: For inspiration, I can’t say that I have a particular technique. In my Reader, I follow a lot of artists, illustrators, photographers, designers, interior decorators, home improvement websites, fashion blogs, and I make sure to get a daily dose of that. I have also always been a fan of collecting “beautiful objects,” and those things have a way of coming out in the work that I do.
Creativity blocks: when I get one of those, I just need to get out for a bit. Go for a ride, get a breath of fresh air, pick up a book, something that takes me away from the computer. I think the overworking that sometimes results from the insecurity of working freelance, and the ups and downs of the economy, cause these creativity blocks. But often it’s just from being plain tired, you know? Not really a creativity problem, but more a need-to-rest situation.
Ricardo Teruel: Working on two projects at the same time. Staying focused on two or more projects helps me to think differently and not stagnate. The projects don’t necessarily have to relate to design. It could be programming, layout, personal projects. The point is to force your brain to face a different situation than the one it is comfortable with.
When this fails, it’s always useful going for a walk, playing the guitar or cooking. What matters is doing the opposite of what your brain is used to.
Q: What are your expectations for your work and experience in the Web design field?
Gisele Jaquenod: Personally, I take each day as it comes. There are days when I wish I was not freelancing but in a steady job. Other days I want to get a bit closer to the roots of my interest, which are more art-related. I just try to get as much as I can from every job, even if the projects are very short (which they have been because I have been focusing on blog theme designs). Of course, I still want to learn the trillion things that I don’t know, so I feel there is still a lot left for me in the Web design field, for sure.
Ricardo Teruel: I have high expectations of the sector’s growth and the profession’s growth and the role of the designer in the market and in the culture of Argentina.
There is a growing demand for design. Even better, there is growing demand for knowledge and excellence. This is the way we’ll evolve.
It represents a great challenge, but at the same time it is an excellent opportunity to position local design to the world, not only because of the favorable cost (against the dollar or Euro) but for the high quality of design, creativity and development.
Q: What would you do to improve Argentina’s design community?
Gisele Jaquenod: For sure, invest in design education. As someone who has been teaching for a few years at the local, and public, university, I can tell you that a lack of resources is the biggest issue to solve. And not just at the lower stages of education. Investment in the development of post-degree courses for graduates, and of training courses that keep the designer up to date on current technologies, is seriously needed.
Ricardo Teruel: It’s improving, but the Argentinian designer is caring and shares his knowledge. I would start by bringing together all of the industry’s workers (designers, programmers, writers, photographers) so that they can share their experiences and projects. That would definitely enrich everyone. Something like that already exists, still in its infancy, called CamaraFree.
The showcase below gives you a glimpse into some of the freelancers working in Argentina’s design industry. Some of them have been recognized or awarded by NewWebPick, Netdiver Mag, American Design Awards, DesignTAXI and DOPE Awards.
Matias Najle’s website will soon be online. In the meantime, you can follow him on Twitter.
More than 260,000 Argentineans have their own blog. Argentinean bloggers can be characterized as technology lovers, and social and information consumers.
I spoke with Elio Rivero, the graphic designer, Web developer, illustrator and blogger behind ilovecolors, about Argentina’s blogosphere. ilovecolors has been featured on Smashing Magazine, Webdesigner Depot, InstantShift, Hongkiat and Vandelay Design.
Q: How did you get into blogging? And in your opinion, is blogging a good way to make money?
ilovecolors: I’ve always wanted to give something back to the design community. I’ve gotten a lot from websites such as Smashing Magazine and Tutorial9, and I’ve thought about sharing some of that knowledge with everyone.
If done properly, you can make really good money by blogging, but you must be a good writer or find the right people to write. A blog is just like a printed magazine except that it’s open to everyone. In addition, technical blogs have the luxury of being able to present live examples of jQuery, PHP, you name it, right next to the article, instead of sending the reader to look for them in a separate CD or DVD.
Q: Do design-related blogs have a big audience in Argentina? Do people tend to follow Argentinean bloggers or foreign ones?
ilovecolors: Nowadays, yes, a lot of people follow blogs from all over the world that deal with assorted themes. One friend will follow non solo Kawaii, another will follow Design*Sponge or DIY blogs. Designers mostly follow Smashing Magazine, Tutorial 9, Design Reviver, Go Media Zine.
Q: Name a few of your favourite blogs from Argentina.
Q: In which language do you currently blog? Explain to us the reason for your choice.
ilovecolors: I’m blogging in English, although it’s my second language. It was natural. I learned everything by reading English blogs and forums, so I didn’t thing much about it. I mean, I never thought about whether to write in Spanish or English. It just happened.
Q: Where does your blog traffic come from? Would you like to share with us a tip to drive traffic to our own blogs?
ilovecolors: Initially, a huge amount came from the dozens of websites that where so kind to feature my blog’s design. After the hype, most traffic came from people looking for jQuery tutorials on Google. Also, I’ve written about interface elements and about WordPress.
I think a good tip would be to try to write articles as generally as possible, so that they appeal to most people. Focused articles appeal to only a small niche. Write general articles, and don’t forget the golden formula for titles: “How to Influence People,” “Ten Steps to Success,” “Why This or That Will Fail.”
Q: How much time do you spend updating your blog? How often do you write?
ilovecolors: I try to write often, at least once a week. A big part of what I write arises from working on some tricky thing and finding that articles about it are scarce, if not non-existent.
Q: Because your writing concerns design topics, where does all that content come from? Are you practically experienced in Web design, or is it just a topic you enjoy writing about?
ilovecolors: I work mainly as a graphic designer and Web developer, and I’ve got a career in graphic design. Before that, I followed computer science, while preferring graphic design. I’m finishing my studies in graphic design, focusing on typography, in order to get a title.
Q: On the Argentinian scene, is visual design considered more important than standards-based Web design?
ilovecolors: In my humble opinion, design is like falling in love. No, not the chemistry, birds and butterflies. It’s the inner process that takes place in our heads, and it all starts through our eyes. In short, visual design will always be more important than standards. It’s the bait. Argentina is no exception.
Q: South America is a vibrant and colorful continent. When it comes to the Web design process, does the focus lie on visual design or typography or well-coded semantic CSS-based designs?
ilovecolors: The focus might have once been on well-coded design, because most people doing it were Web developers who did not have graphic designers to take care of the visual side. But in the last couple of years, many agencies have appeared on the Latin American scene who are bringing a visual freshness to the Web.
Q: What’s the powerplay between Flash-based and CSS-based designs like? How strong is Flash in Argentina, in your opinion?
ilovecolors: Flash was quite popular but it’s being replaced by CMS-powered websites, in which clients have control of the website and don’t have to depend on an agency or freelancer to update it. Maybe when CMS’s for Flash websites become more developed, it will come back to the center of the scene.
Blogs are one of the most useful tools to find out what’s happening in Web-related fields. Here is a list of some design-related blogs in Argentina that will certainly give you an overview of the scene.
Here is a selection of websites made by Argentinean designers or for an Argentinean audience. You will find personal websites, corporate websites, portfolios, blogs and a wide range of styles and platforms.
There is still no complete and well-conceived career path for aspiring Web designers, but Argentinians who want a career in design, animation or the arts still have some valid options. Here are just a few of them (more to come in part two).
A few design-related events take place in Argentina. Some infamous ones are:
For eight years, Pablo and Seba have been shaping TMDG, a meeting about graphic design that, because of its audience, has been regarded as the best in Latin America. Its size has also been recognized by international media, having brought more than 5,000 designers together for the conference. Beyond the titles and praise, TMDG remains essentially a meeting place for students and professionals in design. The same spirit that launched TMDG in 2002 in front of 400 people, is present today with the massive audience.
Created by KDA in Japan, PKN has emerged as an event for “showcasting and networking” among creatives. Twelve presenters talk about their ideas, projects and designs using 20 images and spending 20 seconds on each, adding up to 6 minutes and 40 seconds total, per presenter. The event then becomes a space to talk, listen to music and have a good time. PKN has taken place in over 200 cities worldwide, and three years ago it was organized in Buenos Aires.
BarCamp is an international event consisting of small talks and lectures given by the participants themselves. BarCamp Buenos Aires is currently positioned as the Web 2.0 event of the year, bringing together entrepreneurs, developers, designers and investors.
TEDx is a local event, independently organized, to gather an audience for an experience similar to that of TED. The “x” in TEDx indicates that the event is being organized independently. TEDx Buenos Aires combines TED’s video talks and live speakers to trigger a deep conversation and connection among attendees. TED gives general guidelines for TEDx programs, but the programs are organized locally.
The Creativity & Ethics forum is designed as an open space in which to reflect on creativity, values and on participants and their context, in order to identify useful avenues for social development and for design in particular. In Argentina or abroad, in conferences, lectures, courses or indirectly through documents, it tries to give society a space to ensure the appreciation of sensitive issues related to the construction of a wide design horizon. The Creativity & Ethics forum is a hallmark of academic quality, consensus-building and constructive contributions to democratic design.
Feria Puro Diseño was created to be a major platform to showcase Latin American design talent, a place where design is the protagonist: apparel, accessories, jewellery, equipment, objects, contemporary crafts, textile design, lighting, digital design, graphic design. The meeting brings together all industry participants in a lively setting.
Palermo’s University of Design and Communication organizes Design in Palermo, a Latin American meeting of design that was created in 2006 to be a space for training, networking and sharing experiences between professionals, academics, students and companies in the design field. The 2006, 2007 and 2008 editions were great successes, and 4,000 people from over 20 countries in Latin America and Europe participated in each of them. The 2009 edition had to be suspended because of the N1H1 outbreak in Argentina. However, its contents have been poured into the event’s website, putting it in virtual editing mode. The 2010 meeting awaits participants with renewed energy and various participatory spaces: over 300 conferences and workshops, talks by guests of honor, test laboratories.
Inspiration Fest Buenos Aires is a new space for inspiration of professionals and students working in various creative industries: design, illustration, photography, gaming, multimedia and animation, avant-garde music and applied technology.
With so much information shared and wonderful sites to feature, this showcase of Argentinian web design is just getting underway. There is another installment coming next week with more to complete this glimpse into this creative and expansive scene.