Felicidad on their journey and growth as a studio, and finding the ‘felicidad’ in their design work
Located in Santiago de Chile and Barcelona, Felicidad are an independent creative studio working on strategy, design and narrative to make brands that matter. Founded by Piedad Rivadeneira, the team have worked with many wonderful clients and industries; from climate awards to cultural landmarks. Piedad and Design Director Simón Sepúlveda join us to recount their own design journeys, and what makes the studio an exciting one to keep an eye on.
PT How was the studio first founded?
PR Felicidad started in 2004 as a one-person studio. After 10 years working as a creative director for two magazines, I decided to start working as a freelance designer with no ambitions of becoming a studio. My mother rented the apartment where I lived in my childhood, and there I placed a table and a chair, everything else was empty. The amount of commissions led me to the need to call designers to join and a therapy session ended in the conviction that I could be happy designing, so almost as a call to action I named the studio ‘happiness.’ But the real milestone that made us what we are today was the assignment to design the Presidential Campaign of Michelle Bachelet, the first woman to become president in Chile, in 2005.
PT What was it like navigating the industry as a self-taught designer?
PR Perhaps not having a formal education in design is exactly what defined my way of working. When I started at the age of 18 I had the opportunity to work in different fields and projects, as an embroiderer, illustrator, art director assistant, window displays designer, among many others until I decided I wanted to work in a magazine.
Since I don’t have a formal discipline, I tend to approach projects without limits or labelled roles. My approach is the idea, the content, the story, the message, the problem, the solution, packaged with design.
I tend to approach projects without limits or labelled roles.
PT Why did you choose to expand the studio to Barcelona?
PR Of course, the main reason is that Simón lives there. But also having a regular connection to Europe is one of our goals. We have a lot of experience working in the United States and Mexico and we want to continue to collaborate with other countries, in Europe and worldwide.
There is something special and wonderful about Chile, it is a super thin and small country, almost like an island at the end of the world, surrounded by the Andes Mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, thousands of kilometres of empty landscapes. But it’s also like a small town, so any opportunity to expand to the world, to other people, other languages and points of view is great and at the same time, we can export a bit of our uniqueness.
PT As a female-led studio, what do you hope other studios can learn from you?
PR I think there are two dimensions. One is facing the client and the assignment, and in that part, I have never been conscious or aware of my gender. I have always worked with a kind of certainty and security and since my first work experiences, I have been able to face different situations, counterparts and male leadership horizontally.
And inside Felicidad, I believe that we have created a very friendly, generous environment, oriented to learning, to excellence but also to humanity, quality of life. We want to be more free than rich.
I started working at Felicidad in my first year of college ... It was like home.
PT Simón, having worked at Felicidad in the past, why did you leave and then return?
SS I started working at Felicidad in my first year of college, as an intern, and stayed until I graduated and beyond. It was like home and I learned a lot, but there came a time when I needed to explore and learn from others. I got an offer to go to New York and work at Sagmeister & Walsh and then spent some time at Apple in San Francisco.
I always knew I would leave Chile, but I also wanted to have a link there.
So, when Piedad told me she was in the process of expanding the studio to a more international level, it was almost natural and organic for us to become partners and start the studio in Barcelona.
PT What do you think makes Felicidad special?
SS Felicidad has a seal and a reputation for being able to work on multiple scales with the same intelligence and strong conceptual power.
It seems to me that what makes us special is that we achieve a good synergy with relevant institutions and companies and we get them to believe in our proposals, often risky and unconventional for the sectors and carry them out.
PT How does your work in education inspire your own creative practice?
SS Understanding how different generations think, what they see and what interests them helps me to have a broader and more complete notion of the multiple perspectives, and the students bring fresh visions of the discipline, which contributes a lot to my way of seeing.
PT Can you tell us about the Latin American visual references and influences in your work?
F The Latin American design/narrative scene is becoming more and more powerful and we love it! It is a region that, we believe, combines a great visual personality, colourful and fresh at the same time that is complemented with a high conceptual load and political responsibility. In terms of influences, we are interested in a wide range of movements, from pre-Columbian art, dissident artists, countercultures in times of military dictatorships and also contemporary design, art and film collectives. I think we both consume little design and look at other disciplines, which enriches us in terms of proposals.
F We have talked about this a lot, and we believe that the cultural and creative scene in Chile has a lot of potential, there are very interesting things happening and they have a lot of repercussions outside, even so, we feel that graphic design is very conservative and still looks too much to the past or to the northern hemisphere. We believe that we can explore much more the rare and unconventional, challenge the formats and ways of communicating, but for that, we also have to educate clients and also the new generations of designers. A logo is not enough, communication is much more complex and interesting than the way we are approaching it today and we are focused on trying to stand out and differentiate ourselves through our work.
PT Why do you enjoy working with cultural and tech projects?
F It is interesting to work with both since they are probably in an almost opposite state of reality to each other, cultural institutions are in crisis and struggle with daily problems of precariousness, they have to reinvent themselves as people go less and less to these spaces, so communication and participation tools are essential. On the other hand, the projects linked to technology are at an impressive explosion level and where we think there is a lot of possibility of exploration, in a market that can be a little conservative in many cases. Some months ago we did the identity for a new currency called Frequency, we were very surprised that all the aesthetics of the bitcoins were very masculine, nerdy and similar to each other, everything is homogenized too fast.
PT Can you tell us a bit about your ongoing collaboration with Unfinished? How did it first start?
PR I spent more than a year talking with my friend Paula Recart, who was leading the prototype of the project, when it had no name or form but a very abstract and complex definition. So when she asked me to make an identity proposal with two alternative paths in two weeks I felt that I had already done the immersion stage and I accepted the challenge. I went to NY, locked myself in an apartment. I almost went outside just to walk for an hour or two and buy something for breakfast and then go back to work.
When I showed it to Unfinished’s CEO, Frank McCourt, he liked it immediately both conceptually and visually.
After that, Simon took over the project and developed a coherent graphic system, collaborating with other very talented designers who worked on all the motion graphics, code animation and other resources that enriched the visual identity with a lot of resources.
Working with food is always challenging and attractive.
PT What projects are you most proud of as a studio?
SS I really like the balance we have between small and large-scale projects in the studio. For example, the fundraising campaign we did for the Pre-Columbian Museum of Chile I really liked it because it managed to open the entire second floor of the museum after years closed for lack of budget, I also like it visually, generating a break to the more conservative visuality that this particular institution has. On a smaller scale, I really like the work we have done in gastronomy. We did the Liguria restaurant, the Verde vegan restaurant, the Félix cafeteria and the Apolo ice cream parlour. Working with food is always challenging and attractive, we all like to eat and share and in this kind of project, we inevitably get into different levels of proposal that we really like.
PT How do you think they reflect Felicidad?
F It seems to us that in recent years we have achieved a good consistency between strong narrative quality and conceptualisation, execution and implementation and style differentiation. People see our projects and recognise them, we believe we are managing to create a seal and validate it and that clients in different areas are attracted to our proposal.