As a prize of winning Imagine’s Designers Award 2014, I had the pleasure of flying off to Argentina, to work with people at Lorenzo Shakespear Design, for three weeks. Here’s the short summary of my travels I’ve been promising everyone.
Traveling to Argentina.
Flying from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires took about 14 hours. I was expecting a much worse journey. Much to my surprise, the entertainment system aboard was sufficient and I was able to catch up with the latest movies and even the food wasn’t horrible. I flew with KLM airlines.
I stayed in a very friendly Las Cañitas neighborhood. I had my own flat with a pool downstairs and everything. Despite my place being on a small street, it was pretty loud compared to what I am used to. Eventually my brain just blocked out all the car honking, beeping sounds and other noise though.
The weather was simply awesome. Out of my whole trip, maybe two-three days were cloudy. The first week was a little brutal, leaning towards 35 degrees. But after that, it was pretty much what Estonian summer is like.
The city was just huge and when Lorenzo was driving me from the
airport to my place, I quickly realized that this place is nothing like Tallinn. The airport is just outside Buenos Aires and the first buildings when entering the city looked a little intimidating – like proper barrios where local gangsters live. At least in my mind. But I was quickly reassured that I would be living in a nicer neighborhood. Buenos Aires generally looked like a hipster person, not entirely sure what to wear today – and I mean that in a good way. Districts within in the city were so very different. Some really old and dirty, some hip and modern. Definitely a very diverse city! Don’t even get me started about architecture. Buildings were generally bunched up really close to each other, despite the fact that they look totally different and were probably built 50 years apart. All that gives a very particular feel to the city. An interesting balance. And I think I’ll always remember Buen
os Aires for that.
The sheer amount of people EVERYWHERE was overwhelming in the beginning. And dog poop.. But I’m glad to let you know, that I didn’t step into one, the entire time… but there were some close calls. The streets were always buzzing with people, but surprisingly it was more quiet during the weekends. Unless you go to a park, those are PACKED with people from all ages. It was awesome to see so many sporting without a specific event. Just because. Even with blazing heat. Parks were beautiful – people having picnics on the grass, palm trees in the distance, kids playing by a little pond, etc. Idyllic scenery during daytime.. but if you go there when it’s dark, you’ll be swarmed by a horde of transvestite zombies. They come out at night.
Traffic was nuts. Especially so, when a football match was happening. Crosswalks literally designate spots where you are most likely to get hit by a car. It’s where you have to stop and let cars pass, not the other way around. Lanes were more like suggested paths, rather than compulsory driving directions. People are constantly blowing the horn, as a mean of basically letting their presence known, as opposed to using it very seldom when some asshole cuts you off. To me, it looked like a total mayhem, but honestly, I got used to it really quick. As with everything else really.
I found Argentinians to be people who actually talk to their neighbours. I saw people striking up casual conversations with complete strangers (for example when waiting on a crosswalk). I wouldn’t say Estonians aren’t as friendly, but I think we just warm up a little longer. Depends on what we are drinking. I also found argies to be more transparent with their emotions. Heated, loud conversations are the norm. Seeing fellow pedestrians whistling a tune or even singing out loud was common. And of course there’s a lot of cheek kissing when you meet people. Interestingly, that part I actually quite grew fond of.
Because the office was quite a distance for a walk from my place, I had to use public transportation. Taking the train was always interesting, because I could see people from the whole spectrum. Aside from Eliana and Lorenzo, I had no idea who I was going to meet in the office.
Much to my surprise, I found myself surrounded by people my age. I believe most of them were about ~ 28. For some reason I thought I was going to work with old designers. Maybe ‘seasoned’ is a better word. In any case, naturally I had my doubts if I was going to fit in. Lorenzo had to take off to Peru right away, and so I was left with the other co-workers for the first week. However, my subtle worries about everything being super awkward, subsided pretty quick after our first lunch with my new friends. What a great bunch of people!
Over the next three weeks we had good laughs comparing everything between Estonia and Argentina. Starting with music and ending with our landscape, personalities and weather. One thing that hit me.. was that music and even tv, really unite people. I mean, I fricking went on the opposite side of the earth, and I heard people discuss tv-shows that I am watching and listening to music that I like. Beautiful! Considering I am not much of mainstream pitbull kind of a guy. That’s when I first realized, that me and my newfound friends, have more in common than meets the eye. The more we talked about our lives and goals, the more I felt like I’m surrounded by like-minded people. To be more specific – wanting to travel, not hurrying with having kids, not running off from home when we turned 18, valuing experiences over pointless possessions, etc.
I especially enjoyed our lunches at the office. Everybody always ate around a table at the same time, much like a family at dinner. We also went for drinks and dinner after work multiple times, it was always thrilling for me. LSD has a small collective, at least constantly in the office, and it was sort of nice. Everything was more personal. Sometimes the office was really quiet and then suddenly people were standing up singing, dancing or drag racing with office chairs and bike helmets. Spontaneous and hilarious.
The work itself was super different from what I do everyday at Imagine. After all, I used to be completely digital-centric. But over the few years, I’ve broadened my horizons and this trip built on top of that. I have to admit that the first days were hard. Everything was just so different and I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing or where even to start. But I expected it to get better as time went by, and of course it did. Among other things, during my time at LSD I tried: coming up with a new name for a hostel chain; designing signage for an upcoming semi-posh building; and designing a logo for a new winery. The one thing that blew my mind right away though, was seeing how much work they put into their client presentations. Insane!
The biggest challenge for me was to understand the difference between an advertising and a design agency. Well, not so much in terms of what they do – they design, doh. But more like how they approach things. I think I now know the answer to that, but I’d like to apologize to LSD people in advance, if I somehow describe something plain wrong.
How our world works?
In the world of advertising, we are constantly trying to be unique. And it’s logical, if you consider that our ultimate goal is to sell. There’s also the matter of advertising blindness, etc – so we are constantly thriving to come up with something completely fresh, so that people notice our ads. During my time at LSD I felt how that can in fact have the opposite effect on our creations. It’s super complicated doing something unheard of because: 1) there are so many creatives out there all trying to do the same thing; 2) often it can come down to ridiculous budgets, that we simply don’t have. And so in trying to come up with something new, you may well be putting yourself in a box instead. You start limiting what you can do, based on what has been done before. I don’t want to piss in anyone’s cornflakes, but 99% of your fresh ideas, have probably been done before anyway. In some part of the world at least.. It is also true that 99% of statistics used in this blog post are pulled out of my ass.
How LSD works?
Their priority isn’t uniqueness per say, but it’s a factor. They don’t fuss about awards or being praised. They design for the people. PRACTICAL and beautiful design. No unnecessary elements, only for the sake of aesthetics. Every bit and detail I saw in LSD projects, had a thought behind it. And that made me really think about my everyday work – how I’ve got into the habit of just adding details, just for the sake of making it prettier. Without thinking about the message or emotion the piece is supposed to be sending.
They have a lot of wayshowing and branding projects, and I think their philosophy goes well hand in hand with that sort of work. When I realized the purpose of the things that I was supposed to design, I stopped thinking about how unique it was going to be. At least it was no longer in the forefront of my mind. AND IT WAS LIBERATING.
Can you imagine a very vibrant street sign that’s literally screaming at you? Unique? Perhaps. But is it GOOD design? A well designed sign is supposed to be visible when you are looking for it, but hidden in plain sight when you don’t need it. Maybe you hadn’t even thought of that before.. Nor had I. It’s just one of the many-many things I picked up in LSD.
What I gained from my travels
I got to have a mini living abroad experience. And that’s how I like to travel. I love to experience everyday life in the eyes of others. I’m not too big on watching statues and museums. And of course, I got to know new interesting people.
I got to go out with co-workers and see how they let loose when office hours are over. Among other events I had an authentic Argentinian backyard asado (barbeque) experience. Lorenzo and his lovely wife had us over for some very tasty lomo (beef tenderloin), chorizo and of course red wine. By the end of my three weeks, I actually acquired a taste for red wine. All in all, everything was new and thrilling for me, the entire time.
Because life was somewhat different (being in a big city on the other side of the world) there, I got to put myself to the test. Usually in countries where I encounter language barriers I get frustrated and every bit of interaction can become dreadful. But this time, I think I pushed through pretty well. I adapted. And it was sort of interesting to witness it, as it was happening. I mean, during my last week, I was asked for directions twice. I sure as hell don’t look like a porteño(local), but maybe I acted like one?
I have a newfound appreciation for all the estonian e-services and general ease of life living in a small city like Tallinn. Everything here is more immediate, you don’t have to plan that much. Now that I am back, even our traffic seems just fine, even though I used to get really pissed off in constant traffic jams.
I picked up a lot of bits and pieces of knowledge from Lorenzo (for example how to sell your ideas better) and other designers from the company. I think these insights will prove to be invaluable to me in the future.
From a career perspective, I think I grew as a designer. I think I’ve become more aware of the depths behind good/practical design. I consider myself to be more thoughtful in that sense now. In fact, I know that I’ve used what I learned, in my work already. I also got to get more intimate with typography – I tried like a hundred different adaptations of the same logo. Usually my schedule just doesn’t allow that.
And last, but not least – I think I fell for branding just a little bit. It was exhilarating. I think it just might be the next BIG thing I’m going to go for. In conclusion, I think it was a life altering experience!
I would like to thank Lorenzo, Margo, Helen and all the people from LSD/Imagine for making this impressive trip possible. I couldn’t have hoped for a better bunch of people to host me abroad. I miss the weather and my new short friends already. People went over and beyond making me feel welcome and showing me around, especially Eliana. If any of you guys end up on my part of the world, get in touch, I’d be glad to return the hospitality. Hope to see you again soon!