Garrick Webster chats to a young boutique studio that's already making waves in the burgeoning design hotspot of Buenos Aires.
The Argentine creative scene seems to be on fire at the moment - there's so much great animation, typography and graphic design coming out of Buenos Aires. One small studio in the city that seems to be burning red hot is POGO. With just four people and a whole lot of passion for creativity, they've been going for less than two years, but have already grabbed the attention of a range of clients both large and small.
POGO describes itself as a design and art boutique. "We do both commercial and non-commercial work," explains cofounder Ardi Carlos Grygierzcyk "All the non-commercial work we do is simply an excuse for us to create things, and mix different fields. It's a kind of therapy where we can express how we feel, without any boundaries or any rules to follow. The good thing about being boutique in size is that we can maintain strong contact with each of our clients. Communicating with them is important, so we know their brands and their needs."
Grygierczyk owns POGO alongside Pampa Garcia Peña. Both graphic designers, the pair met when working for another studio and found they had a natural chemistry. So eventually they decided to jump ship and go it alone. "Design is a powerful tool that many people are not really aware of," PeÃ±a explains. "POGO is different because there are lots of different areas within it: we are always in search of new challenges. We like to explore new fields and, although we have the regular clients with some fairly boring work, if I'm honest, we are also always making new stuff for our individual projects."
Peña's childhood friend is illustrator Maria 'Pauli' Filippelli, who soon joined them, and the final part of the puzzle was Federico Bianchi Harrington. He was actually one of their first clients, but loved it so much he jumped aboard to help with the production and business aspects of the studio.
The specific abilities brought by each individual are fundamental aspects of what makes POGO tick. "Complementary skills are key, although we also have a similar vision about design," says Grygierczyk. "Pampa and I work as a team, constantly. She is more about photography, cool ideas and she has a really cool way of managing colours. I'm more about typography, illustration, composition and video. Pauli is a great artist, she has amazing painting and illustration skills. Fede's tasks are more related to production, planning of projects and accounts. His vision of the market is really important."
Self-promotion was an early priority. Out of respect for previous employers, they didn't want to use old work. Consequently, they didn't have any portfolio work to use on their website. So POGO decided to launch SOKO, their own self-initiated online magazine that would become the studio's calling card. It has evolved into a playground where they can collaborate with other creatives, experiment with images and text, and promote their skills. It all follows on from their desire to bridge the gap between art and design.
The latest issue is 164 pages of design, photography, illustration and, well, girls. Argentine creatives play a large role, such as type designer Ariel di Lisio and illustrator Pablo Alfieri. But the issue also contains an array of international talents such as Mario Hugo, Alex Trochut and photographer Jonathan Leder. SOKO has taken on a life of its own, and the members of POGO see its creation as one of their biggest creative challenges. "With SOKO, we have the pleasure of meeting and working with designers, illustrators, photographers and writers from around the globe who we genuinely admire," Peña explains. "Each issue is a bigger challenge for us. Our ideas for the magazine are governed by how we are really feeling at that moment, and we choose the shots and design it accordingly. It represents a personal and intimate creative process."
Freedom and independence are key parts of POGO's raison d'etre. However, crossing over the gap between art and design isn't just about creative expression. For Grygierczyk, it encourages POGO's members to move freely across different media, and work on projects that combine design, typography, photography, video and illustration. Ultimately, when it comes to client work, they aim to provide complete solutions for each brand they work for.
Cashflow was tough at the beginning, and it was a while before the studio's income stabilised, but thanks to SOKO, prior contacts and referrals, POGO gradually began winning clients. Their first major job was for Adidas, in 2008. The team was asked to create an identity and graphics for the Adidas Originals Spring/Summer Collection show. The aim was to celebrate originality, and from early on the project went very smoothly. "We developed a logo that combines the concept of clothing with graffiti styling," Peña explains. "We are really happy with the final result because it's a really big brand, but honestly it isn't one of our most creative works."
POGO's biggest client work thus far was for another international youth brand, MTV. Last year, the team was commissioned to create the identity for 16 and Pregnant, a reality TV show that follows the lives of various high-school mums-to-be. MTV had already run the series in the US, and POGO was brought on board to give the show an identity for global audiences. This entailed creating a new logo, print advertising and TV trailers for the launch campaign, ignoring the programme's existing US identity.
"We produced a comprehensive set of guidelines and brought the brand to life through a series of graphics," says Peña. "We created something fresh that identifies with the young MTV target, a brand illustration and brand gradients. We also participated in the photographic campaign and TV commercials, developing the motion graphics. This was an amazing project to work on - really huge - and we loved the final result. We get along really well with the client, and the project became even more interesting each week, because what started off as a little brief ended up with us doing lots of things for this project. It's also crazy to see people's reaction to the show."
While a proportion of the studio's work comes from music and fashion clients, the team also has corporate accounts and looks for smaller, unique jobs as well. Recently, POGO has been developing an identity for the clothing brand Miss Camelot. Like many graphic designers, the creatives find the challenges and creative freedom afforded by smaller clients refreshing.
The space they currently work in and its decoration is important to POGO's creativity, according to the founders. They started off working from Grygierczyk's house, but then moved to a studio with a big window, balcony and green views - despite being in the middle of Buenos Aires. When they tried hanging normal curtains in the window, they thought it looked too sad, so they made new ones out of magazine pages. There's a work area for their Macs, a drawing table and an array of music devices, including a MIDI keyboard, turntables and a mixer. Like many studios, the POGO office is jammed full of inspirational magazines, books, DVDs and CDs, as well as a collection of design-related knick knacks. There's a wall mural made up of work the studio has done, including self- initiated projects like SOKO, and also a blackboard that's used for brainstorming.
The current studio may sound idyllic, but such is the success of the company that they will soon have to move again. They are recruiting two more staff in March, and will be relocating to a bigger space. For Peña, moving will be a bittersweet experience. "This is a really nice place, and we are sad about leaving because it's where Pogo really started. The new place has two floors. In one of the rooms we are planning to have a recreational space; another one will be used for photo shoots," she says. "For us, the place you work in is really important. It needs to be inspirational, happy, full of love, colour and good energy, and we try to express that in our studio. We also try to leave the office as often as we can - when we're tired of the computers we like to go out somewhere and have some lunch, or just walk around."
Creative energy, experimentation and having fun are all important aspects of the POGO approach, but Harrington's role within the team is to make sure that production runs as smoothly as possible, and that clients' needs are always met. It's his ten-step process when a job arrives that ensures this happens. First, the team gets a description of the job - what kind of work the client wants. Then the designers gather some background, working out the context of the work, why it's being done and what the broader strategy of the client is. Next, they try to define the target: "What section of the public is our client expecting to attract, what do we know about them, and are there any particular topics we have to avoid in our message?" Harrington asks.
After that, they go deeper into the client's aims. This covers working out how the effectiveness is going to be measured, but also what the client wants its customers to feel. POGO likes to make sure the client's goals are realistic. The fifth part of the process collects more detail about the message: what is the audience being told, what parts of the message must they remember, and do the clients actually believe the message themselves? "Based on this particular point, the creative director will define the angle that the project will revolve around," says Harrington. "Communication must be clear and fast, have a strategic look and feel, and an element of surprise. That's what we work towards."
Step six involves finding out what visual elements are essential to the client. This covers everything from whether or not the company's existing brand needs to appear and what text will be used, to which photographs to include and whether there needs to be any particular call to action. Steps seven, eight and nine involve sign-off on the formats used, the deadline for the project's delivery and the overall budget. Finally, the team makes sure it knows who is responsible for approving the project.
In the end, it's this professionalism combined with their creativity that's giving POGO a great edge in the market. With the studio growing, we're dying to know where they see themselves heading in the next year or two. But their growth has been so quick, Peña admits that a lot of the time they're just enjoying the ride.
"We're not really the type of people to stop and think about what's happening, it's really taken us by surprise. We're enjoying the moment, and exploring as many fields as we can. I think this is our time, the only downside is that we don't get much sleep at all! But we're happy," she smiles. "The only thing I can assure you is that we would prefer to stay a boutique studio, a little place where every client and project can be given what it deserves. We don't see POGO as a business. It's about love."