São Paulo: Understanding design innovation in the emerging market of Brazil

Following my time in Chile, I headed to São Paulo – this was where I had landed on first arriving in Brazil three months earlier, and I was really eager to explore it because when seen from the sky it was absolutely gigantic and I couldn’t understand how a city so big could function – I had heard that the previous week there had been a 292 km traffic jam, and that whenever it rains the city stops functioning.

I was in São Paulo to do some interviews for the Design Transitions book that I am working on with Joyce Yee and Lauren Tan. What I was particularly interested in exploring with the people I met was their emerging market, and how they develop service design and innovation consultancy in that context. I was meeting with service design companies INSITUM and Live|Work in Brazil, and Brazil’s largest(ish) bank Itaú.

I interviewed INSITUM on the Sunday morning, I met with Luis Arnal (Founder and Managing Partner) and Yoel Lenti (Operational Manager for Braizl) and we had brunch together at an open café surrounded by palm trees – a really beautiful location! INSITUM is an innovation company that has been around for ten years, and they are the leading research company in global emerging markets. They believe in building a strong relationship with clients, and starting with an offering that meets the client needs rather than pushing something on to them that they are not ready to for.

“We love it, we love to do innovation, but we are no so interested in the economic side or fame. I think there are different ways of helping society. At INSITUM we do this by affecting corporations and making sure they spend money in ways that make a positive impact on people lives.”

Luis Arnal, INSITUM

I also learnt that INSITUM educate their clients as they go along – because in an emerging market, when you haven’t had innovation consultancy before you can’t necessarily give them the whole ‘pie’ from the start. INSITUM’s ‘pie’ consists of innovation, research and strategy – and as market research is a familiar thing to most companies, that’s what they start with. I was really inspired by their approach, and the way they offer and deliver research which has made them leaders in their sector because they really go for the ‘deep dive’ research.

I was also invited to meet with Itaú in the following days, to present the three projects I’m currently working on – The Design Doctor, Design Walkabout and Design Transitions. Before my presentation I was shown around Itaú’s innovation centre by my friend Samille, who is a service designer at Itaú, who showed me rooms with walls that can be drawn on and relaxation rooms with comfy couches. It was a really bright colourful environment to work in, which surprised me! I learned that Ideo had been responsible for recently redesigning Itaú’s innovation process as well as their environment. I had an interesting conversation with the team’s innovation leader, I mentioned my belief that Brazilians are natural prototypers, because things in their lives aren’t set up to be easy to do they have to make the best of it with things like taxes or even just walking somewhere – nothing is ever simple! He felt that environments like Itaú’s new space invite people to step out of their corporate silos and gives them permission to do what comes naturally to them.

Inside Itaú’s innovation space there are two main teams: one works on developing a culture of design thinking throughout Itaú, and the other develops service design offerings for customers. Although I wasn’t planning to capture the Itaú story for the Design Transitions book, it is a great case study of how design thinking is moving into large organizations. But, as with every organization we’ve spoken to for the book who are bringing design into the core of their business, everyone is finding their own way of doing it (this was certainly true when we interviewed Fiat, who were using design thinking to redesign collaboration throughout their organization).

Following my visit to Itaú I met up with Luis Alt of Live|Work in Brazil and other members of the studio for Service Design Drinks in São Paulo, and they kindly offered to write up their story of transition for our book. They were the first company to offer service design in Brazil (and were founded in Newcastle UK, so I am personally rooting for them!) and I discovered that they have recently published a book on service design in Portuguese for the Brazilian market. Through talking to them I really developed admiration for how they had to grow this market, which was a lot of hard work but has really paid off for them now.

The next person I met was Claudia Meirelles Davis, Instituto Vivarta, who is leading the Dream:In project in Brazil. This project is about capturing people’s dreams and turning them into socio-economic business proposals to be delivered by those at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’. What I learned from Claudia is that it’s not so easy to capture people’s dreams – from the start of the project it’s been about finding a way of capturing the dreams that actually reflects the dreams themselves. When you talk to people about the Dream:In project they really come alive – Claudia was from a business background but jumped at the chance of getting involved as she saw it as a way to create something of real meaning and value. I also learned that it’s being used not only in emerging markets, but in the emerged markets like the UK and USA.

That’s enough of my overview of what I learned while working in São Paulo – the other reason I was there was to stretch my exploring legs, and I will tell you more about why I needed to do this in an upcoming post! In a nutshell, people had told me that Brazil was scary and not a safe place so I had to really force myself to walk around (which I find boring on my own) so I designed a cultural exploration tool to help me ‘see’. I’m so glad that I did this, because I used the tool to keep me engaged when I was walking around São Paulo and getting off at different metro stops. One of the stops I got off at was Chinatown, and it wasn’t a regular China town where you would just go for food, it had sports shops and clothing shops and magazine shops and even samurai sword shops! The only way you could be sure that you weren’t in China was the uneven pathways down the street.

I got off at a different metro stop later on where I didn’t feel very safe, but I still felt the need to explore so I did and came across a cultural event featuring young people trying out different sports like rhythmic gymnastics. It was very entertaining and encouraged me to do some sketching. Another street I came across was entirely full of women’s hair products, on every side of the road and all the way up it was like Boots stores in the UK! I later learned that this is because Brazil is the largest market in the world for women’s beauty products.

I think São Paulo for me was a place where I really fitted in, because it was such a culturally mixed and diverse place, and I learned that a Brazilian can be anyone – and the only way you could tell if a person was Brazilian (if you didn’t hear them speaking Portuguese) was if you recognised the distinctive hand gestures:

…or the fact that they use so many serviettes when they eat! Take note, if a Brazilian comes to stay with you, give them serviettes if you want them to feel at home!

My friend Samille was my host for the week, we met during the first edition of Mozaiko and I just want to say a big THANK YOU! to her for being such a good host, she is a really warm and friendly person with such a big smile. She took me samba dancing – the women all look really elegant while they samba, but my British dance moves just didn’t fit in there! Samille also took me to the local markets where I tried sugar cane for the first time. She also helped me try out the local pizzas of Brazil (São Paulo is known for having the best pizzas, and I have tried them and can say this is definitely true!)

I know there’s a lot of time spent on educating clients in these emerging markets, and the companies I spoke to are doing amazing work in this area.

Because at the moment these companies are working in response to client demands, and those clients are only just learning about different forms of design practice that can benefit their business, the companies may appear to be playing catch-up with current practices – however emerging markets have such big potential, and especially in new ways of innovating because things haven’t been done there before. They can leapfrog innovation in a big way because there’s no fixed structures that they have to battle against, as there is in the West. This really fascinates me, and I think that projects like Dream:In project of open innovation are very inspirational and although they say this is a prototype, it is a prototype that has a lot of benefits not just to them but in the places that they choose to implement it.

Next stop on my walkabout was Belo Horizonte, before traveling to Recife to do Design Doctoring work with INDT, Nokia’s Institute of Design Technology. Following that I’m off to Rio to do the last Mozaiko workshop with Voël – check back soon for my blog post all about this!

One comment

  1. hahahahahahahahaha next year, we will meet in England! I miss you my friend!