The founders of Porto Rocha on making work that “has a presence”
Felipe Rocha and Leo Porto, the Brazilian duo behind this New York-based studio, talk us through two of their bold and eye-catching projects.
- Matt Alagiah
- 3 July 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
The Brazilian designers Leo Porto and Felipe Rocha first met soon after Felipe moved from São Paulo to New York in 2015 (Leo had already made the exact same move four years previously). While working for some of the city’s most highly regarded studios – including Pentagram, Mother, Sagmeister & Walsh, Collins and Spotify – they began taking on projects together. “It worked well for the first two years, but eventually the projects got bigger and more complex, so we had to start turning them down,” Leo recalls.
That’s when they realised that the timing was right to launch their own independent studio, an idea they’d been flirting with for years. “It was the combination of both demand and our desire to start our own venture independently that made us confident to take the next step,” he continues. “And once we pulled the trigger, it all came together fast.” Less than a month after quitting their jobs, the pair was operating from a studio in Brooklyn, alongside a team of six other employees.
Porto Rocha has since been busy working across a number of design projects, all focused on provoking meaningful change, whether that be “through large-scale projects that reach significant audiences or through socially motivated initiatives”, says Felipe. While they don’t feel they have a “signature look”, they do feel there are some commonalities across their work: “It is rarely delicate or timid,” Felipe says. “It has a presence.”
The project that really grabbed our attention was the studio's graphic identity for the Museu Nacional da República, a public art museum in Brasília designed by the legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Working with Manufatura, who were leading the wider rebrand, Porto Rocha was tasked with considering every step of the visitor’s journey from digital and web applications to the physical experience inside the dome-shaped building itself. The design system they came up with integrates a range of touch points, including signage, printed materials, uniforms, stationery, merchandise and packaging.
GalleryPorto Rocha: Museu Nacional da República
At the heart of the identity are two shapes, a circle and square, representing “the aerial view of Niemeyer’s dome while establishing the idea of ‘inside and outside’, contrasting the relationship between these two spaces,” as Leo explains. The area surrounding the museum is a bustling town square, he adds, a place where Brasília residents come together to relax, while musicians perform and activists protest.
“Like a portal, the circle also functions as a graphic device that contains different imagery, be it photography, architecture, art or video, connecting and juxtaposing these two spaces in a constant state of dialogue and tension,” says Felipe. The use of Founders Grotesk, meanwhile, recalls the visual language employed during the city’s early urban development (Brasília was built from scratch in the 20th century with modernism at its heart).
However, Leo and Felipe wanted to make sure that the identity felt completely inclusive and open. “The museum (and fine art itself) can feel intimidating and elitist,” says Leo. “With this in mind, our utilitarian visual language, paired with a warm tone of voice, work together to strengthen the relationship between the museum and the people.” Much like the symbiotic relationship between the museum’s interior and exterior, each component of the graphic identity comes together to form a similar notion of universality that surrounds the museum as a place for everyone.
The studio has also worked on Samba, a biannual publication that celebrates Brazilian queer culture, born in 2019 as a reaction to Brazil’s politically turbulent climate. The magazine spans over 200 pages, featuring some of the most prominent and rising LGBTQI+ voices in the country. Its cover star, Samuel de Saboia, and his immense popularity as a young, Black queer artist “not only challenges President Bolsonaro’s rhetoric but also provides a beacon of hope in a time of vast uncertainty,” says Felipe.
It also has a powerful visual identity, thanks partly to its use of a punchy yellow. “The cover was designed to stand out on any magazine shelf,” says Felipe. “The use of yellow in combination with Plaak’s robust, condensed letterforms, evokes a raw, urban sensibility.” A vertically stacked logo also envelops every side of the magazine in a repeated format. “Samba therefore remains visible from all angles,” Felipe adds, “reflecting the varied stories that unfold across its pages.”
Like everyone else in the creative industry, Porto Rocha has been affected by Covid-19 and its economic fallout. But the pair remain optimistic and have taken the time to build a new website and to reflect on their work. “In hindsight,” says Leo, “building the website served as a valuable experience for us to understand who we are and who we want to be as a studio.”