Rice studio on growing with and nurturing Ho Chi Minh City’s creative community

Co-founded by Joshua Breidenbach and Chi-An De Leo, Rice is a branding studio shaping, and inspired by, Vietnam’s visual culture.

Date
4 May 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

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When Joshua Breidenbach and Chi-An De Leo recognised the potential for the growth of the creative community in Ho Chi Minh City, they decided to launch their own studio. Having lived and worked there for several years, they realised the advertising agencies they were a part of weren’t going to be the ones to carve out space for “Vietnam’s youthful and curious population” to flourish. “We wanted to do something that had not been done,” Joshua, the studio’s ECD recalls. “An inevitable emergence of a creative community was on the horizon.” With plenty of brands also emerging, they launched Rice in 2011; a now over 25-person design studio on a mission to “[make] things better than they were before we got involved”.

This ethos guides all of the work Rice creates, leading to a branding portfolio with shifting aesthetics based on the client or brief. “We believe in the process of creating something different, unusual, and unexpected,” Joshua says. Crucially, the outcome should be a surprise to everyone involved as they treat each brief like “a process of discovery”. In turn, the studio resists any kind of signature visual language as it would simply be too limiting.

In terms of the kinds of client Rice works with, Joshua explains that aligning on shared values is paramount for a successful project. “We seek to work with visionary founders who already know they are doing something worthwhile and meaningful,” he outlines. This could be Unicef, for example, who once told Rice “their greatest aspiration is to not have to exist!” The idea is that exciting or important work is already being done, and all Rice has to do is come in and shape how that work looks. After all, “branding can only be as great as the endeavour it is for,” he adds.

A project that’s still underway but which very much exemplifies Rice’s fondness for projects with purpose is Pizza 4P’s. On the surface it’s a pizza restaurant, but its founders Masuko and Sanae have much loftier ambitions to create platforms for peace that can share happiness. “That might not be very clear... but pizza, for example, is a platform,” Joshua explains. “It is made with specific ingredients – those might be sustainably farmed locally and can be shared with others, to transmit information, and of course, happiness.” Beyond this, the company also runs organic farms, cheese factories, educational activities and fully sustainable restaurants, like one they are just opening in Cambodia.

GalleryRice: 4P’s (Copyright © 4P’s 2021)

When designing the identity for 4P’s, Rice took inspiration from pre-internet providers of information, like The Whole Earth Catalog and DIY books “that tell one how to live off the land, or build a geodesic dome”. These references are clear in the friendly serif fonts that feature across 4P’s branding, along with the smiling character that also pops up again and again. “We created an exceptional mascot for the company with ex-Pixar legend, Andrew Gordon,” Joshua tells us. “The character is a personified burrata cheese called BUU.”

The studio often takes inspiration from these kinds of places when creating work. They look to the streets of their city, at “functional design, that may have been made without a focus on aesthetics, but a focus on getting something communicated well”. It also looks to art, history, science, youth culture – basically, anything other than contemporary graphic design. It’s a continuation of Rice’s belief that the brief should guide everything else. “Our graphic design should be relevant, nuanced, thought-provoking, and ethical,” Joshua adds. “It should be effective first, and the rest can follow.”

What’s exciting when looking through Rice’s portfolio is how the studio has, and continues to, shape and be inspired by the visual culture and landscape of Vietnam. 4P’s is an example of this, as is the studio’s work for Baemin, a leading food delivery app. It’s also evident in its work for Uniqlo – the brand recently opened its first stores in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and Rice was brought on to create launch campaigns for both cities. This included creating a version of the Uniqlo typeface for the Vietnamese alphabet, drawing on “the Vietnamese tradition of customising diacritics marks to make them more decorative as well as the minimalist aesthetics of the brand”. The result “allowed Uniqlo to communicate in Vietnamese in a way that pays respect to the beauty of the written Vietnamese language while remaining authentically Uniqlo,” says Rice’s creative director Gregory Jewett. We also have to give special mention to the studio’s internal project Trip Tips which communicates the studio’s love for its city, and is a must-see for anyone lucky enough to be in Vietnam or travelling there anytime soon!

These kinds of projects are exactly what Joshua and Chi-An set out to take on back in 2011 and prove just how right they were about the direction of Ho Chi Minh’s creative culture. “We wanted to bring more art and inspiration into our environment,” Joshua says, “while making it possible to broadcast to the world about what was going on here.” We think it’s safe to say they’ve done exactly that.

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Rice: 4P’s (Copyright © 4P’s 2021)

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Rice: 4P’s (Copyright © 4P’s 2021)

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Rice: 4P’s (Copyright © 4P’s 2021)

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Rice: 4P’s (Copyright © 4P’s 2021)

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Rice: Baemin Vietnam (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Baemin Vietnam (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Uniqlo (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: Tips (Copyright © Rice, 2021)

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Rice: 4P’s (Copyright © 4P’s 2021)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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