How Gabriel Borges creates space by learning from other industries

Happyplaces Stories (video)

Part of the community

‘We wanted to have a space that provoked people to create the culture we wanted. That is when we started to think about space for the agency. But at the time we just had the name of the agency, and also the idea, and probably a Keynote with a couple of slides describing what the agency should be. But more from an advertising person, investor point of view. Not from an employee perspective. That was the time we started to think about a space and started looking for a place in São Paulo. Our first tries were not good at all. We could only find corporate offices. We thought that kind of places did not help to create a good atmosphere with creative novelty and innovation. After searching at a lot of different places, we came into a place that used to be a yoga studio. It was also used as a pop-up gallery for a couple of months. As it was a reopened space, and it had a garden at the back, we thought that should be the place.

We were lucky to find this place, with the garden and other facilities, we didn’t want to interfere too much in the space to create something entirely new. We just looked what interventions we could do to make it more comfortable for people to work there. We built a meeting room, and we started to find tables for the people to work at. And that was a moment we had a fascinating discussion. Because my partner had this idea of not having specifically fixed workplaces. And I shared with him my experience of working in such a place. A place without a fixed chair and table, where you just find a place and start to work. I realised that in this kind of atmosphere, people tend to get lost and people tend not to get connected to what they are doing because they don’t have a sense of belonging. Because every day when they get to work, they sit at a different place. This can be good because you will always have some novelty from the point of view of the place you are working from. But it also makes it impossible to put your stuff somewhere, leaving behind the books you like, toys people put on their table. And I remember that, after this discussion, we decided that one of the main interesting things about our culture is how we use this space. That we should have a fixed point for the person, like a lighthouse on the beach, that when you get to work, you go there to get your stuff and you know that it is the place to go to when you are lost. We always provided people to leave this fixed space. And to be in different spaces. We’re located in a community, that is known here in São Paulo as a cultural, slash artistic place. And when you get on the streets, you feel this creative atmosphere. And we also have nice green areas, surrounding where we are.

Since the beginning, although we had a lot of space because we were starting the business and we had much more space than people, we always tried to have these moments to leave the space and to be more connected to the community. Not regarding doing work with them, but to work in the same place as where they are. This is now a strong part of our culture. People come to work, and they usually get here in the morning. Get a coffee or something. They get together in the group teams in which they are working. And sometimes they just leave the office, walk around in the community, have a brainstorm for example, or they go to a coffee place. Or even one of the art galleries we have here. This is interesting, in the sense of creating what would be the company. The space the company occupies is not only our office; it’s the community where we are. Since we started to do this, we got known in the streets, and sometimes when we go to a bar or a coffee place, people recognise us, and they invite us. But as we are in Brazil and people are open, they usually intervene in strangers conversations, and this can be awkward sometimes. It sometimes happens when we are in a coffee place, and people start to join the conversation. Then it is sometimes better to head back to the office, and continue the work there. This is one of the things that is part of our culture today, in how we use our space.

Inspiration from elsewhere

As I work in advertising, I have this idea that advertising is not bright enough to answer all the questions that advertising people should ask themselves. So I honestly believe, that the issues and the answers we should have to work better in advertising are in different places. And various sciences. And because of that, I have developed this idea of being completely far from what advertising people usually consume, regarding news and references. And also an inspiration. And started to look for news, references and inspiration in different areas. There are the obvious ones, like art and things related to the culture where advertising people are always really close to. Those are a sort of satellite areas for us. But there are also other ways of thinking that cope with the creativity that exciting and inspiring for advertising people. But we don’t tend to look at them regularly. One of them is architecture. Architects need to balance inspiration and emotional stuff with really realistic and concrete stuff. They are always struggling with this contrast. And I think this is really, really interesting.

This is one of the things in which I’m more interested now, and somehow advertising is related to that. Because we need to create something inspirational, creative, emotional, etc. But we have a final goal, a really explicit goal for the brands that we work for. So this is the time we need to work with this contrast as well. I’ve heard a quote once which I think is kind of interesting: ‘When you make advertising, that’s nice, but when it doesn’t have a purpose you should probably call it art.’ Or craft, but not advertising. Because that’s why we are hired.

Advertising space

When it comes to the idea of what advertising people should do, this is one of the questions I have right now. As the media are evolving and we don’t always have the regular medium we used to have in the past, this kind of questions is always in my head. What should we do? If it is not just to fill the space of a tv commercial or an empty magazine page? My idea has evolved to this idea: that in the end, we need to create space in the consumer’s mind. So, I think that good advertising makes people interested in consuming it, and as long as they get interested in the brand or the product, or whatever you are advertising, they are creating space in their minds to pay attention to you. This should be the primary goal of advertising. It’s funny to think like that. Because it is self-evident. And it is something that is connected to the principles of advertising. It is something that you don’t want to exclude. You just learn how you should fill these advertising spaces with messages. But you don’t understand that in the end you’re filling space in the minds of consumers with a message that is interesting to them, and somehow you get them to get to or relate to a brand or a product. Or something they would like to.

This is mainly one of the things that I’m more interested in. That’s why probably the answers to these kinds of questions are in sciences that are not advertising. The other day I was talking to a guy who was an economist. He had fascinating points of view. Rational stuff. That inspires us to make advertising nowadays. I believe that it is a right path. To evolve. They understand the business I’m in.

Pleasurable work

The things you like to do, if you translate them in work, you have this blurred frontier between when you are working and when you have pleasure. I think that’s good. Most of the original ideas I bring to my job is from the moments I have pleasure. And at those moments I honestly don’t know if I’m working or just have pleasure. And at that moment when I’m consuming something, I don’t think about if it will be useful in the future or not. As long as it is interesting for me, it’s good. I think when you have curiosity in something, it is a true thing that makes that you dig in to understand more about it. Even though it is not in an area where you know a lot about. And sometimes I think that there is a contrast in the idea of interestingness. Because you get interested in something that you don’t know. And when you start to know a lot about something, it interests you more. When you have a curious mind, you only keep looking in what interests you. And these are always different things. This is good because this diversity helps you to get different references. And if you are a really good dot connector in the future, you will probably have the chance of using that. The things you were exposed to. Even though when you were exposed to it, you didn’t yet have the idea that it might be useful in the future.
Advertising school doesn’t work well today. Because it doesn’t force their students to be exposed to different things. And to create a big bunch of references that seem incredibly useless in the beginning, but suddenly it makes a lot of sense in the future, once you connect two or three different references. Nowadays, I think that advertising school is only trying to show you some formulas on how you should do something. And this is not useful because once you have a formula and you don’t have the references and the right inspiration, you will only do the same things that everybody is doing. Regarding the mind space in the consumer’s mind, if you are always exposing them to the same stuff, you won’t be able to make them stop to pay attention your message. Probably the most successful campaigns we have today, are those that in an original way have found a path to stop the consumers to pay attention to them. And also to fix the message, by creating this moment of experience with the consumer.

Remix

Brazil is a huge country. And we have a lot of things going on here. But since we are in a vast space, we have in our culture that travelling is something good. It is easy to find a Brazilian who is a discoverer and travels a lot. Even when they have just a small sum of money, they still will travel. And when you travel as a Brazilian, everywhere you go, you will find other Brazilians there. It doesn’t matter where you are, what kind of place you are visiting, you will see someone from Brazil there. People who are living there, and people visiting that place. Because of that, I think we create a culture that is a remix of cultures because one we travel and we visit a different place we bring back to our place something that we liked. The Brazilian people are a blend of different cultures. Portugal colonised us, we also had a slave era where a lot of Americans came here. And we were also a hub for immigrants during world wars. The sort of communities and the mix of communities here are fascinating. Through the last decades, I think that Brazil is not a particular thing here, but we probably got many connections with the US. I don’t want to go the matter if that is good or not, but probably something more in term of that we’re consuming a lot of the same things. And our culture is influenced by this.

Discoverers

I think you can have different kinds of profiles of Brazilians. You have the guys who only travel to the US. I have a lot of friends that have been to the US so many times, which they can’t even remember how many times they have been there. For us, for someone that lives in São Paulo, that’s not an easy issue. If you get a plane to the nearest city in the US, like Miami, it is an eight-hour flight. It is not that you just go there for the weekend. I also have some friends that are not connected to a particular place, who visit places as long as they are different. It is funny to see this movement of people first flying to the US, then when they are bored, fly to Europe. And when they get bored with Europe, they go to Asia. And then go to Africa. I think we can frame this as a different kind of states of development of the Brazilian tourists. Once you have Brazilian tourists in stage one, going to a place in the US or some place in Latin America. Then they get to stage two. A more complex and difficult way of travelling, they go to Europe. Then people start to invent some places that are awkward to go to. What is the most curious thing… I have a few friends that have travelled all over the world, and now they are discovering the undiscovered Brazil. They are travelling to far away places here in the country to be with communities that don’t receive a lot of tourists. Because they’re too far away. But they have such amazing experiences, being with these native people here in Brazil. I was discussing this idea with people, if you are Brazilian and you visited this kind of place for the first time in your life, it could be completely different than being Brazilian visiting places all over the world. And then coming back to your country to visit this kind of places for the first time. When you think about it, and you realise that they are unique and they are not the same as you.

Making the most of it

What is also common because we live in such a big city, is that we have a lot of traffic jams. Because of that, you’re constantly stuck in a bus or a car for a period during your day. I think that is a moment where people start to relate with their car or with their commuting time, in different ways. To always try to use that space, so you at least do something besides being just stuck in a traffic jam. Something I have been paying a lot of attention to while I’m driving back home from work is the cars around me. And to look what people are doing. Being on the phone is the most popular. You have the idea that the person is alone, on an island in the middle of a traffic jam. They are connected to other people on their phones. I see a lot of people dancing and singing to music. And the other day I pulled over next to a car. And that guy had his window open. He was taking English classes over his car stereo. He was just repeating the phrases. And I thought that was weird, to see someone just listen to something and then repeating it. But if you take a better look, it is just someone that is using this free space, this free time space during his routine. You’re stuck anyway; you’d better put it to good use.

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A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project, a playful research project to better understand all dimensions of space to eventually create happy places.

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Marcel Kampman

Marcel Kampman

Founder of Happykamping & Happyplaces Project, author, sensemaker

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