Two hundred and fifty years, two hundred and fifty smiles:
one brand for Porto Alegre's anniversary.
We live in a city which name is composed by putting together two elements. One of them, cartesian, cartographic, established by the intimate relation of this town with its river, through our first inhabitants had come through: port. The other one, subjective, voluble, changing, however naturally attached to infinite factors that are not on its control, here, by mistake, crystalized as a solid quality: happy. While the first condition is constant by geography since its very first note in history, the second one, added some time later, is a state of mind. Therefore, one comes from the land, the other, from people.
One city cannot carry in its name a feeling without being impacted by it. As a sign this town is born and raised under, such feeling comes to be a part of its soul and of the soul of its people. At the end of the day, the city is nothing more than this: the harmonic medium of the ones who live in it and the so many stories carried in their pockets. To choose a symbol able to engage its whole diversity under its semantics is hard. To choose one that, besides that, be able to mark a single moment at the time, is twice difficult.
Along its existence, one city manages to gather a small collection of meanings, of metaphors, of resemblances. Such things, to be properly understood, turn into icons, into concepts which power lies in their own simplicity, in the essence of their messages translated into common ideas, ideas able to mean something whether for us, that share its references, as for someone who gets in touch with them for the very first time. That’s what lies behind such a construction. That’s what a consistent brand is based on.
Creating (?) a brand
When we think about creating a brand, one of the first ideas that comes to mind is originality. We’ve been conditioned to think, mostly because of the notion of authorship that comes with modernity, that the strength of a brand lies in its originality, in its capability to challenge the audience to hack its inner code. Decipher me or I’ll devour you. Or, better, decipher me so you can devour me. At the end of the day, brands are goods. To be bought they need to show themselves sophisticated and simple at the same time. So sophisticated they can evoke a certain sense of mystery over themselves; so simple they can make such mystery to be solved at the blink of an eye. Our reward comes from that paradox, and it leads us to establish a bond. And that’s the real quest of any given brand: to set ties.
However, sometimes this process leads us to places where such misencéne, such mating game, shows itself not only unnecessary, but also slightly annoying. That’s when a designer must resist to temptation, that most of the times is part of its muscle memory and refrain the spark that pushes him towards the unknown. Here, we are taking a walk over the thin line that apart what’s creative than what’s creativish. We’ve come to a place where brands are not created anymore but distilled. In those cases, the path of the excess does not take us to the palace of wisdom, but first it makes us understand that a cliché do not become a cliché by accident. There’s much of true in the common sense. Back to van der Rohe we realize that less is not more, less is the ideal.
When we chase a design to assign a so important event as a two hundred and fiftieth anniversary we are dealing, clearly, with a situation to which graphical virtuosity may easily backfire on us. Maybe the typical inhabitant of Porto Alegre does not desire to have its intelligence challenged by a brand intended to celebrate the city. On the contrary. The same way this city has shown as a safe port (that is a departure symbol as much as an arrival one) to those first Azorean couples about the story tells us, such brand needs, more than anything else, evoke a sense of belonging. Looking at such brand any given citizen needs to feel immediately embraced by the references he recognizes as familiar signs since he can remember. Looking at such brand any given citizen needs to feel invited for a party where everybody knows his name. Looking at such brand any given citizen needs to see himself on it. That’s what I use to call comfort branding.
Then, once more, the river? Once more, the sunset? Yes. But once more the smile.
For many years, Porto Alegre has been known as the smiling city. Whatever that could mean, we cannot deny such nick would fit a place that carries happiness in its own name. And it would fit much better if this place would not seem to have lost the capability to smile.
Porto Alegre always had been a little big city, or a big small city, as you like it. A place made of interesting contrasts that put us at the avant-garde of progress at the same time we conserve adorable, nostalgic provincial habits. Such paradox never has been perceived as a lack of character, but first as a certain quality that made us different from the rest of Brazil. However, mostly because the exhilarated process of verticalization, that would transform its skyline during the 60’s, little by little concrete starts stealing us the horizon as casting its shadow over streets that would make more sense under the sun: Porto Alegre grows too fast for its own good. Soon, growth without planning, and time to settle down, becomes swelling. The city gets ill and becomes serious, gray, grumpy. Yes is overtaken by no in a place that would keep its beauty hidden from the eye. Porto Alegre becomes a city of invisibilities. We, who live here, know exactly where this town hurts, in a place that now is hidden, and soon to be forgot. That makes Porto Alegre a city in constant need of rescue, which is a rescue of ourselves. When it reaches its two hundred and twelve years, Porto Alegre needs to smile again.
Because of that, the proposed brand for the anniversary of the city is based on a big open smile, from which derives every other shape that resemble its most iconic elements. It’s a colorful and happy composition. It’s a festive composition. It’s a friendly composition. In a time when keep us a safe distant from each other became essential for our own survival, one smile is, at the same time, medicinal and contagious. The anniversary of Porto Alegre smiles at us for we to smile back. Because a smile that we smile alone is just a smile; a smile that we smile together is a promise of future. A promise for more two hundred and fifty years.