Want to know the state of UX / UI design in Chile? In article number 6 of the series by Designer and Jury member Matteo Rostagno, we leave New Zealand and touch down in Santiago to get the low-down on being a digital creative in this part of South America.
Chile is such an incredible mix of ancient traditions, European influence and stupefying wonders of the natural world that it simply left us breathless. We spoke to the founders of Trama studio: Sebastián, a web and brand designer with a background in Architecture and Typography and José, a senior front-end developer with an arts degree. Here they explain how they decided to mix up their wide range of skills to start their own boutique studio in 2015, focused on creating cutting edge digital experiences.
“We started with the idea of developing a cutting edge web design and dev studio to provide a fresh alternative to the big agencies. The first thing you should know is that most of the business opportunities are in Santiago (the capital) where the main companies are. Big agencies mainly work for retail stores and mining companies, which are a big deal here. These agencies do work from top to bottom, so they do photography, strategy, branding, web design, advertising etc, basically, they do everything these big clients need.”
Trama studio mainly works for clients in the US, Europe and Australia, but recently they have started to get more Chilean clients.
“What is happening now - and it is kind of a shift - is that we have been reached by some local clients that are looking for a smaller studio that is specialized in what we do. They do not want to deal with a large agency, they want a more expert opinion on a specific topic.”
Chile has always had a culture of referrals and contacts when it comes to hiring someone or choosing a design studio, but this is beginning to change.
What came out during our conversation was that Chile has had a culture of referrals and contacts when it comes to hiring someone or choosing a design studio, but this is beginning to change.
The Chilean community of web designers has a long story. Perhaps it is hard to believe, given that this market is still considered an emerging market, but since its origins two decades have passed. After 1990 a new world was opening for Chileans: residential connections to the internet began to proliferate and in a few years, the first digital magazines came to life, and in 1998 the Chilean government built its presence in the network.
“I grew up during Pinochet’s dictatorship, so I went through the process - as a kid and then as a grown man - of knowing how we all re-discover our democracy and culture. Back in 1990 when we finally restored it, all cultural movements were gone, nothing existed, so everything had to be reconstructed. That heritage is still dividing people so we understand the need to developing projects that aim to create a certain notion of memory, even though we are building our present and future very rapidly we need to remember who we were.”
It became clear, during our conversation, that even though they consider themselves outsiders, there is a growing community in Chile. I've done a little research on it and it seems that the eagerness of each of the professionals to exchange information and validate their work led to a need to build an organised community. Unfortunately, the changing landscape of the Chilean market, together with the lack of critical mass, made the efforts to form a trade association unfruitful. However, even if the alternatives today are many, it seems difficult to consolidate them into a most solid organisation.
We need events that connect the local market with what is the mainstream tendencies in the US and Europe. This will enable local designers and top actors from this part of the world, to recognize each other and to know what is the real status of the web design industry in South America.
"Santiago would be perfect for an Awwwards conference (lol) but seriously I think we need events that connect the local market with what is the mainstream tendencies in the US and Europe. This will enable local designers and top actors from this part of the world, to recognize each other and to know what is the real status of the web design industry in South America. Furthermore, something like this could enable innovative companies to connect with the local market and this would definitely help in professionalizing this industry.”
Chile, in general, is a land of contrasts:
“There is a lot of contrast in Chile, that is our core mark I would say, culturally and geographically. We have the craziest geography, a 5000 km long country that is 250 km wide, the Andes mountain present all the time, so you can go skiing in 40 minutes and then go to a beach at Viña del Mar in about an hour. The Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world up north and then the amazing Patagonia in the furthest south all filled with incredible landscapes.”
The beautiful environment and the profound culture makes this place an inspirational land: Sebastián likes to take his daughter for a bike ride, chilling on the beach and hiking the close mountains or just cooking dinner with some friends while José loves to dance!
Their global network is another source of inspiration for them:
“One of the things I really I love about our studio is that we constantly meet people from different parts of the world, people that either want to work with us or just new clients that reach out to us with their projects. The cultural background of each one is always different so it is something you really have to take into account and is very influential when you design.”
They are also partnering with a studio in New York and are considering expanding into Europe. José is moving to Paris in July this year to explore new opportunities. I asked how difficult is to find talents and how common is for studios in Santiago to work with clients outside the country:
There isn’t much of an interest in specializing in UI and UX design, so we tend to look outside the country
“Grabbing good clients isn’t easy, but there are still very good opportunities in Santiago and plenty of agencies to find a job in. What I think is lacking though is that there are not many studios specialized in cutting edge website development, we are one of the few weirdos that are trying. One of our problems is that it is not easy to find the right talent. There are definitely very good creative designers in Chile, but there isn’t much of an interest in specializing in UI and UX design, so we tend to look outside the country. 12 years ago when I had my previous agency called Monolab, I won a SOTD at bestflashanimationsite.com. Back in the days, that was a big deal and enabled me to start working constantly outside Chile, which was very unusual at the time. I must say that now is starting to change though: the next years look very promising for the local market.”
Santiago is a culturally vibrant city that is expanding: it has a certain old vs new landscape that makes it very appealing and has dramatically changed over the past 15 years:
“Even 5 years ago the cultural life wasn’t as rich. You always have interesting things to do and it is constantly changing. Santiago is a business city, so all major companies are based here and there is obviously a lot of opportunities. I think that probably Santiago will become more similar to Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires in that matter. We are an attractive point in South America, due to our economic and political stability (kind of rare in South America these days) and growing cultural mix due to migration. This is definitely bringing larger companies to establish their main South-American hub here in Santiago which will probably accelerate the establishment of a more mature digital industry.”
And I completely agree with him! We enjoyed every second and I believe that Santiago is a wonderful, vibrant city rich of opportunities for the digital community. I would like to thank Sebastián and José for sharing their experience with me and I hope to go back there and visit the studio in person soon. In the meantime, I hope to meet José again once he's in Europe looking for new collaborations!