Duration: Four years.
Location: Lisbon, Portugal.
Education: In 2008, Catarina Carreiras and Carolina Cantante graduated together in communication design from Faculdade de Belas Artes de Lisboa.
Working relationship: We are two Portuguese designers, born and raised between Lisbon and Cascais. We met in university, became friends and started working as a team early on. But after graduation, we went our separate ways, leaving Lisbon to work abroad for different projects. We always had a feeling we could work together one day—and in 2011, when we were both looking for a side project that would inspire us more than our day jobs, we decided to embark on that adventure together. Studio AH—HA started just as an experiment, and we never thought it would take off like this.
Key creatives: We are both partners and creative directors. After graduating, Catarina worked as a consultant for Sam Baron’s design studio at Fabrica (United Colors of Benetton’s communications research center) in Italy, and spent a year working for the design studio Karlssonwilker, Inc., in New York. Meanwhile, Carolina lived in India in 2008 to work on a social housing project with the architecture studio Urban Nouveau, and then moved to Rotterdam to work as a graphic designer for the architect Rem Koolhaas and his Office of Metropolitan Architecture. She later joined creative director Ian Anderson’s team at the cultural nonprofit ExperimentaDesign Lisboa.
Work style: We take a holistic approach toward design and branding, working together with clients through every stage of the process and filtering their inspirations, ideas and motivations into fresh and compelling brand messages. We try to explore beyond the creative brief. So if we are asked just to design a logo, we usually say no. Our clients are mainly entrepreneurs looking forward to start or rethink their own business.
Usually, we work side by side on every step of a project, especially on the initial concept development. But Catarina is more heads down with the creative and design process, while Carolina mainly communicates with clients, from estimates to production. The working process in the studio is very fluid. And we like to work with an ever-changing cast of collaborators: a photographer, an architect, an illustrator, a type designer and a programmer.
Influencer: One of the biggest resources we have is Sam Baron, a friend, mentor and product designer with a great mind and a very interesting design process. He makes us question what we do and how we do it. He hates graphic design styles, so he always pushes us to create work with conceptual value, and not to go for something “beautiful” or “contemporary” just for aesthetics. With Baron, we designed some of the projects we are more proud of—like Mercado, Fluxograma Studio, Futur Archaique and L’essence du Beau. These projects push the boundaries of traditional graphic design to challenge the viewer and play with archetypes. And they have their own sense of beauty that isn’t just based in taste. We like to work between borderlines, and we get bored with the pure and classical sense of graphic design.
Work environment: We work in an airy, open space that’s full of light, located in Chiado, right in the heart of Lisbon. Our street was very quiet when we opened the studio, but over the last four years, new businesses have popped up like mushrooms and have revitalized the streets around us. We always have a foreign student working with us and a lot of visitors from abroad—friends or people interested in the studio—and we welcome everyone with a coffee and a pastel de nata because they make our hearts and minds travel far.
Aspirations: We never wanted to have a big studio, so our long term goals are more about projects than about expanding services or skills. When we started the studio, our main goals were to take graphic design over borders and to conquer markets outside Portugal. Right now, 80 percent of our clients are not Portuguese, and we are proud of that. We love the kindness and excitement of our Lebanese clients, the practical business sense and experimentation of the American ones. But we still have some dreams waiting to come true. We would love to design a merchandising collection for a big institution, to work on a restaurant or hotel’s identity system, and to be challenged in crazy projects that might not seem related to graphic design. Every day, we fight to have time for self-commissioned work, so we would like to develop more passion projects in the future. In the middle of all this, we hope we can raise our small families with time and patience, and a lot of laughs, too.
Guiding philosophy: We hate long e-mails. And long meetings. We always design on top of the others’ files and change things around, and that’s OK. We’re inspired by cake, ice cream and Haribo sweets. Our favorite day trip is to any knick knack or paper shop. We both had babies in the beginning of the year within a few days of each other. It was a crazy time: no one else was running the studio during those months, and we still had deadlines. Funnily enough, we won the Young Guns Award this same year, and that made us feel like we could conquer anything and manage not to sink this studio in this new adventure called motherhood. We still don’t know how to put all the puzzle pieces together, but we have a lot of fun running around like headless chick(en)s. And maybe that’s the most important thing about us: we don’t feel like we work as hard as we do because, most of the time, we’re just having fun.