Ukrainian designers don't know much about craft as a field of design. We decided to change this by taking the interview
with a famous Portuguese studio — "Oupas!".
It is a small team of four girls, Cidália, Joana, Sofia, Cátia,
and the cat Tobias, based in the heart of the city of Porto.
All successful stories begin
by accident
Girls, how did you found this studio?

We studied graphic design in college and then, because of the crisis, we couldn't find a job. So we decided to get together and do something. But we originally intended to do just graphic design, like posters and identities.

The craft work wasn't planned at all. One day we decided to make our manifesto out of cardboard because we didn't have much money for expensive materials or big prints, but surprisingly people really enjoyed it and started asking for things made of cardboard. Suddenly, we had a business.
We started with a small project and in a little time we were making a cardboard city. That's how we found our specialty. When we started, we didn't think that we would do this.
How long are you in this business?
Six years. But the first year was incubation at our college. At that time we were experimenting on our own as a team and gathering the first clients. Officially it's been six years, but the big deal started 5 years ago.

Can you tell about your creative process, step by step?
  • We start brainstorming.
  • Then we sketch the shapes and what they will look like. When needed we make a 3D model.
  • When it is ready, we send it to the client for approval, and then just flat it out.
  • For big events, because the space is generally quite limited, we have to be really specific with the measurements to make sure that everything is as it should be. So we use Sketchup to display everything.
  • If it's a really big piece, we project it onto the wall, trace with a pencil over paper or cardboard, and then start cutting the cardboard.
  • If it's a small work we use our Silhouette machine to make the cuts.
  • Sometimes we make test models, to see how to glue all the pieces together, whether it's stable, which is sometimes important.
Who are your clients?
The point is, in Ukraine people don't understand what craft really is. On the one hand, they often imagine craft as something not done very well, on the other, it is occasionally as exclusive as a Rolls-Royce in their eyes. How do people find your work and what do they think about it? Is it understood that the result is worth the effort?
I think, most people usually think craft is something, like you said, a little bit untidy. Made by amateurs.

But companies are changing their ways of thinking. We're surrounded by digital and everyone can do something in Photoshop. That's why, when you do it with your hands, it becomes something special and unique. And you can easily personalize stuff for the clients, you can produce the measurements they want.
Our cardboard projects usually live only a couple of days. When you have an event and you're in need of a decoration, most of the clients don't want to invest a lot and then keep the decoration afterwards. It's easier to dispose of everything in the end with the bonus of recycling it and not producing waste.

That's why in the economic crisis, our projects fit so well: economic hardship means people prefer not to put any extra into decorating something.
And clients are starting to understand that. They see what we do and come to us knowing what to ask for, they realize what they are going to get from us.
How often do you work with advertising agencies?
Quite often, maybe once a month at least. It is usually something 3-dimensional. For example, we did some craft pieces for a clothing brand, and they made an amazing video, so when I'm commuting I can sometimes see my work on the city screens. It makes me proud. We've also worked with a studio that makes TV ads. We're watching TV when it suddenly pops up, and our families go crazy: "Look! My daughter made that!" — "Nice!" or "No, not again".

Have you decorated any shop windows?
Yes. It was our dream project a long time ago, and, finally, two years ago we did our first shop front for Hermès in collaboration with Studio Astolfi. We did some work after that as well. It's nice because everyone can see it, not only the visitors of that space, as it usually happens in events.
Is craft production for projects more expensive than traditional design because of the time you have to spend?
I don't think we can compare, because even though graphic designers don't waste much money on materials, they also have a concept and spend a lot of time making an illustration or a poster. So, I guess, it's kind of the same work. For example, outsourcing something is cheap for clients only if they need a thousand pieces. For an event lasting one or two days it makes sense to come to artists and crafters to build it. At the end of the day the cost is about the same.

How many hours a simple craft project
would take?

It depends. For example the Eureka cat took us one week to make. It was more than a cat, we've made several illustrations for the cutout on the collar and a few pyramids. Everything together was one week non-stop.

Do you work on one project at a time?
[Laughing] It is always 3-4 projects simultaneously.

How do you manage to plan ahead? How do you ensure a project takes only as long as you think it will?
More and more we can estimate the hours we will need for a project. But when something goes wrong, we need to re-do it and that's a risk we take. We have to think ahead and schedule everything.

Do you use any time management software?
Podio. It's a sort of company management system, mostly for meetings, budgets, etc.

Is it widely used in Portugal?
We started using it because someone we know also uses it. We tried it once, and it was easy to use, so we kept it.
If it's an event which lasts one or two days, [the clients] don't want to order the same thing thousands of times, so it makes sense to come to us, the artists, crafters, to create it. And clients are starting to understand that.
Do you draw from any Portuguese traditions? Do you feel that you inherit something special from Porto? We've seen here so many beautiful buildings and things we haven't seen elsewhere. Do you feel you're using this in your designs?
Yes, we get inspiration from our city. We're passionate about patterns. Paper isn't common or something traditional, but we try to inspire ourselves from the people and from the city. For us it's important. And it's always amusing. Our name "Oupas" is an expression from the north of Portugal. It means "Let's go! Let's do it". So we are already joking. When we go to the South, they don't understand it. They think it's an abbreviation, like "Organization United…." It's an expression that everyone uses in the street [in the North]. If I want to get up, I say "Oupas! Oupas!"

Where else do you find inspiration?
In artists, no matter if they are graphic designers or not, just some people we admire a lot.
Who is your superhero?
The person we admire much was one of our teachers. I think she is one of the most powerful Portugal graphic designers. Have you heard about R2 design studio? You should check it out. It's one of the most important studios in Portugal. One of the founders, Lizá Ramalho, was our teacher and she was the one who told us to consider doing things by hand. The class we had with her was graphic design but she insisted that in our first year we shouldn't use a computer, printer or scanner, everything should be handmade, hand drawn or whatever. She insisted that we should avoid computer as much as possible. She really inspired us as a teacher, as a graphic designer, as a person. Their studio is completely different from ours. It's nothing like this, it's a real graphic design studio very conceptual and well-done.
I found that you've worked with video mapping guys. Can you tell more about that project? How do you combine technology and craft? Was it a challenge for you?
It was a challenge for them [laughing].

Of course, we worried about some technical issues. However, it was a perfect combination, because we made traditional craftwork, and they provided the digital aspect. I think these things go together really well.

It was a challenge for them because we do everything by hand, we can't do everything perfect. For example, on the project we have 90° angle, but when we construct it by hand it might happen it changes to 89°. To the naked eye it looks ok, but to them, it's a problem.
What was your longest project?
In 2014, it was Thought For Food Global Summit, we did a spaceship and really big walls, 12m wide and 5m high. It was huge. We started the project 6 months in advance, conceptualizing and meeting with the rest of the team. Then we spent one month to design it, one month to cut everything and then four days to build everything on site.

Just 4 days, how?!
We also thought that! We built everything on the computer and there it looked possible. "Ok, we will do it, everything is fine", but when we arrived on site we looked at the structures and said "no, this is impossible". It was unbelievable. Even our client said: " If you can't do it, it's okay. Let's just see how much we can leave behind". But in the end we did it, although we didn't sleep too much. That was the biggest challenge.
What about awards?
We do have one. In the first year of our studio, together with an agency called Ivity we won a Cannes bronze lion and a Red Dot award with the cardboard city.
The concept was theirs and we just made the hard part of building everything.
It's good to win prizes, but we don't think that's what we need.
We just want a happy client.
Alright, what's next?
We would like to do a scenario for a music video. It's something we'd all like to do, but I think it's something that most of the bands can't spend much.

For whom would you create it?

For someone we like, if we could go completely crazy I'd say Lady Gaga. It would be amazing.

Yes! That would be amazing.
The End
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