Claudia de Almeida

1983, Martinópolis, Brazil
San Francisco, California

E.B.White famously wrote, ”No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.” Brazilian-born graphic designer Claudia de Almeida shows a sure hand in her willingness in that regard. Her ability to recognize and seize moments of serendipity (plus her formidable gifts for typography, concept, and composition) has led to widespread recognition for her work. She was raised in Novo Hamburgo by a single mother who worked at a bank in the loan department. De Almeida says, “When I was growing up, I actually wanted to be a doctor. My mother said, there’s no way. You’re too clumsy. Then I wanted to be a lawyer and she said, God forbid, no. Basically, I wanted to be anything that was on TV. Finally, when I was in high school, I wanted to upset my mother so I said, I’m going to go to art school. She said, well that fits you, which was incredible. I think she always wanted to be a creative person, so she didn’t mind pushing me that way.”

As a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, she studied with designer Carin Goldberg, one of her idols, and then went on to work at More Magazine with creative director Debra Bishop (who had also studied with Goldberg). “It was like completing a circle for me. A girl who was born in the smallest town in São Paulo and grew up in the south of Brazil,” says de Almeida. “To come up and study in New York with my design heroes? I was given a great opportunity to be exposed to amazing people.”

After she left More, Scott Dadich, who was then the design director of Wired and an early supporter of her work, helped her secure several interviews as she searched for a new position. When he later became the magazine’s editor in chief, de Almeida asked a friend who was working with Dadich to let him know that she really wanted to work for him. After one phone call, she was hired as deputy design director, and within a couple of weeks she and her husband packed up their New York apartment and moved cross country to San Francisco. She says, “I’ve always been the kind of person who jumps first and asks questions later. My husband, a photographer, is originally from Seattle and had been wanting to move back to the West Coast. He had reached the point where he was just done with New York, but I made him stay for another five years. I didn’t want to leave without having a job lined up, because I knew we’d be unhappy.” The opportunity finally gave them a reason to head west.

Things didn’t follow the original script for de Almeida at Wired, who was hired to be the most senior designer, not head of the department. “I wanted to go and sit with my headphones on and just live my design dream,” she says. ”But things are never how you think they’re going to be. The design director who was supposed to come didn’t quite work out. I was Scott’s first hire and the first one there. I did a special 20th anniversary issue, and then I did the redesign, and then I hired the art department. At that point, Scott saw I’d been doing the work so he promoted me to design director. I still remember thinking, ‘I shouldn’t have that job. I’m not ready. I’ve only been at Wired for two months.’ I have such respect for Scott so even though it made no sense I respected his decision and I just went in swinging. And it was great.”

In 2014 de Almeida went out on her own, forming a design firm called O Banquinho (The Tiny Bank) with partner Margaret Swart, a former Wired colleague. They envision a multidisciplinary studio, taking on a mix of branding, art direction, experience design, and web design. She also currently teaches typography at the California College of the Arts, a subject she previously taught at SVA with her mentor Carin Goldberg. “My goal is to teach the students how to love type. I want them to learn how to set a beautiful paragraph. I want them to know what every punctuation mark means, and most importantly I want them to be able to use type in an expressive way,” says de Almeida. “I make a point of being very mean. I’m very strict. If I say, for example, a photo is horrible but you did a good job here with the composition, the students listen. I’ll tell them: I know this sucks, but you have to go through this in order to get to the next level. Think about how many people want to be designers! If it was that easy, everybody would be great. Being a designer is really hard.”

She encourages her classes to find inspiration in books as well as in real life happening all around them. “If you think about those Apple screen wallpapers, they were so beautiful,” she says. “When I got to California, I knew where the inspiration for those came from because that’s how the sun sets—it becomes orange to navy blue and in the morning, it’s that teal color. If you just get your head out of the computer and look up and learn how to recognize those moments, then you can put them in your work.”

De Almeida has been offered a number of speaking engagements recently where she is invited specifically to represent women designers or South American designers. “It bothers me a little bit,” she says. “If it’s me being categorized as a Latina woman designer who will inspire or help other people, then it’s justified, but mostly I think it’s offensive because if we’re really talking about equality and diversity, there shouldn’t be labels. It’s like saying my work doesn’t stand up to work by the White American man or the White American woman, but for a girl from South America, this is pretty good. It shouldn’t matter.”

De Almeida spent more than four weeks in the summer of 2015 studying at Type@Paris with Jean François Porchez of Typofonderie. Again, serendipity played a role in getting her there. “I was actually going to apply for Type@Cooper in New York for the summer, but I missed the deadline,” she says. ”But then that same night they announced Type@Paris, so I immediately signed up. I’m lucky that my husband didn’t mind that I would be gone for 45 days. I have a really nice support system. I know I’m incredibly lucky overall, but I also think that a lot of it has come from just asking people for help or telling them how much I want to work for them. Most people in the design industry are actually very lovely. We love to help each other.”