Andre Felipe Ribeiro
Design Manager at Squarespace I December 28, 2018
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In his early years, Brazilian-born web designer Andre Felipe Ribeiro spent much of his time thinking of being elsewhere. Though he now looks back upon his home city of Brasília as something of an inspiration, with its sleek and modern design, growing up he couldn’t help but feel there was an opportunity to be found across borders.
Andre and Leo at their family's country house
Brasília, by Design
“I felt like Brasília was too small for me. I always wanted to do more, and see more. I had a bucket list of all the cities I wanted to visit, including: London, Paris, Tokyo and New York.”
Of course, to realize his aspirations of a more cosmopolitan lifestyle, Ribeiro had to first find a path that would allow him the right flexibility. Fortunately for him, an early fascination with computers and arts provided Ribeiro with just the right pieces.
“It’s a long story, and a little cliché too. It all started when I was very young. My mom had to buy a computer for work, so I got exposed to technology very early. After playing with computer for quite a while, at one point I wanted to become a hacker and I even started studying all these coding languages and cyber security books.”
Ribeiro recalls his affinity for the tech world growing as years went on; before long he had begun working with Photoshop and Gimp, programs that gave him the first inkling of just how powerful of a creative tool his computer could be. At the age of 15, he had hardcoded his first blog from scratch, a feat that would earned him some recognition that would prove to be life-altering.
“At that time, a guy reached out to me and said he worked for this tech company, and they were looking to hire designers. I was only 17 years old at the time. I went to the interview and surprisingly got the job, which was crazy. No prior experience, no training, no nothing.”
Checking London off the List
As he already had a job working in the field of design, Ribeiro felt he would be better off studying something else at university, since he was already getting ample practical experience.
“I asked myself, ‘What should I do? Should I go to college for design?’ But you know, I was so young and entitled, going through that phase when you think you know everything, and thought to myself, ‘Oh well, I’m already working as a designer anyway,’ so I decided to study advertising instead. The goal was to acquire a supplementary set of skills. My thought was that if I got to understand people’s psychology and interests, then I could combine that knowledge with design and I’d be a more well-rounded creative.”
Though meant to be a four-year degree, Ribeiro’s tenure at college took longer than anticipated—a delay brought on by the opportunity to finally check off one of those cities from his bucket list. After a close friend of his working in a small design studio in London reached out, Ribeiro made for the U.K. for 6 months, splitting his time between working and studying English.
“When the six months were over, the studio offered me a full-time position. But I still had my college to finish, and I didn’t want to have to go back to Brasília later in life just to finish my bachelor’s degree. So I decided to go back home, and we had an understanding that I’d come back to London once my course was over.”
In 2011, when Ribeiro was finally making ready to finish his degree, he reached out to the studio again to start the visa process. They eagerly got to work, but unfortunately the daunting task of Visa paperwork was quite the undertaking for the small studio.
“They were a small company and the visa process there was as complex as it is in the U.S., so it was taking them a long time to get the paperwork. In the meantime, I redid my portfolio and started applying to other jobs, just in case.”
At the same time, a recommendation came from a friend at HUGE, and Ribeiro soon had a series of phone interviews lined up with the Brooklyn-based studio. After months of being in limbo with the old studio in London, Ribeiro was struck by just how quickly more equipped companies like Huge were able to navigate the obstacles of the visa process.
“They had all the resources. HUGE quickly applied for my visa, and in less than a month it was all ready to go.”
As it so happened, the studio in London got back to Ribeiro with an approved visa within the same week as HUGE. Though he had long anticipated a return to the U.K. after completing his degree, suddenly Ribeiro had a decision to make: New York or London?
“When I look back, that was probably one of the most crucial decisions I had to make in my career. If you think about it, my life could’ve been completely different right now. Ultimately the reason I decided to go to New York was because HUGE was a much bigger place and they had offices everywhere, so I figured I would have more options by working there.”
With his contracts signed and his papers in tow, Ribeiro hopped on a plane bound for New York with nothing but two suitcases, a jacket, and a laptop.
Welcome to New York, that’ll be $15
Despite never having been to the United States before, Ribeiro felt oddly calm about the prospect of relocating to a new country. The experience living in London had provided him with an opportunity to sample life abroad. He was familiar with all the typical trials of culture shock.
“I had already processed those fears. I was prepared for the challenges that I knew would come. I was more thrilled and excited to see what this phase of life had for me.”
Of course, that’s not to say Ribeiro’s transition wasn’t marked by memorable moments. He still distinctly recalls his first-ever night in the city, trying to find the corporate housing complex HUGE was letting him stay at as he transitioned to Brooklyn.
“I remember I found the right stop on the subway, but had forgotten that I wouldn't have Google Maps because my phone didn’t have roaming. So I had the address but didn’t know how to get there. I asked a doorman in one of the buildings around the subway, and he called me a cab; the driver took me literally four blocks away and charged me $15 for the ride. So yeah, of course my first New York experience had to be getting ripped off by a taxi driver.”
Lackluster first night aside, Ribeiro’s subsequent endeavors in New York were markedly more prosperous. After working for over four years at HUGE, Ribeiro joined the team at Squarespace, where he is now a Design Manager—an opportunity he doubts he would’ve had if he had gone to London instead. Now more acclimated in his New York life, Ribeiro speaks of it as having been instrumental in the development of his creativity.
“New York is a place where innovation and creativity are considered part of the city’s DNA and because of that, it attracts some of the best talent from around the globe—at least until now. Not to get too political, but I think making it harder for immigrants to come will just make the U.S. a little less cutting edge. Until this point, it’s always attracted a lot of skillful people.”
But the longer he’s been away from home, the more Ribeiro realizes just how much Brazil had shaped him. Even his city of Brasília, which he once thought to be too small and closed off for him, now feels like an integral part of the person he’s become.
“I kind of downplayed the importance of my own culture, always glorifying other places in my head. But now looking back I realize that Brasília deeply inspired me to become a designer, though maybe subconsciously at the time. What I realized after all those years living abroad is that what makes me unique is my culture. The things that I thought less of myself for are actually the things that made me who I am, and ultimately helped shape the professional I became.”