From Surfboards To Pixels ~ Cassiano Saldanha (Apple).
Is it true that you once designed, hand-shaped and sold 100+ surfboards?
I was around 14yo, I used to surf a lot and saw myself and friends spending too much money on boards, so I decided to investigate how to make my own. There was no internet in the early 90’s in Brazil, so I found this guy from California selling a VHS tape teaching how to shape surfboards. I learned the very basics and had to figure out myself how to shape the boards, measurements, where to buy blanks, how to handle the glass work (super toxic fiberglass chemicals), etc. I shaped boards for friends for about 4 years.
What did you learn about the design process from this experience?
That it wasn’t only about getting in the shaperoom and being mind-busy for hours. I enjoyed creating the brand, designing logos, searching and dealing with vendors to print stuff, etc. It was a very early professional experience mixing product and visual design.
After four years you closed the board business then started your own Design Studio. Was this a game changing step in your career?
There was a little gap in between these two endeavors. I worked in a photographic studio, then for an outdoor sports magazine, then a design studio... before deciding to open my own shop. It all happened naturally. I was doing freelance work for one of my teachers at school and he kept offering me bigger projects, so I asked some friends if they would help me with this client, they all jumped in and in about 2 months we had an office with rental contract, computers and a couch. The studio did mostly digital projects, animations, some brand identity and typography work for 2 years.
At some point I realized that I was becoming a business manager, not a creative. So I sold my part and went back to school, this time at Central Saint Martins College in London where I did classes in advertising, photography, typography and motion graphics. After that I was ready to get back to paper and graphic design.
Looking back, was going back to school the right career move at the time?
Could you have made it to where you are without a formal education?
I’m not a huge fan of formal education, but in my case it was key. I always dreamed about becoming an architect, but I discovered product design very early in my life. This passion for getting my hands dirty, building and making things was fully supported during university years. I got very lucky to go to a school where I spent 70% of my time inside a wood shop. I also had training in metal works, sculpture, physics and ergonomics. Was an amazing learning that I could have had outside of the school but it would be way harder. I guess those classes helped me develop the instinct of go and do, take risks, etc.
Next came a series of positions at leading agencies before landing your current position at Apple. What is the secret of a successful, and synchronistic, career?
Most career moves should be planned and thought out carefully but there’s always the luck factor involved. In my case I see luck as a choice. You have to be conscious of opportunities to get lucky, and increase the chances of making the right move. In the design industry you have to persevere, dedicate time to experiment, fail and learn. In the advertising industry the wheels spin at a different pace. Advertising is about volume. And people. You rely a lot on a chain of professionals that support your idea, if they don’t care about you, your work won’t happen. In the other hand, designers have always an option of working alone.
Honestly there’s no secret other than to work hard. I push myself to bring a little unexpected element to every project. Something that not every creative would have thought. An unique element.
Successful actors rarely need to audition after they gain a certain level of notoriety. Is it the same for successful designers? Do you get to skip a few interviews to land the next job, or is it the same no matter how many credits your career has?
A good career path helps a lot for the next jump, but I see job interviews as a moment to feel the connection, understand the underlying intentions of both sides and most importantly, get a real sense of the fit between the company and me. The more interviews you go through, the more mature and confident you get, and that’s key to being hired.
At what point in your career were you exposed to interactive and web design and how hard was the transition from product/print to digital?
As a typical nerd kid I learned to code Cobol, Assembler and Basic by myself. In my teen years I spent long hours with a ZX Spectrum Computer and a data-recorder.
Later in life when I got to University I learned HTML and figured that would be a great tool for my design work. The real discover of digital design happened as a form of publishing work faster without all the hassle (and cost) of print press. The transition was fairly easy because of my background with coding. In the early 2000, the most paid jobs were about digital stuff: websites, flash animations, banners, etc. And that was the biggest chunk of work on the beginning of my design studio.
You started your career in Brazil and are now based in Florida. What was it like making the move from Brazil to Florida for your career? How different is the working culture?
Well, it’s the second time I have lived in the US. When I was relocated from Brazil to San Francisco was way more complicated. Other than the language, it took me a long time to feel confident on defending my work, understanding the cultural nuances and the difference of process at work. Everything is more effective and respectful. The market is mature enough to value design work.
In Florida things are a little more latin-way. It’s a great transition when you’re moving from a latin american country, not so shocking in a lot of aspects. But it also can get a little frustrating when you have to deal with clients/partners that may not value your work the way it should be. I couldn’t be happier than I am now - working for a company that have design excellence as a core value.
Shaping surfboards is a long way from your current job at Apple. Do you ever think of whipping out the resin and shaping some new masterpieces?
Hell yeah! Most of my side projects have this handcraft aspect. Although it’s a long way from the work I do today at the office, I feel like there’s a lot of critical design thinking and understanding of product development that applies to my day-by-day job. Hopefully in the future I’ll find ways to be back in the shape room. And maybe implement a lot of things that I've learned from this job at Apple.
What is the single greatest thing you enjoy about working at Apple?
I love to see the company creating products that make me proud. Believing in the values of the company and the intent of the leadership is key to live a professional life free of personal crisis and questionings. I’ve worked for a list of companies that I couldn’t agree with the CEO decisions, or couldn’t support business decisions. When your values don’t match with the organism your part of, it’s really hard to feel good about the work delivered. My role in this gigantic animal that’s Apple is minimal but very important, and that’s gratifying.
A huge thanks to Cassiano Saldanha for sharing his career path. We hope it helps inspire you to maximise your career also!