Community Spotlight

Carla Lovato on Brazil, design, and Textpattern

Destry Wion 12 October 2012

Brazil has always been a must-go destination for me, even if for a week on the beaten tourist paths. But bikinis and carnival say nothing of the greater cultural experiences to be had by mixing into the big melting pots of Rio de Jeneiro and São Paulo… So says Carla Lovato, who manages the interactive design side of Cadigital, a small web design shop in Brazil’s biggest city. In a huge country where WordPress and Drupal are the perfunctory choices, Carla dances the samba with Textpattern CMS and she’s looking to sway more of her countryfolk to the party.

Carla Lovato
Carla Lovato and her onyx of power.

Carla Lovato, the youngest of four sisters, is a second-generation Brazilian from Italian roots who’s been doing front-end web design since 1998, and using Textpattern CMS since 2005. Carla was born and grew up in the Lapa district of São Paulo, not to be confused with the historic Lapa district of Rio de Jeneiro; once a cultural hothouse for Rio’s intellectuals, politicians, and artists, and still famous for particular landmarks, such as the Arcos de Lapa aqueduct and Escadaria Selarón, a public passageway made beautiful by the tile artistry of Chilean born, Jorge Selarón.

São Paulo — Non dvcor, dvco.

São Paulo is a giant city with a big motto—Non dvcor, dvco—‘I am not led, I lead’. No motto could be more fitting. São Paulo is one of the world’s alpha cities, and Brazil’s largest, with 20 million people. Let me say that again. Twenty million. It’s also the world’s most culturally-mixed and racially-integrated city, as well as one of the most expensive. Mercer’s 2011 List of most expensive cities for expatriate employees ranks São Paulo tenth in the world, above London, Paris, and New York. It may rank in the single digits this year.

Carla gave me some of her own perspective…

São Paulo is the most cosmopolitan city in Brazil. Gastronomy here is excellent due to 500 years of migration to the city. We have a 24-hours lifestyle. People work too hard, so leisure is important to us. The city is around 18,690 square miles. Traffic is the bizarre side of living in São Paulo. Nowadays my home is near my office, so it is easier for me, I can choose if I want to take the car, bus, underground, or simply walk.

I think Carla is being nice when she says traffic in São Paulo is ‘bizarre’. From the reading I’ve done (for example), traffic there is stressful, to say the least. City transportation isn’t much better. And if you walk to avoid the congestion, you could be cut-down by a Formula 1 wannabe racer. It’s no wonder that helicopters are the preferred means for getting around the city.

A busy street in São Paulo, Brazil.
One of the more quiet roads in São Paulo. (Image courtesy of Carla Lovato.)

Carla says web design in São Paulo is highly competitive. When asked what made her choose a career in web design, she said web design actually chose her:

Around 1997, I was working for a magazine as a graphic designer trainee and its website wasn’t yet finished. My boss threw an HTML book on my table, telling me to read it during my vacation and to fix the website’s bugs when I got back. At home we didn’t have internet connection, and I only had a few minutes to surf the web at the office. Internet was very incipient in Brazil at the time. Well, then I started from scratch; reading the book and taking notes with pencil and paper. Yes, my first contact with HTML was with pencil and paper. When I got back to work, I finished their site and never wanted to work with printed medium again.

Like many people in web design today, Carla took a creative route into it. As a child she drew a lot and gained an interest in architecture. That lead to a short stint with an architectural firm after high school. A serious teenager! The work wasn’t as creative as she liked, so she studied print publishing in college, with focus on marketing too. She’s recently completed extension study at the Fundação Getulio Vargas business school, with a focus in Competitive Intelligence Marketing—a branch of marketing that relies on legacy resources and is heavily data-driven. Carla says she likes school for the theory and abstract parts of learning, but when it comes to the day-to-day and web design, she’s happy teaching herself as she goes.

I am from the era of self-taught web designers. After 15 years, we now have an academic system around interactive media. São Paulo’s richest area is a start up cellar and education center, thus there’s an increase in competition among the web entrepreneurs and agencies.

Being curious about co-work environments in other cities, I asked Carla if they were catching on in São Paulo. She said there are many, but she doesn’t use them…

I own a company, Cadigital, with a partner, and we have our own office where I spend most of my work time, from 9 to 6. We work with strategic data from our clients, therefore we can’t work with competitors from the same area. It wouldn’t be ethical to share a place with strangers, risking to leak confidential information.

Carla leads the interactive design side of Cadigital. They offer different kinds of services that add up to a complete brand strategy. She says their focus is very 1 to 1; preferring only a few clients at a time to give them the best attention. She gave me an example…

From our list of clients, Puntoluce Iluminação stands out. It’s a reference luxury brand on home lighting design that we’ve worked with since 2003. They have an international catalog from traditional to contemporary lighting design. This has been an interesting case, because their needs grew as their own market changed. The latest site we did for them, launched in August 2010, was developed on Textpattern (fun!). The press catalogue, launched this year, was based on the visual design and information architecture of the website. We’re now in the process of working with them on brand identity. Another key site is Casa Mineira, a client that’s been with us since 2005.

When not tied up at the office, Carla is occupied with music and art…

At home I have my books, and my notebooks, where I jot down my insights. I keep a little notebook and a pen with me all the time to put any idea down on paper. Ideas can appear out of nowhere: watching movies, appreciating art, or simply walking under the sun on Paulista Avenue, where our office is located.

I am musical person. I’m currently taking piano lessons, but I can play other instruments like electric bass and acoustic guitar. Music is a part of me, I’m always listening to music: long play, compact disc, or mp3 on iPod—whatever way I can. I like to read art books, spiritual ones, marketing books… And, guess what? Tech books also! I enjoy going to the streets to photograph, attending art expositions, and taking drives for a relaxing time of meditation (I love this part of it).

With regard to “taking drives for a relaxing time of meditation”, what Carla really means is taking those drives outside of the city where congestion isn’t so bad. Escape, if you will. As an anecdote to São Paulo’s gridlocks, I recently watched a documentary on French television about French nationals leaving to live and work in São Paulo. They touched upon the traffic situation, of course, and briefly interviewed a young Brazilian cab driver who was saving up for a PlayStation Portable so when traffic came to a stand-still he’d relax and have a game.

When asked about her design inspirations, Carla says…

My main esthetic influence has always been modernist architecture with its pureness, straight lines, and primary colors. Also minimalism from the Bauhaus school of design. On the other hand, I’ve been in love with the Büro Destruct since the end of the 90s. In 2002, for example, I used to extrude a typeface like Helvetica Black Extended and animate it with Flash 6.0. I am from the “Macromedia” DreamWeaver 1.0 era… I’m Jurassic, guys! No kid today has an idea about animated .GIF, Macromedia, ICQ and – oh, no – Gabocorp. I’m talking about the orange and white interface, famous during the 1997/98 Flash animation era. Fortunately, by that time, I was already a minimalist but didn’t know it.

I had to look up Gabocorp, which turns out to be the work of Gabo Mendoza. I found this link that purports to have recovered the original Gabocorp site from 1997, and … well, let’s just say we should all be glad this did not turn out to be “the new standard for all things to come”.

On Textpattern

Carla discovered Textpattern CMS around November, 2005…

One day a developer friend of mine from the Zope times (a Python CMS from 1999/2000) pointed out I could create a site with PHP includes, and told me about the similarity between Textpattern tags and Zope tags. This motivated me to learn it.

Her first contact with the Textpattern community was “very positive”. People were helpful (she gave special mention to Els Lepelaars), and resources were readily available…

I found a variety of blog articles, topics in the support forum, and various PDFs about how to install [Textpattern] and use the essential tags. Later I bought the book Textpattern Solutions, and started using Textpattern on my projects. [My first Textpattern project] was a small web site that, unfortunately, isn’t on air anymore. I have also designed Cadigital’s site and my own,, and several client sites including the ones mentioned earlier.

What does Carla like and not like about Textpattern CMS?

I like the fact that it is only eighteen MySQL tables. It makes the installation process quick and easy. The admin interface is simple to use. Overall, Textpattern is flexible and powerful, just as they say on the Textpattern website. They’re telling the truth.

As for dislikes, the only thing that stands out is the large number of abandoned plugins. I am not a system programmer, so I am not the right person to do something about them. I am trying to promote Textpattern here in Brazil, just warming up to it, in fact, but Brazilian people are into the Wordpress fad. I’m not.

People promoting Textpattern locally is what we like to see. Carla even owns the domain for Textpattern Brazil. Allow me to address you people in Brazil—or anyone else who speaks Portuguese… Get in touch with Carla and help her with the Textpattern Brazil site!

There are a few other regional sites I’m aware of: Textpattern France (their content is more English than French, but, hey, they’re on things), Textpattern Netherlands, and Textpattern Russia. Any others? For the most part, these sites are underutilized, and there’s certainly no strategy across them. I once talked about the idea of language partner sites for the Textpattern project, and sites like these would make the most sense to develop in that direction (if it ever happened). They could tap into the Textpattern branding and be rally points for their regions; posting news, providing original documentation in their respective languages, and organising local Textpattern events. Events are something a growing number of Textpattern users want to see happen. Lots of unexplored (thus untapped) potential there.

On the subject of orphaned (abandoned) plugins, that is sometimes problematic for people. A certain percentage of orphaned plugins might provide unique functionality that’s missed when they’re not supported. Though it needs to be said, orphaned plugins are not unique to Textpattern alone. Every CMS project out there has its share of them. Sometimes plugins are abandoned for good reasons. One example is when new plugins with similar functions are released by other developers and become de rigueur, bumping the older option out of favour. And sometimes the functionality of a given plugin is rolled into core capabilities at a later date, making the plugin obsolete. Indeed, such plugins should be taken out of the picture entirely to not confuse the public. There’s a lot of work to be done yet on creating a good plugin repository for Textpattern that’s cruft free and easily used.

If you’re someone in the market looking for a CMS to try, Carla has this to say about trying Textpattern:

I recommend Textpattern for a web designer who likes to design her own web interfaces without the crutch of limiting third-party templates, where one can only change the background color, typeface, text alignment, and so forth. If you love designing websites from beginning to end, consider using Textpattern. It’s total freedom! And people in the community are friendly and interesting. They’re also very smart. There’s no beginners trying to steal the spotlight.

To clarify, beginners are quite welcome in the Textpattern community, and I’ve noticed many new nicknames in the forum these days. Like any community, Textpattern’s is composed of a range of people, from long-time users (a.k.a., “veterans”) to curious new test drivers. All are welcome. Dive in and go crazy.

The gear

Keeping with the trend in our spotlight profiling, I ran through the questions with Carla.

What hardware do you use?

Only what’s necessary to work with images and test the rendering on different platforms. At the office we have two desktop stations, each one with double AMD core 2.5GHz 64bit with 8GB RAM video/audio offboard; one Apple Mac Mini G4; two Dell Studio Notebooks Intel i5 2.4GHz 64bit 4GB RAM; an iPad1; an iPod4; and a Samsung Galaxy 3 smartphone. We also have a print design sector that includes a print structure for special paper and postprint solution.

And software?

Our current arsenal of operating systems include OSX 10.3, Windows 7, iOS, and Android. For graphics we use GIMPshop. For coding we use Komodo Edit and Notepad2, and make use of Firebug and Web Developer extensions in Firefox and Chrome. I use FileZilla for file transfers. Like most people, we use Google Analytics for traffic analysis. And for office docs we use BROffice, a Brazilian project, and OpenProj for project management. Yes, we tend to go for the cost-effective open source resources, but as web entrepreneurs, we know the advance of technologies can drive the market forward and that we need to keep up with the changes.

What’s your typical workflow for a given project?

We have four stages: 1) brainstorm and concept; 2) user research and stage setting; 3) wireframes and maps; 4) prototypes. We spend more time in planning, research and briefing with the client. The final result must be a clean, beautiful, fast, cross-browser and cross-platform interface, also easy to use and fun (because everybody likes to have some). We actually need another person in the agency to help us with continual growth.

Getting personal

Like anybody, Carla has a few desires for things not yet attained. Her top three?

My little dream is to have an eco-sustainable house on the city of Ubatuba, located on the northern coast in the state of São Paulo. It would have a vegetable garden, a water-reuse system, solar power system, my books, music albums, and the piano, of course. The second thing would be changing my old MacMini for a new one, it could be an iMac or a MacMini again. I’d be happy either way. Lastly, I’d like to have a little 100ml bottle of Carolina Herrera Eau de Parfum 212 Sexy.

Environment, productivity, and pleasure. Bases covered. And where does she see herself in five years?

I want to be where I am, doing my job, but helping others too who have fewer perspectives in the industry. I want to teach free courses on web design for young people from São Paulo.

Carla Lovato behind a pole.
Look carefully and you may spot the shy Lovato bird as she flits from perch to perch.

The points keep racking up!

And Carla’s final words…

I would like to say that people should express their point of view about politics, religion, sex orientation, and so on without judging others. They should follow their own truth without disrespecting the truth of their neighbor.

I would also like to say thank you to everyone behind TXP Magazine for this opportunity of showing the real side of Brazilian people (the country is so much more than beautiful beaches), and a little about me and Cadigital, from São Paulo. You’re welcome here anytime!

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