Profiles in Design: Richars Meza

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 01/15/2020 | 6 Minute Read

When you think of design-focused cities, you might think of New York, Singapore, or Berlin. 

Lima, Peru, on the other hand, probably doesn’t come to mind. 

Design in Latin American as a whole doesn’t have quite the clout as places in North America, Asia, and Europe—but just because you might not see as many books in the library about Latin American creativity doesn’t mean the design scene there today isn’t thriving, or one of the best in the world.

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“People in Latin America, we always look up to places like the United States, but we have a lot of history that we can show the world about our roots and our past,” said Richars Meza, Creative Director of IS Creative Studio in Lima, Peru, and Latin American Design Festival Founder and Director. And while he has undoubtedly had a significant impact on growing the Latin American design community, it’s been a journey around the world to get to this point today.

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Richars didn’t know from a young age that he wanted to be a designer—he didn’t even know what a graphic designer was—but he did have a passion for drawing and an interest in graphics.

“I was very curious as a kid,” he admitted, and at the age of 17, when it came time to consider higher education, he decided to explore design more. There was one school in Peru where he could study this, so he went-Toulouse Lautrec Institute. It allowed him the chance to dive into design and work with his hands more while also develop his own approach to work.

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“I was very shy when I was a teenager,” Richars said. “When other students were presenting, some of them were able to speak a lot more. And when it was my turn to present, for me, it was kind of difficult to speak too much. So it's a very basic lesson, but I learned to allow the work to speak for itself. There was actually no need to oversell the idea.”

He felt compelled to study abroad after his first job out of school. His boss had studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, and her work was different than anything he’d seen before. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, you can do things differently than what we were doing.’” he explained. “At the school I went to, the program repeated, and the teachers taught the same thing. So my vision became broader when I met this person who studied in the U.S. with a different system, different courses, and experimental typography. I thought it was amazing.”

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This led him to Pratt Institute to study Interactive Design and Animation and Video, which resulted in working for a digital agency for nearly four years. He then went on to Tokyo for a year to work at a design studio, which did print and web, and eventually Madrid, where he stepped into the role of entrepreneur for the first time to open a design studio with a friend. They worked together for seven years until they split—and Richars felt like it was finally time for a design studio of his very own.

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“I really wanted to mix disciplines when I started my own thing, and I wanted to make personal projects a part of what defines the work that we do,” Richars said of founding IS Creative Studio. “I admire a lot of design studios that want to do personal projects because just doing work for your clients is limiting. Being your own client is complete freedom because you can experiment.”

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One of his studio’s most notable projects, for instance, was just that—a passion project that garnered them a decent amount of attention. After moving back to Lima, Peru, Richars received a tax letter from the government, stamped with a pixelated Peruvian coat of arms. He took it upon himself to revamp the coat of arms so meticulously that it would look as if the government had approached them to redo it. Some people loved the refresh and felt it was much needed after hundreds of years, others demanded the government change it back to what it used to be, and several studios reached out to Richars directly wondering how he landed such an exclusive client—all this over a studio-directed project.

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Spending fifteen years abroad has also influenced his work significantly, giving him a view of the world beyond just Lima and Latin America. Coming home, he said, allowed him to see his city with fresh eyes. “When I look back after living abroad, I started to notice things I thought were super beautiful that I had seen every day, but I didn't realize they were pretty. Or I saw things that weren’t so great, and you could change, but I never asked why.” 

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This newfound love helped inspire his next endeavor, the Latin American Design Festival, which began as a blog and then turned into an event in 2015. Richars admitted he wasn't prepared for how much work it would entail, half-joking that if he had known how much effort it required, he probably wouldn’t have done it.

“But that’s the great thing about not having experience in something,” he mused. “You don’t have fears. It’s something unknown for you.”

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This big unknown has transformed into a festival, now going into its sixth year, one that fills up auditoriums across Lima. And while he will continue with IS Creative Studio, he also plans to grow the festival further—the idea is to include more tracks than ever for attendees in 2020 and to take it on the road to other cities. Looking even further ahead, he hopes to open a school and a museum, putting more value in Latin American design. 

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But his desire to do this doesn’t come from the success he’s experienced so far; instead, it’s the personal stories that mean the most and keep him innovating for the future.

“From time to time, we hear stories that the festival changed someone’s life like they saw a speaker and then started doing something new, or they met someone that they now work with, or that they’re working abroad. Those stories are super inspiring, and I know we are doing something good for the community. That's most important.”

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