The first thing that strikes you about Diego Zambrano is his beard, a formidable work of facial hair impressive enough to challenge even the mighty Gandalf. It speaks to the award-winning design partner’s underlying “I’ll do what I want, thank you very much” attitude. Zambrano, a charismatic Brazilian native who first made a name for himself in the United States during his time at R/GA and Ogilvy, before founding his start-up, Bondsy, and eventually becoming an early partner at Work & Co, a digital product design and development company with locations in Portland, New York City, and Rio de Janeiro.
As both a skilled artist and a passionate creative, Zambrano ironically spent a lot of his adult life trying not to work in design. After witnessing most of his family struggle in Brazil’s shaky creative industry, he decided to study the “safer” field of engineering in college. After just one year Zambrano switched over to business school, but it wasn’t meant to last. In the middle of an accounting class he had a come-to-Jesus moment—he walked out and promptly dropped out of school, despite his mother’s pleas for him to stay enrolled “because people with degrees go to better jails in Brazil!”
After a blog he created about the Brazilian penitentiary system received nationwide recognition, he was recruited by the country’s largest digital agency. “I did everything to get away from working in creative industry, but I still ended up there,” he now laughs. “That’s when I realized it was the thing that I had to do.”
Outside of design, Zambrano’s passions lie in cooking and woodcraft, but he seems to be equally passionate about how to design digital products to represent a brand. He likens the experience of using an app to that of eating at a restaurant. “You might see a sign with the restaurant’s name on it, but as soon as you walk in the door, it’s not about that,” he explains. “It’s about the experience you’re having. Similarly, once you open an app, the logo goes away and it’s all about what you do there. In many cases the consumer is going to spend more time with that brand through the digital product.”
Diego loves thinking about the restaurant experience because every single point of the experience can be unique and shaped by the restaurant. This detailed thinking is exemplified by Work & Co.’s work with Virgin America. “Virgin America was a personalized experience that was tailored for them – the branding never gets in the way, instead it’s perfectly integrated throughout the experience.”. This is the level of care Diego wants for the brands he interact with, personalized experiences that are tailored for the brand and for the people using it.
As someone well-versed in UX design, Zambrano (obviously) has the end user in mind—not just the client in the boardroom. “I try to track the emotion I want to get out of a person when they open a specific page, even mapping those emotions before I start designing the pages.”
Diego took this approach with Work & Co client the Met Opera, Zambrano wanted to make the online experience reflect the positive aspects of seeing a Met performance, as well and address any pain points. “You need to guide the user’s emotional journey in the product, and my experience of all the things I’ve done in the past really helps me with that.”
Now that Work & Co. is growing rapidly, Zambrano is more conscious than ever about how to scale without straying from his company’s core values “Our goal now is to never lower our standards. We love the team we have and the clients with whom we’ve chosen to partner. We don’t want those things to change” he says. “When you go from 15 people to 100, there is a risk that things do change. So you have to keep listening to the team and addressing any concerns. We’ve been fortunate so far, but you can never take your eye off that ball.”
And the beard? His wife loves it, so we’re guessing it’s here to stay.