I consider myself very lucky to have traveled to Vietnam earlier this spring and to have been introduced – by a very good, mutual friend of ours – to Joshua Breidenbach – a co-founder of Saigon-based multidisciplinary design agency ‘Rice Creative’. Renowned for their original identity and packaging system design for Vietnamese chocolate company Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat, Joshua and his partner Chi-An De Leo set up Rice Creative in 2011 with an aim to offer thoughtful, creative solutions to every design problem. And for only 3 years, their keen eye for detail together with their dedication has clearly brought Rice Creative ongoing success.
Whilst providing their worldwide clients with the highest possible value, Rice Creative also attach great importance to local skills and craftsmanship. They have commissioned a local printmaker to use the traditional screen-printing techniques and hand print each wrapper for Marou Chocolate.
And to celebrate their accomplishments, I asked Joshua a few questions and he kindly gave us some insight into his studio practice.
First of all, can you tell us a bit why you decided to set up Rice Creative in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)?
We both love the city. It’s full of mysteries. It’s always feeling like it’s on the cusp of something new. It’s a great hub for the entire region. Saigon has historically always been a very mixed multi-cultural cross roads. We love that history, and we see ourselves involved in the unraveling of the cities’ identity. Saigon may have an identity crisis, but it’s forming. It’s really very exciting to be around for it. We are both from very ‘established’ places, where a new building may go up once in a decade. In the past years we’ve seen the skyline literally rise from nothing. It’s very intense. We usually say we were early to the party. But as we become more established, we find that there was a need for Rice to open here in Saigon.
How would you describe design and branding in Vietnam today?
It’s certainly on the rise. It’s ‘of interest’, It’s becoming more necessary, as the environment becomes more modern and global. Vietnamese people are quite competitive by nature, and once your neighbour has a fresh new rebranding, well you better make some decisions. Truth be told, the majority of our clients are from elsewhere in the world, Europe, Asia, Oceana & the Americas but we’re seeing quite an upswing in local projects. We are ready and looking forward to that.
Can you describe your workspace?
Our workspace is a second home to us all. It was crucial that it be comfortable. It’s jammed with books and inspiration and concepts and prototypes and such, but it’s organised, and it is designed. We all come and go as we please as we get a lot of inspiration from outside and around the city. There are different kinds of spaces for different kinds of uses. It was very important that we find the right space, and we did take 6 months to locate it. We were really lucky. We were able to secure the 2 top floors of an old 60’s building, overlooking the city’s central market.
The location is an absolute hub. The space was a wreck when we found it, but we were able to renovate the space exactly to our taste. We retained the 60’s feel, keeping true & minimal materials. We opened it up, removing some walls and laid custom designed white terrazzo floors, terrazzo being a common material from the mid-century architecture in town. We have a great big rooftop terrace, which is being made into the ultimate hangout for our staff as a rooftop café and urban garden. It’s a point of pride for our staff. It’s a place to dream and relax, which happens to be very important elements to our work, and it’s not a bad place to drink and entertain our clients & guests.
Where do you usually go to get your inspirations?
Aside from our rooftop now, we get around the city, try to find hidden markets, which we do still manage to do easily even after living in this city for almost a decade. It’s also important for us to get out of Saigon, as much as it feeds us, we can get stale here. We often head to Bangkok for inspiration, or alternately, somewhere very quiet, like SaPa or DaLat.
What are the best and the worst aspects of working in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)?
It’s a place of contradictions. The best thing for our work is doing new stuff that has not been done here, and finding artisans and printers that can make brilliant ideas come true. Of course, this current joy came at a price. The early days of Rice were spent toiling. We worked very hard trying to find suitable suppliers who were first, willing to even try new things. Once those people were found in the murk, we really had to learn with them, encourage them. Those cherished partners are now quite happy with the evolution, as they get tons of new work from us. They even changed their businesses, as their neighbours look on.
Can you tell us a bit about the projects that you are working on at the moment?
Our work is quite varied. After 2 solid years of publishing work. We are told we have a style, however we do not. We create a thought and an ID that is appropriate to our clients needs. We are known for our hand-crafted work, which we are utilizing for a craft beer in the US. We often accomplish illustration in-house, however our skills do not always tick the boxes, so we gladly enlist help. We are very excited to be working right now with our friend & illustrator Brendan Wenzel who is creating illustrations for a wonderful new line of herbal supplements we are working on form the US. We also create really minimal work. We just re-enlisted with UNICEF as their long term creative partner. We will always have as much charitable work as we can handle, as we know how powerful creativity is, we know we can help. Design wise, UNICEF is all modernist typography and info graphics! We also always hope to have a wholly art based project in the studio. We have that, currently working on layouts for the next D&AD annual. This project came out the blue, humbled us, and it is a huge honour.
What’s next for Rice Creative?
Next is simply becoming stronger and better at what we do. We have ideas, we have craft, we have the team, and a place to sit. We now just want to continue to focus our strengths. We are careful not to stretch too thin, or over exert, however we are very ambitious, and see each new project not only as a way to build our clients business, but ours as well. Every project reaches higher in some calculated ways and we learn every day how to be the best we can be.
Ventures. As we work with quite a few start-ups, we’re getting much more into ventures. Potential clients approach us from all over the world, many of whom have incredible ideas and products, but they may not be able to finance a creative team like us. Though they know what they need is the differentiation, wonderful branding program and identity will give them. If in these cases we really believe in the product, we look to partner up, or even work for royalties. It shows our dedication, which our clients really appreciate, it allows us to get involved in some really exciting, living and breathing work. We’re looking forward. It’s not about trying to earn a quick buck right now.