Winding along busy streets, cyclists whir through the crisp, often rain coated city of Bogotá on the way to their day jobs. Mountains surround the capital city of Colombia, producing a picturesque backdrop for creative inspiration — the kind of setting Hubstaff’s Senior Brand Designer Rene Agudelo thrives off of.
Being born and raised in Bogotá is something Rene is rather proud of. Living in such a diverse place has exposed him to numerous cultures and experiences that influence both his work and his outlook on life. As he’s ventured further into his career, he’s always found himself called back to Bogotá.
As a designer, Rene’s sharpened his ability to craft a visual narrative. He’s learned what it takes to have a successful team and knows what it means to be a hard worker. Rene has traveled the world to work with several international clients and moved all-around in pursuit of better, more challenging work. Along the way, he’s built brands, moved countries, gotten married, and worked towards tasting the many beers of the world.
Rene doesn’t just want to produce work. He seeks to create functional art. He looks for ways that design can influence and change the world around us. His illustrative style and knack for intuitive design have taken him far, and he’s responsible for the entire visual aesthetic of Hubstaff.
We talked about everything from his early life, what it was like working for his father, the crazy story of having to move home from Australia, and why he loves brunch so much.
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Rene: The early years
Sean: What was your life like growing up?
Rene: It was lots of fun. Bogotá has become a melting pot of sorts, home to people from all over. In the surrounding areas, there are many different foods from different parts of the world — ranging from African to Spanish and Indigenous Colombian cuisine. We’re primarily a Spanish-influenced city, but we’re also influenced by Brazillian and Venezuelan culture. The variety of things to do in Bogota is great. Since we’re about 8 million people in this city and a variety of cultures, there’s always plenty to choose from on any given day so you’ll never get bored here.
Sean: Did you travel a lot when you were younger?
Rene: Yes — still do. My family was very blessed, as we were able to travel and experience quite a bit. Travel and adventure have always been important to me. I think that the more I travel, the more rooted I am.
Sean: Do you have some favorite places you’ve visited?
Rene: I recently got back from San Francisco in the States. It’s beautiful over there. One of my favorite trips I went on was to Singapore and Thailand. Their culture and cuisine is very different from what I’m used to in Colombia. It was just an amazing experience being able to try so many new things. I would for sure go back in a heartbeat.
Sean: So, when did you know that you wanted to be a designer?
Rene: For the longest time, I was really into computers. I was totally fascinated by them. I wanted to be a developer for quite a while when I was younger. I also loved to draw. I remember, in high-school, I would draw any logos I saw — TV, magazines, on the street, all of it.
But those two things — computers and drawing — never really had anything to do with each other. When I was maybe 14 or 15, though, I was spending time with my cousin, who is a graphic designer when I realized that my love of computers and drawing could actually be a career — as a designer. I got to see my cousin’s process and the work he was doing and became infatuated by design. From then on, I knew what I wanted to do.
Sean: Was there a moment when you finally said to yourself, ‘I’m a designer.’
Rene: Actually, yes. I was in college at the time. My dad is a manufacturer of cleaning chemicals, and he asked me to do some work for his business. The very first thing I created for him was a brochure for the company, and he treated me like a real designer — paid me a fair price and everything. It felt very official.
Sean: Did you learn anything from that first design experience?
Rene: A lot. I look back on those projects and find tons of mistakes. But I was still only in university and had a lot to learn. But that first job lit a fire for me. I was hungry to learn more.
The career begins
Sean: So, you finish university. What was your very first job out of school?
Rene: Yes, I was very blessed and got a job only a few months prior to graduating. My very first design job, not counting the work I did for my father, was working for a marketing agency in Bogotá. I mostly got to work on branding and logo design. We built brands from the ground up, and I got a lot of hands-on experience through that job.
Sean: Were there any lessons you learned from that first job?
Rene: Tons. I made lots of mistakes and had to learn from them. I learned a lot about clients — what to do when speaking with them and how to address specific issues. But the first big thing I learned was from my boss at the time. He was the CEO and was really wasn’t a good leader. He wasn’t fair to his employees and treated everyone very unprofessionally. While I was there, I said to myself that I would never treat people the way he’s treated all of us. I learned from his example, or bad example, I guess.
Sean: Now, after that first job, where did you venture off to?
Rene: After that first job, I decided to freelance for a while, and did for about a year. I worked with my cousin, the same one that inspired me to become a designer in the first place. We did a lot of work for my dad and a few other random clients here and there. But, my first big job after that was working for a textile company. I believe it’s one of the largest — if not the most significant — textile companies in South America. It was such a great place to work, and I learned a lot about textile design while I was there. I had the opportunity to learn more about designing patterns, something that was very new to me, but I quickly fell in love with. I learned about space and balance in my work that has really shaped the way I illustrate now. But, after almost three years, I wanted to do more than design textiles. I wanted to do more graphic design.
Sean: So, where did you go from there?
Rene: Well, I got married, and we wanted to take on a bit of an adventure. So, we moved to Melbourne, Australia.
Sean: Woah, that’s a big move.
Rene: It was, but it was one of the best times for us when we were newly married. While I was there, I also learned a lot about digital design. I got a job with HBA, who’s based in L.A. but was looking to revamp their Melbourne office. I was offered the chance to be the lead designer for their branding studio division there, and it was incredible. I got to work on huge projects for luxury buildings, hotels, and casinos. It was a fantastic job that, unfortunately, came to an end when the company ran into some financial trouble. I was affected by the personnel downsize, so in order to keep the work visa, I needed to find another company that could provide sponsorship. After giving it some thought, my wife and I realized it was a good time to be back home, and we took the downsize as a sign to move home to be with our families and friends.
Sean: That’s hard. Were you sad to see that job go?
Rene: Yes, but I was also ready for the next chapter. I was also happy to go home and be with my family. Thankfully, I had gained a lot of contacts through that and my other previous jobs and felt more confident freelancing again. I was able to work with brands from all over the world. One of my favorites was being able to create these fun illustrations for Strava — the running and biking app that tracks your timing and location.
Sean: That’s some big work. How did you end up going from that to working at Hubstaff?
Rene: Well, while freelancing is fun, and I still do freelance, I needed something more stable. I needed a regular paycheck, but I’d become very accustomed to working remotely. That’s when I found the position at Hubstaff.
Rene and remote life
Sean: So, since you were already freelancing, I imagine that the transition to working remotely wasn’t too tricky.
Rene: Not at all. Hubstaff was precisely what I was looking for. The only thing I had to get used to was having a team again. I was so used to solving problems myself that, once I joined, I had to adjust to having people to ask questions of. Though, that’s not a bad problem to have, really. It’s nice having both the flexibility to work where I’d like and real work culture.
Sean: Has working remotely influenced the design work you do?
Rene: For sure. Working remotely means I have the freedom to be inspired anywhere I go. Some days, I’ll work from WeWork, grab a beer on the roof, and look at the mountains around me. Or, I can work from home and enjoy a cup of coffee with my wife. It really helps with my vibe and keeps me in a good mood. And when I’m in a good mood, I design better.
Sean: Tell me what a typical day looks like for you, then.
Rene: Well, I’m an early riser. I like to get up early, sometimes to train and workout, other times just to be up. I’ll enjoy a nice breakfast and then bike for about 30 minutes to my space at WeWork. I’ll work till lunchtime, grab a bite to eat, and then make my way to the rooftop where I’ll generally have a beer and work till it’s time to go home. Around five, I’ll bike back home where my wife will have made us an unbelievably good meal. She’s a fantastic cook.
Sean: That’s amazing. What would you say are some of your favorite things, then?
Rene: Oh, that’s a hard one. I love spending time with friends — either going out for a cocktail or a glass of wine. During the week, my wife and I will go out often to explore or grab a drink somewhere, which I love doing. Here in Bogotá, we have things thing called Ciclovía, which loosely translates to bicycle lanes in English. What it means is that, on Sundays, some of our major roads bike lanes for that day and so the streets will just be full of cyclists going out for brunch on the weekends. Oh, I also love brunch.
Sean: I mean, who doesn’t love brunch?
Rene: I know, right. It’s the best part of the weekend.
Sean: Now, can you walk me through your illustration process a bit? Let’s say you’re briefed on a new project, where do you start and how do you get it done?
Rene: Sure. So I usually start by taking in all the information — reading through the brief and any other relevant documents that have been added along with it. Then, I’ll do some design research. I love using Dribbble, and I’ll normally look through some of my favorite designer’s pages.
Sean: Do you have some favorite designers or people whose work really inspires you?
Rene: Yeah, I really love Eddie Lobanovskiy’s work. Roger Oddone and Ryan Putnam also do amazing work that I love. I have some other designers here in Colombia like Daniel Lasso that have done really amazing work that inspires me. I also look at other company’s blogs and content pages to see what kind of work they’ve been doing to get a better idea for what’s popular at the moment.
Sean: So, from there, where do you go in your process?
Rene: From there, I start sketching. I used to do it the old fashioned way — pen and paper — but now I’ve gone digital with the Wacom tablet and iPad Pro. It just makes editing and undoing work so much easier. Once I’ve sketched out what I think works, I’ll typically show it to whoever’s running the project to get their O.K. before designing it in Illustrator. From there, it’s just about breaking it out into vectors and making any edits that people need.
Sean: How did you craft the visual style for Hubstaff?
Rene: When I started, the brand just needed more personality. At the time, Hubstaff had a good set of illustrations and decent brand identity, but their style was a bit dated and I saw an opportunity to craft a strong aesthetic for the brand. Along with Adam and Gia, we were able to create something that I’m really proud of.
Sean: Tell me more about your workspace.
Rene: Well, usually, I work from a collab space called WeWork. But, I do also have a home office.
Sean: Do you like working from home?
Rene: Oh, I love it. My wife, who’s a fashion designer, also works from home, so we actually get to spend a lot of time together. This also means there’s typically a lot going on in that workspace, which can be good or bad depending on what kind of atmosphere I need.
Rene’s words to live by
Sean: If a young aspiring designer came to you to ask you for advice, what would you tell him or her?
Rene: Hmm. I’d say this. You’ll notice lots of people who think that design is more about creating art than it is about creating something functional. But being a designer means you’re also a problem solver. Yes, you’ll get to create beautiful and fun illustrations and designs, but you’ll also need to develop solutions and solve problems with your work. Think about it. How does your design work in application? Does the design call out the right things? Is it answering the questions the viewer may have? Is it what the client wants? There’s a lot of factors when it comes to design that I don’t think younger designers really consider when getting into the field. To become a great designer, you need to be smart. Spend time solving problems. Go find a problem and see if you can solve it with design. Odds are, you can, because it’s not all about just making art.
Sean: If someone wanted to move into a more remote career, what advice would you give them?
Rene: When you get that remote job, treat it like a real job. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you’re not busy or what your doing is easy or casual. Fight the urge to want to slack off. Make a routine and stick to it. Get up at the same time every day, take a shower, get dressed for work like you’re going to an office. Eat a good meal, and get to work. Set up a space for yourself that’s just for work. These things really helped me when I started working from home. Lastly, I’ll say this. You have to be responsible for yourself. You’ve made a commitment to your boss or clients, and it’s up to you to stay honest and keep your word. In the end, that’s how you’ll be successful.