During my recent week in Costa Rica, more than one person pointed out how lucky I was to be there for the blossom.

Costa Rica trees and blossom

They were right, too: everywhere trees, shrubs and even buildings frothed gloriously with flowers – pinks, violets, and an almost neon yellow.

There was a metaphorical blossoming happening too, as locations all over the San José broke out in a profusion of exhibitions, events and pop-ups for Semana del Diseño Costa Rica. (That’s Costa Rica Design Week, in case your Spanish is as woeful as mine.) 

From the moment Bruno Campos of Pupila met me at the airport, it was clear this was a conference like no other. Over five days, the team – led by Bruno’s colleague, Alfredo Enciso – took us speakers on a seamless, virtually non-stop tour of events, shows, and diet-busting meals across the city. And then, as if we hadn’t been treated enough, they drove us out to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, for a couple of nights in an eco-lodge in the jungle. 

It was every bit as much fun as it sounds.

Better in person

We’d been chatting to Pupila on and off since I saw their riotously entertaining talk at Brand New Conference in 2019. They were keen to learn more about the verbal side of branding, and asked us about training.

We did a successful mini-workshop with them over Zoom during lockdown. And then, as travel restrictions abated, Bruno suggested I visit them and run a more comprehensive workshop about verbal branding and copywriting. 

And, he said, why not do it as part of Costa Rica Design Week? They’d run this event for a few years pre-lockdown, and 2022 would see it revived for the first time. Perhaps I’d give a short talk at the conference, as well?

I thought hard about this invitation for about three nanoseconds, then agreed. 

A stellar line-up

As well as an awards programme and masses of events and exhibits around the city, Semana del Diseño included a Saturday packed with talks – including mine. The speaker group was fascinating, drawn from Latin America, the US and UK:


  • Jimena Acosta – an independent curator of art and design from Mexico City, who led the panel discussion on our day of talks.
  • Carla Fernández – a Mexican fashion designer, passionate about indigenous crafts and sustainable, responsible design.
  • Michael Fullman – Chief Creative Officer of VTPro Design, which creates experiences through design and technology for artists, brands and agencies.
  • Andrew Gibbs – Founder and CEO of The Dieline, who came through a terrible health scare with a new resolve to tackle plastic packaging – in part through A Plastic Planet.
  • Emiliano Godoy – An industrial, furniture and interior designer from Mexico City who focuses on sustainable, socially responsible design.
  • Mackey Saturday – Principal Designer at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, the legendary New York identity firm. And creator of the Instagram logotype.
  • James Sommerville – co-founder of legendary design shop Attik, former VP of Global Design at Coke, and now founder of decentralised creative community Known Unknown.

This was a group brimming with intelligence, enthusiasm, passion, and good humour. By the time we made the four-hour drive to Puerto Viejo, it felt like travelling with friends. 

Living the Pura Vida

I came home brimming with memories, but perhaps the most powerful is that of the generosity and warmth of the Costa Rican design community. 

My workshop group was one of the most engaged and enthusiastic I’ve worked with – even after eight hours of hard work. And following our talks, we were surrounded by people keen to talk more – and even grab selfies! None of the speakers had known a response like it.

Through Pupila, I’d already learned the Costa Rican catchphrase: ¡Pura vida! – “Pure life” or “Nothing but life”. To a jaded branding ear, this could sound like just a snappy tourism tagline. But pura vida really is the way of life in Costa Rica – a famously progressive nation that has had no army since 1949, and is almost 100% powered by renewable energy. It has its problems, of course, like any nation. But the pura vida spirit is real, wonderful, and almost overwhelming.

You should go

From 2023, Semana del Diseño is going to be back to full, pre-lockdown strength – which means attendance in the thousands, not just hundreds like this year. I thoroughly recommend going, if you can.

Sign up for updates on their website, and follow their Instagram, too.

Pura vida!