Like so many kids filled with passion and ambition before him, Julian Jaramillo forswore traditional career paths and left his hometown of Bogotá, Colombia, almost 20 years ago to become an artist in Manhattan. But as a student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, he quickly realized he didn’t have a talent for painting. “I was barking up the wrong tree,” he says with a laugh. “Luckily I discovered graphic design, which is something I hadn’t even heard of in Colombia.”
The pivot put him on a trajectory toward the media industry, including stints at The Wall Street Journal, a multimedia startup, and eventually a prominent advertising agency. After a decade in New York, and then newly married to fellow Colombian Silvana Villegas (a Jean-Georges Vongerichten alumna who went on to open one of Bogotá’s most popular bakeries, Masa), Jaramillo returned home to be closer to family, landing a high-profile position as the creative director at Young & Rubicam. From an outsider’s perspective, it might have seemed like all the puzzle pieces were falling into place, but something was amiss. “I was unhappy with agency life in general, and with this notion of climbing the corporate ladder,” he says. So he quit his job and decided to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands to Colombia, with his dad. Before jumping on the boat, he stopped in Barcelona and made plans to have coffee with an old acquaintance, Andrés Ortiz, a founding partner at the data visualization firm Bestiario. The meeting ended up lasting several hours, and Jaramillo left as a partner and the design director of the company. (He still completed the voyage with his dad.)
The innovative work he’s a part of now defies a pithy, one-line description. “It’s a weird and wonderful company,” he says. “There are many disciplines in play, including data science, consulting, and design.” They created an interactive platform for National Geographic showing the evolution of access to clean drinking water around the world, a project that was short-listed for this year’s Information Is Beautiful Awards. For the city of Barcelona, Bestiario devised a map of commuting patterns using data from local mobile-phone users. Jaramillo’s job, simply put, is to make complex information digestible through smart design.
One of Bestiario’s most prominent endeavors to date involves the illustrious Ferran Adrià. In 2014, the company was tasked with transforming the Catalan chef’s complex notes and sketches on gastronomy into a visually compelling exhibit for Arco, one of Spain’s most important art fairs. The team also helped him with another exhibition, “Auditing the Creative Process,” that debuted in Madrid before traveling to several Latin American countries. Collaborating with Adrià lead to a relationship with champagne house Dom Pérignon, which tapped Bestiario to create a lab within the El Bulli Foundation where every aspect of the brand will be decoded.
The disparate projects speak to an evolving notion of design itself, which continues to expand into new realms. “A good designer has to learn to navigate many different disciplines,” Jaramillo says. “People are now looking to us not just to fulfill an aesthetic ideal, but as an integral part of their organizations.”