In Mexico City’s central Colonia Juárez neighborhood, just off the major avenue Paseo de la Reforma that runs through the heart of the city, sits a building so unassuming—and unmarked—that it takes me three walks down the block and back to realize I’m in the right place. That fact is confirmed by the doorman, who is sitting in a chair on the sidewalk, and points me toward a cavernous, and seemingly empty, entrance. It leads to a space like no design office I’ve ever been in: a massive, sunlit building, complete with palm tree-adorned balconies, distressed walls, dripping plants, and a spectacular, looming glass ceiling.
Housed within is the branding studio Futura, which specializes in restaurant identities, food and beverage packaging, environmental branding, and cultural design, both in Mexico and worldwide. Futura’s actual office is modest, diminutive even, compared to the space as a whole, which, they tell me, is known alternatively as General Prim 30 (the street name) or Proyecto Público Prim. It’s used as a space for public and private events, art exhibits, fashion shows, concerts, and weddings. It’s also the home of Residencia, a publicity and branding agency, which recently opened up the building to offices displaced by the earthquake in September. Residencia was once a client of Futura, which is how the studio ended up there just a few weeks before my arrival.
Daniel Martínez, Futura’s art director, and Karla Heredia, the studio’s head designer, greet me with pan de muerto, the sweet rolls used to celebrate Día de Muertos. Their small team of 10 works from two long tables of Mac computers in a small, green-painted room. It’s cozy enough for the designers to talk to each other over the tops of their monitors, volleying ideas and questions back and forth on client work. Though spare, the office is for the most part unpacked and set-up, with a few artworks still waiting to be hung.
Martínez and Heredia take me to a table in airy stone and tile foyer, where I can see the other enclosed spaces in the building have been similarly taken up by small studios. Upstairs there are iron railings foregrounded by stone columns; plants seemed to be growing out of the crevices of the walls and hang down from the ceiling. It feels like a co-working space had been plopped down inside of Aztec ruins, in the middle of a tropical rainforest.
Futura’s old offices were in the neighborhood of Condesa, one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake, and although no one in their building was hurt the place was badly damaged. Residencia originally opened up the event space as a temporary stop-over, offering offices for a seven week period while people got back on their feet. But Futura has since decided to make it their permanent home. “We really wanted to stay in a such culturally and visually enriching building,” says Martínez.
It’s the second time in two years that the office has moved; the first was in 2015, to Mexico City from the northern city of Monterrey. Originally founded in 2008 by Iván García and Vicky González, Futura first got on the map with a branding project for Bocanegra, a local craft beer that was subsequently bought by Beerhouse, one of Mexico’s biggest beer companies. “At that time there were not a lot of artisanal beers like that in Mexico—Bocanegra was really the beginning of that trend,” says Heredia. “It was defined by a really good image, and that image was made here at Futura. There were a lot of eyes on Futura after that.”
Work began to pick up, and many of the commissions were for more of the same—beer, food, and coffee, cultural and community spaces. After González left the office two years ago, García moved the office to Mexico City. Those who wanted to continue working there joined him.
Moving to Mexico City meant that the studio was closer to a greater concentration of the food and culture industries they were already designing for. “The design community in Monterrey is really strong, but also small—everyone knows everyone,” says Martínez. “Monterrey is conservative; there is a lot of money and a lot of industry. Here in Mexico City it’s much more culturally open.”
The pace and atmosphere of the city also feel more akin to Futura’s mode of operation, which is heavily influenced by art and pop culture. Heredia and Martínez describe Futura as a place that encourages discovery and cultivating interests, and promotes the idea that learning is a life-long pursuit to be continued way after design school. That ethos is reflected in Futura’s work culture: “Sometimes we have museum breaks, we have movie breaks. We go to wine nights,” says Heredia. “We try to always be on the move, always trying new places.” Ultimately, it’s reflected in their work, too. “We’re less reliant on focus groups; it’s more like we’re just out in the world,” she says.
While Futura is influenced by the architecture, public art, food, culture, and colors of Mexico City, many of its commissions come from other parts of the world—Spain, the U.S., Qatar—and most new clients find them from social media. Martínez says that almost all of the designers at Futura come from a Bauhaus and Swiss modern background, as is common in Mexico, and those are the styles that dominate the studio work as well. But, he says, “you need to know the rules to break them.”
“We use those influences as an inspiration, and a basis, but we also consider ourselves risk-takers. The effort is to propose something different, to go one step further.”
With the recently completed branding for an online pizza company called The Pizza Affair in Monaco, Futura played off the suggestiveness of the name. The bold, colorful packaging design for the pizza box makes references to ’70s soft core porn through blown-out photography, which is partially hidden by clever use of color-blocking. The illustration applied to the packaging for cups and bottles is nuanced but still erotic, using negative space to suggest as much as it leaves out. The logo is a winking slice of pizza.
Closer to home, Futura did the branding for a coffee shop called Blend Station, located in Condesa near the studio’s old offices. The company gave the studio a lot of creative flexibility, which it put toward creating a vibrant mix of pastel patterns, sweetly strange illustrations, and one very large, black blob monster painted on the side wall of the shop, acting as the “protagonist of the brand.” It wasn’t until they were nearly done with the interiors of the shop that they noticed the logo didn’t appear anywhere besides the entrance. Instead, people recognize the brand by the two white eyes staring out from the black coffee cups.
In all of Futura’s prolific output and worldwide projects, there’s a playfulness and sense of irreverence than runs throughout. It’s an attitude Martínez attributes at least in part to García’s unlikely start—as a designer at a porn site—as well as his insistence that his designers bring their worlds into their design, and their design out into the world. The designers at Futura are taught to respond to their environments, to bring the outside in, and to enjoy design. In turn, their design work is extremely enjoyable.