Founded seven years ago in Monterrey, Mexico, Anagrama is still something of an enigma. Partners Sebastian Padilla and Mike Herrera established their branding, architecture, and software development firm with as few limitations in mind as conceivable. Their specialties span the branding spectrum, from strategic consulting to logotype, illustration, graphic design, custom software, interior design, and architecture. “We’re a multidisciplinary studio,” says Lucy Elizondo of Anagrama. “The more varied a project is, the more we like it.”
Yet that sprawling description belies Anagrama’s precise, Swiss-minded aesthetic, a rigorous sensibility that nonetheless produces a bewilderingly diverse array of work. “We love clean, honest design that sticks to the principles of Swiss design and Josef Müller-Brockmann,” Elizondo continues. “Müller-Brockmann’s book Grid Systems is our bible. Everybody who comes into Anagrama has to read the book and know it by heart. He was a prominent designer from Zürich who did very clean, beautiful, and precise work with typography.”
You could characterize the early creative influences of creative director Padilla and Herrera as a collision of high and low culture. Starting with high, Sebastian Padilla’s grandfather, Eduardo Padilla, built the landmark Fátima Church in San Pedro as well as the headquarters for Nylon Mexico and the Edificio Latino in downtown Monterrey. Sebastian’s father Ricardo continued the family legacy as a co-owner of architecture studio Pladis, whose work criss-crosses Mexico with stadiums, mix-use buildings, prominent country clubs, metro stations, and private schools. And the creative baton-passing still continues: Sebastian’s firm produced Pladis’ brand identity in an overt homage to their hero Müller-Brockmann (above).
On the other hand, Herrera, Anagrama’s art director, fell in love with comics at a very young age. He feasted on Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac, Aeon Flux, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Spawn, drawn to the detailed craftsmanship in the illustrations. He started drawing and then went on to study it at CEDIM, Monterrey’s design school.
Anagrama’s breakthrough project arrived in an unlikely form: French macarons. The brilliantly colored confections have since taken major metropolitan centers by storm, but, at the time, were still a bit alien to Mexican consumers. “Denisse [of Theurel & Thomas] was the perfect client,” Elizondo recalls. “She wanted to launch a product that was practically unheard of in Monterrey—and she trusted us completely.”
“Color in macarons is a very important element, so we decided white would be this brand’s chief color,” Elizondo continues. “We come up with most of our concepts by colliding ideas or elements, [in this case]: the French modernist movement, the French Baroque style, the French revolutionary spirit, and a reinterpretation of the French flag’s colors.”
Theurel & Thomas’ macarons caught on, and now boast four retail locations in Mexico. Meanwhile, Anagrama’s business shot off like a sugar-fueled rocket, fielding dozens of food clients both locally and internationally, from packaged foods to restaurants.
When asked what challenges excite the Anagrama team, Elizondo is emphatic: “Projects that are very hands-on and diverse that allow us to design and control every aspect of the brand experience, from identity to interior design, to designing the menu and the user experience online.”
“At this point, we get turned on the most by projects that are unknown terrain to us.”
“For example, pastry and chocolate shops aren’t very exciting for us anymore… We like new things we’ve never worked on before, such as airlines or film branding, or projects that allow us to explore other areas of design, such as architecture or software design.” A perfect case-in-point is Niños Conarte, a children’s library and recreational center situated in a warehouse designated as a cultural and industrial heritage site within present-day Fundidora Park in Monterrey.
“It used to be a massive steelworks factory until it was abandoned early in the 20th century,” Elizondo explains. “The warehouse the library is housed in is an untouchable heritage site, so we had to be super respectful and mindful of not affecting even a single brick. So we built a platform that draws inspiration from Monterrey’s iconic mountains (the city’s name means “king of mountains” in Spanish) and used bright neon colors to keep the space cheerful and fun.”
It may seem inconceivable that a single and still relatively small firm can excel in everything from art direction to architecture, but Anagrama is an odd animal for another reason: their headquarters in the city of Monterrey. “It’s a modern but drab industrial city with very little culture,” Elizondo says. “There are only three design schools here and only one art museum, so you can’t really call it a creative paradise.”
A recent expansion to Mexico City, the country’s cultural and advertising hub, signals major growth for the firm. In addition to more diverse cross-disciplinary projects, Elizondo hopes for an accelerating trend in terms of international projects. “Working with international clients is very interesting and refreshing since they have different expectations and points of view. It’s great to work with other perspectives in mind.” For a firm with a full menu of specialties, perhaps we can safely say that mind-bending is their signature dish.