In the last few years, Mexican design seems to have come out of nowhere. With agencies like Menusucocerouno producing work for Fiat and Harley-Davidson, Futura garnering attention with restaurant branding for &pizza and Toro, and Sabbath and Anagrama making a mark with every one of their clients’ identities, it’s fair to ask: Is something dramatic going on south of the border?
“Definitely,” says Sebastian Padilla, creative director of Anagrama, which he co-founded six years ago in Monterrey, 200 miles west of Texas’ southern tip. “Compared to 10 years ago, there’s something happening here. I can think of at least 30 really good design studios, and I like to think we’re leading that movement. At the same time, Mexico is a huge country with 120 million people, so in way, it’s not really all that much.”
While there may indeed be room for growth, many, including Padilla, believe the very first seed was actually planted by an immigrant from France.
“The Mexican design style that’s spreading all over the world, in our work and other boutique branding studios, is much more European than American,” says Padilla. “That’s because Trois-Quart, which opened a studio in Monterrey 15 years ago, introduced the idea of very Modern Swiss design. Ever since then an entire generation has adopted the style: the grid systems, the typography out of a Swiss textbook. Two years later, all these studios were blooming, and we’re a part of it.”
“We didn’t have decent typography until a French man fell in love with a Mexican girl and ended up here.”
Naturally, social media has fanned that flame. “The internet has been huge for us,” says Padilla. “Since day one, we invested a lot of money in amazing photos to showcase our work, and without it I don’t think it would be possible for us to be so successful. We have more followers than Sagmeister & Walsh, which doesn’t really make any sense.”
Anagrama first gained attention with branding and packaging work for Theurel & Thomas, a Mexican bakery specializing in French macarons. And Armin Vit, co-founder of Under Consideration, hasn’t been shy about his admiration for the agency’s prodigious amount of work. Now hundreds of thousands of design lovers follow Anagrama on Facebook and Behance, where it posts work regularly.
Although design degrees are increasingly viewed as optional in the States, especially among web designers, all of Padilla’s colleagues attended university before launching their professional careers. Padilla himself had considered a career in architecture, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, but he was put off by rigorous physics requirements and a belief that the field didn’t allow for the sort of creativity found in graphic design.
Today, Anagrama’s clients are split roughly 50-50 between the United States and Mexico, and Padilla is hoping that ratio will soon tilt to the north. The agency has bilingual versions of its website, but Padilla says he’s likely to abandon the Spanish version with the next redesign. All of Anagrama’s current and prospective clients speak English, and the language is generally considered more aspirational, even for Mexican companies trying to sell to Mexicans.
Although the language of design is now common in American mainstream media with broad coverage of new logos from AirBnB, Netflix, Yahoo!, and Google, Padilla says that’s still uncommon in Mexico, where advertising is the primary obsession—especially in Mexico City.
“All of the big hitters in the creative industry have offices in Mexico City, and every day the city itself is growing,” says Padilla. Nearly every major American corporation has a presence there, from Apple and Amazon to 3M, GE, Procter & Gamble, and Walmart.
“Mexico City is not only the capital of Mexico—it’s the capital of Latin America.”
Just as big American cities differ widely, each city in Mexico has its own culture. Padilla says clients in Mexico City tend to be more emotional and less forthcoming with their critiques, as compared to clients in Monterrey or the United States. And that can make business more complicated. “Our Monterrey clients are more similar to the American culture, which is actually our favorite,” he says. “American clients are so straightforward—they’ll tell us the honest, brutal truth, which is always better for us. You might compare Mexico City to the British, who would politely tell you ‘Oh, this work is good, thank you very much, it’s fine,’ but then [at the end of the day] they come back and ask for changes.”
In fact, Anagrama is hoping to open an office in the United States soon, to get closer to potential clients who may overlook Mexico during their searching for a new agency.
“We can do business anywhere, but imagine if you work in a marketing department of a big New York fashion brand—there’s no reason to risk your position hiring a design studio outside of the United States. Many people think Mexico is cheaper, too, and that’s not a good thing for us, because our quality is so high. For now, Mexico is known for amazing food, parties, and beaches, but we aren’t seen yet as a brand for sophisticated design services.”
But if things continue the way they’re going, that may be about to change.