This article appears in HOW’s Spring 2015 International Issue.This electrifying issue of HOW magazine features a robust page count filled with design inspiration galore. You’ll find 300+ award-winning projects from HOW’s International Design Awards, including projects from across the globe. Not to mention 6 designers who caught are eye during our scouting phase. You don’t need a passport to access this large span of international inspiration—we’ve gathered it all right here.
by Emily Potts
Although branding firm Anagrama has been around for only five years, it’s already made a remarkable impact in the design world as well as in its local community. Its three founders, Sebastian Padilla, Mike Herrera and Gustavo Muñoz, started the business while working out of Muñoz’s house in 2009, but the firm now boasts more than 40 graphic designers, architects and programmers based in two offices—Monterrey and Mexico City—as well as another partner, Roberto Treviño, who heads the architecture department.
“We create the perfect balance between a design boutique and a business consultancy, from focusing on the development of creative pieces with the utmost attention to details, to providing solutions based on the analysis of tangible data,” says Padilla, who works out of the Monterrey office as creative director and client liaison. By breaking the traditional agency scheme with its multidisciplinary approach, Anagrama has consistently created unique branding environments for its clients. They don’t just design packaging or logos—they build brands (quite literally) from the ground up. This floor-to-ceiling process requires all the skill sets within the firm—architects and interior designers working hand-in-hand with graphic designers and programmers to execute the strategy across the full branding spectrum.
The name Anagrama is the Spanish translation of the word anagram, in which letters in a word are rearranged to create another word. The founders liked the reference in terms of branding, where you can reinterpret something in several ways and it can mean different things to different people. It could also represent the diversity of the firm’s capabilities. Herrera and Padilla are graphic designers and creative directors, while Muñoz started as an industrial engineer, and then taught himself how to program software. They melded these capabilities and added others to the mix to make their firm truly multidisciplinary, which is evident in their branding work across the board.
Branding a City
The firm’s adventurous use of color, typography and scale has fundamentally changed the branding landscape in Monterrey, Mexico, in recent years. “Monterrey is a rich city, thanks to its vast industry, but very poor culturally,” Padilla says. Anagrama turned this into an opportunity by collaborating with the real power brokers in the city: high-society ladies. Many of these women craved better shopping and dining experiences, so Anagrama worked with them to create diverse cultural offerings.
“We branded their pastry shops, hair salons, cafés and clothing stores, causing a huge boom in local, small luxury brands. This brought us more clients and enabled us to do better design, hence creating a better city,” Padilla says. He’s not exaggerating. Walk down the streets of
Monterrey or visit the local mall, and you’ll see their branding expertise everywhere. They’ve helped to reinvent more than 150 local shops, many of which sit side-by-side. It’s an Anagrama branding extravaganza.
They’re in high demand locally, as business owners see the positive impact of good branding. But it wasn’t always like this. “The design movement in Mexico is emerging right now,” says former producer Lucy Elizondo. “Design just hasn’t been valued here. Everybody thinks they can do it. But since we’ve started branding more stores in Monterrey, people are aware that it’s good for their business, and they see the value in paying for good design.”
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Designing Around Delicacies
The first big break for Anagrama came with the branding of a French patisserie called Theurel & Thomas. “Denise [the owner] was a perfect client,” Padilla says. “She wanted to launch a product that was practically unheard of in Monterrey. She had a good budget, excellent taste and she trusted us completely.”
Theurel & Thomas was one of the first French patisseries in Mexico, offering macarons as its primary product. Anagrama decided to capitalize on the gorgeous colors of the macarons and make them the primary focus of the store’s identity and interior, using white as a stark backdrop for everything. “We mixed in some other concepts from the French modernist movement, the French Baroque style, the French Revolution spirit and a reinterpretation of France’s flag colors. The sum of all these visual elements makes up the identity and emphasizes the unique value, elegance and detail of its delicate desserts,” Padilla explains.
The shocking white interiors play second fiddle to the colorful pastries that are a work of art in themselves. It looks more like a fantastical movie set than an actual store. Theurel & Thomas’ bold and dramatic departure from similar stores garnered tons of press, launching Anagrama into the international design scene, while also attracting comparable clients locally.
When embarking on a project such as this, the designers immerse themselves in the product or service, listening to the client’s must-haves and needs. “It’s very important to know their product, to try it, and see how it’s made and why they make it that way. With all this information, we prepare mood boards where we synthesize our best ideas as a team,” Padilla says. The mood boards are presented to clients to establish the parameters of the design and gather intel about the most significant pieces of the brand.
This is particularly important because Anagrama attracts many of the same types of clients, which can be a blessing and a curse. “Since branding Theurel & Thomas, we’ve had so many people who want us to brand their bakeries and pastry shops,” Elizondo says. “They say, ‘We like what you did for them, can you do the same for us?’”
Such was the case with Catalina Fernāndez, the founder and head baker of her eponymous pastry shop. She started her traditional home-based bakery in 1988, and it grew into a successful local business. With more than 20 years under her belt, she hired Anagrama to update her brand identity, making it more sophisticated in order to open more branches and attract new generations of potential clients.
“Branding requires differentiation. A brand needs to look, feel, and be different from all its competitors,” Padilla says. “We designed an elegant brand that celebrates the outstanding attention to detail Catalina pays to every pastry she makes. We mixed up these concepts: the ruggedness of a traditional workshop, modern cleanliness and botanical anatomy. The gold foil detail [on the packaging] resembles tiny particles in the anatomy of grains and ingredients Catalina bakes in her delicious desserts.”
The rough brick walls in the store, together with the hand-painted signs and the cans of ingredients, contrast with the bright white enamel paint, modern furniture and futuristic lighting to give the brand sophistication and character. The result is quite different from Theurel & Thomas, but similarly, it allows the product to take center stage in a stark setting that is offset only by the black sans serif brand lettering on the packaging and walls.
These bold retail concepts have garnered international press coverage. Armin Vit, co-founder of UnderConsideration (see his column “Now & Then” in the International Issue of HOW) says, “It’s almost laughable how much work they publish regularly and how much of it is so good. I can’t think of many design firms that are this consistent so often.” Every Tuesday, Anagrama posts a new project to its Behance site and Facebook page, keeping the firm’s work front and center. This weekly practice has paid off in lieu of other methods of self-promotion, as most clients discover their work on these sites and contact the firm for their own branding needs.
In order to stay motivated and inspired, the fast-track design team occasionally goes on field trips to local museums, soaking in the works of local artists and masters from the past. Some weeks they host Thursday afternoon workshops. “Everyone looks forward to these sessions to develop their skills and learn new design techniques, and it’s a fun way to connect with each other and step away from the daily work for an hour or two,”
Field trips are also a part of project research, as was the case for the branding of Xoclad, a high-end pastry shop in the famous tourist destination of the Mayan Riviera.
“We wanted to represent the area’s strong Mayan heritage in a classy way, so we traveled to the Mayan Riviera (where the chocolates are made) to immerse ourselves in the culture and study the chocolate-making process. We also wanted to check out the brand’s would-be competition,” Padilla says. “Most brands in touristy places tend to misuse ancient cultures’ visual references and produce something incredibly cliché, tacky and tasteless. So naturally, we wanted to distance ourselves from that as much as possible.”
Inspired by Mayan patterns, the Anagrama team designed a stark black-and-white geometric pattern for all of Xoclad’s offerings. “Mayan patterns are very similar visually to op art, a style we love. So we designed a custom Mayan op art pattern and combined it with the Mexican flag’s colors (first desaturating its strong tones to produce a pastel color palette),” Padilla says. The result is a sweet elegance, and it allows the local heritage to conserve its dignity in a clean, modern way. The eye-popping pattern creates a welcome disruption on the packaging when paired with the soothing pastels.
Crafting Spicy Sophistication
Occasionally, the Anagrama team need look no further than their local surroundings for inspiration. Bermellón is a confectionary shop that specializes in spicy candy, a popular treat in Mexico that is sold cheaply everywhere. Anagrama was tasked with taking this traditional product and elevating it to a high-quality delicacy—not an easy challenge.
Padilla and his team were stumped until they stepped outside for a smoke. “A street vendor passed by selling hot candy, and it had very bright colors that seemed to clash and melt into each other, and click! The idea was born,” he says. “Looking around outside our office, located in a dusty ’hood, we noticed a lot of stenciled graffiti on almost every wall. This inspired us to combine graffiti and the candy’s vivid colors with refined and elegant typography. Then we took the spicy candy and put it inside a colorful wafer, which we stamped with a monogram resembling a branding iron.” Thus a comparatively cheap product was transformed into a quality delicacy through a premium package and brand experience, which on the surface was an incredibly risky move. But, as Padilla will tell you, they don’t do things on the fly.
“In order to create distinctive brands, we need to make decisions that may seem risky to a client, but have been thoroughly vetted by us,” Padilla says. It is this perceived risk combined with the meticulous execution of surprising branding concepts that has attracted clients from afar. But Anagrama isn’t standing idly by, waiting for potential clients to find it—it’s looking to expand its offices into the U.S. and Asia.
“We want to break international barriers and dive into these booming and thriving markets,” Padilla says. “There’s so much opportunity out in the world that we just can’t ignore.”
Emily J. Potts has been a writer and editor in the design industry for more than 20 years. Currently she is an independent writer working for a variety of clients. www.emilyjpotts.com
Sebastian Padilla, creative director at Anagrama, will be speaking at HOW Design Live 2015 as part of The Dieline Packaging program. Celebrate the 25th year of HOW Design Live with dazzling inspiration from the brightest minds and biggest brands—not to mention a healthy dose of camaraderie with your fellow creatives.