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Graphic Design in Mexico Today

Maru Aguzzi studied Graphic Design at CAV in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and specialised in editorial design, work that she's been performing for almost 20 years now. She has lived in Mexico City since 2003 and was in charge of magazines and books as Guías dF, Pulpo/Octopus, The Limit, Jack Kerouac – Diarios 1947-1954, among many others. She was on the jury of the Quorum Awards, writes for different media, was the content editor of Guía dF de diseño (CANIEM Award) and serves as a lecturer and cultural promoter. Gran Salon Mexico — Contemporary Illustration Fair is her latest venture.

Here Maru gives us a guided tour of Mexico city through its design heritage. Using transport symbology and the city's identity as a starting point, Aguzzi illustrates how Mexicans approach graphic design, from government decision makers to every day users.

Maru Aguzzi
Photo by Rodrigo Marmolejo

Mexico has a very well known tradition of graphic arts, led by muralism and its exponents. When we think about Mexico we also think of a powerful colour palette. But what do we know about contemporary design in Mexico?

One thing is for sure: Mexico does have a strong tradition in Design (mostly Graphic) but it was more a craft than a conceptual job. That has been changing in the last 15 years or so, and that means that Mexican Design—in all its forms—is a new way of expression and communication.

There is a tendency in most of the Latin countries to not commit to an aesthetic when it comes to information design and city-country brand; Mexico is not an exception of that. This means that every new local and national government redesigns the city or country identity as they pleased. Iconic things like the NYC cabs or the Underground graphic for the metro system in London is not something that we have. Even when Lance Wyman, the same designer behind the Mexico ’68 Olympic Games, beautifully designed the iconography for our Metro System.

Lance Wyman Mexico City metro Signage Wayfinding
Lance Wyman's Mexico City Metro signage system

A good (bad) example of that are the Mexico City’s taxis: for decades the VW Beatle in green and white defined the look of the city, making it recognisable around the globe. But a couple of governments ago the mayor decided to retired the Beetles (for security matters) and “took the chance” to redesign the taxis. The results combined burgundy with champagne, together with a pattern made of a drawing of the Independence Angel, an icon to the city. 

It was not a smart or beautiful decision, and it was changed by the current mayor to an all-magenta palette. While personally that was another bad decision, there is one that is smart, and visually strong: to call Mexico City ‘CDMX’, and give it a clean logo. The city has been called DF (Federal District) for the Spanish speakers for a long time, but CDMX sounds and looks more mature, and welcomes all the different languages.

CDMX Logo pink and black Cuidad de mexivo 190 Anos
The CDMX identity

Having that in mind, we recently witnessed how good design and private and public sectors can work together to make communication stronger. I was commissioned to design one model of the 10 million prints of the metro ticket, a transport used by approximately 4.5 million people each day. There was a theme and a 24-hour deadline. The opportunity was unique – so the answer was yes. 

I’m a Graphic Designer so I had the tools to do it, but I'm also behind a Contemporary Illustration Fair, so having an illustration would make much more sense. I needed the most professional, good and trustable illustrator in order to accomplish it, so Dr. Alderete came immediately to my mind. He said yes, and illustrated the metro ticket based on a colour palette provided by the theme logo (Mi Mercado, food markets around the city). Then we waited for three months until the ticket started to sell.

maru aguzzi mexico metro ticket boleto Dr. Alderete
Maru Aguzzi's Mexico City ticket design / illustration by Dr. Alderete

Gran Salon Mexico (the Fair) did some press about it and what happened after that was unprecedented: the press went crazy with the metro ticket and so did the audience. It is very important to say that in Mexico City the low class uses the metro almost exclusively, so the ticket erased the social classes' lines for a few days as middle-class people went underground to buy tickets to collect. Regular users, that live by-day, bought two tickets instead of one: one to use and one to keep.

It is important to reaffirm that over the past 15 years the perspective in design started to change. New studios doing contemporary, well-applied design started to appear everywhere. Together with this a consumerism in the shape of events and temporary bazaars emerged, with the cities of Monterrey and Mexico City as the capitals of that change. 

Hopefully the Metro ticket is a precedent for the pubic sector to engage in a more conscious and mature communication aesthetic.

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