Located in the Colonia Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, in a local landmark known as the molar, Futura’s office is as original and interesting as the principals of this all-inclusive creative studio. Once you have cleared security, you step across a tiny moat on floating concrete stairs to access the world’s narrowest elevator, which transports you to a vibrant space teeming with young creatives. A charming example of brut architecture in a predominately art deco neighborhood, the concrete building consists of entirely rounded corners. Tiny open offices dot either corner of the 1,722-square-foot ovoid space. Down the middle, a narrow table houses a dozen or more graphic and type designers, illustrators, and animators working in a sea of Apple computers, and at the other end sits the architectural and interior design component of the studio.
Designer Iva?n Garci?a, architect Gilberto Guite?rrez and art director Daniel Marti?nez make up the leadership of Futura. New business developer and project manager Andreina Cacciaguerra keeps the studio running smoothly, coordinating clients located abroad in countries like Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Japan, as well as those closer to home.
Founded in 2008 by Garci?a, Futura began in the colonial city of Monterrey. Garci?a, who was working for a design studio, had grown tired of working for just a paycheck. “It was never my goal. I only want to design. I have a turbulent past. I was a Jehovah’s preacher, and then I cut all my relationships because the religion is very hard. For me, it was almost a new beginning,” he says. He left the Jehovah’s Witnesses when he was 22, which may explain the first of the four incontrovertible rules that guide Futura: Never work for politicians, religions or gambling institutions. (The other three: Be firm, determined, persevering and almost obstinate when it comes to good design. Push the limits, propose more and exceed expectations. Always choose nice people, great projects and experimentation above money.)
Garci?a doesn’t remember the exact date, but he remembers the exact moment that everything changed for him. “A good client asked me if I knew an interior designer because he wanted to make a taco place. I said, ‘Of course I can do it,’” he says. He then asked Guite?rrez if he could help. The end result was a success and formed the basis of their studio: keep it all in-house. “The taco place looked wonderful. We broke the internet with that project,” says Garci?a. It drew international attention, garnering new clients.
Marti?nez started at Futura as a junior designer in 2013 while finishing his studies at Universidad de Monterrey. Four years later, he moved to Mexico City, where he was made partner and art director of the studio, leading the visual side of each of Futura’s projects. Guite?rrez has lived in Mexico City for seven years and is an architect with a master’s degree in business.
All three hail from Monterrey, which they eschewed for Mexico City to escape a provincial environment and a business climate more integrated with the United States. They are inspired by the international climate of their adopted city and joke that in many neighborhoods, there are less Mexicans and more Chinese, Russian and other immigrants from abroad, adding to the city’s cultural diversity.
“Monterrey is like a bastard city from Texas that Texas left behind,” Guite?rrez says. “For people who are actually from Monterrey, it’s a strange identity that the city has. The closest beach is South Padre Island [in Texas]. This lack of identity of not being fully Mexican in a way, it doesn’t relate to me at all.”
Upon first glance, the work of Futura seems more modern and less influenced by stereotypical Mexican iconography, such as the ubiquitous visage of Frida Kahlo, Mayan or Aztec symbols, and the saturated colors you see everywhere while wandering neighborhoods like the Condesa or the Colonia Roma. Futura opts instead for pastels drawn from nature and a pervasive sense of humor, salted with international references drawn from the principals’ extensive travels. Their designs are often playful, with polyglot influences that enable them to offer a fresh approach for each client.
“Regarding our design approach or philosophy, we aim to be as versatile as possible, adapting and aligning our vision to the client’s, seeing it as a collaboration rather than an expression of our own aesthetic or style,” Marti?nez explains. “Many studios, especially in Mexico, have a formula, or very distinctive styles for which they are usually sought out; most customers may seek to have a version or iteration of that aesthetic applied to their own brand. We see our versatility as our strength and wouldn’t want to be limited by a specific aesthetic. The way we differ is that we truly make an effort to experiment and propose something different for every project, and this is reflected in our extremely varied portfolio.”
Marti?nez adds, “As Mexicans, I would say that our culture is a huge influence on our inspiration, but I wouldn’t say it’s the only thing that we take into account. Looking at what is happening and what has happened worldwide in terms of design in every branch—architecture, art, fashion, music, cinema, et cetera—visually researching past artistic movements and predicting what’s next in terms of design are all things that inspire us to create something that is new and fresh.”
Guite?rrez sums up their philosophy by paraphrasing the Oscar Wilde quote “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” “We want freshness, quirkiness,” Guite?rrez says. “It’s not going to be forever, it’s not that serious, let’s be playful!” For example, for Leo?n Leo?n, a French Mexican furniture brand that reinterprets classic designs like the Acapulco chair, Futura created a hypothetical visual representation of Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky emerging in 1970s sunny Acapulco rather than frigid Moscow.
That playfulness is also evident in work for Austin, Texas, coffee brand Superthing. Partner Nick Krupa explains, “We told them we wanted the feel of the brand to be surreal and super saturated in color. We let them guide us through some pretty trippy stuff and ended up pretty close to what would become the final product on their first go-round. They created a universe of cycloptic creatures and portals that felt like Salvador Dali designing games for the Atari 2600—so, obviously, you couldn’t find a faster way to our hearts.” The company has recently reengaged with Futura to expand their packaging and brand imagery.
Angela Sosa, chief of operations for Mexico City coffee shop Moti?n, says, “I first heard about Futura through a personal recommendation, so I started to look into them, and what drew me the most about their work was the diversity of their portfolio, how they were able to always showcase the uniqueness of each project without compromising their own style.”
“The results have been more than positive,” Sosa concludes. “Our clientele loves the comfortable space, and the branding is speaking to the audience we were looking for since the beginning of the project, and, most importantly, is drawing them into trying our food and concept.”
Jessica Cyrell of California-based health and beauty line Elanveda can relate. “The truth is, we knew immediately upon landing on Futura’s website that they were the one! We were so impressed with their versatility and their ability to define a brand’s identity in a way that was unique and eye catching, yet effortless,” she says. “Their designs are fresh, modern and stylish—setting trends, not following them. We have been inundated with positive feedback since our rebrand, and our new look has been instrumental in developing relationships with like-minded retailers, expanding our social media reach and growing our customer base.”
Garci?a says, “People think that design is a luxury, something you earn. It should be democratized. We take on projects for Apple or Google, but also for some guy who wants to put a hotdog cart on the street. Mexico City has changed in that way; there are even more branches of design now; there are subdivisions of design. Now it’s not so crazy to tell your parents you want to be a designer. More and more people are consuming design. There is more branding.”
Guite?rrez keeps the partners focused. He believes that freedom of creation comes from restraints. “If they give you constraints, that gives you more freedom to create something that is relevant. You need to be laser focused. It’s interesting to work with those constraints. It’s fun to try and organize that and rely on the process,” he says.
He refutes the brand manual approach. “Establishing our brand is establishing processes for them, rather than establishing rules. This process is about enhancing you, not self-replicating me. It’s more about them than about you,” he says.
While their work may not ostensibly look Mexican, they are all proud of their country, its potential and the vibrant city they call home. In 2018, Mexico City was named the sixth World Design Capital, the first city from the Americas to receive this title. “Branches of design, from architecture to art, music and other creative expressions, are constantly being referenced not only by Mexicans, but recognized worldwide. This was one of the reasons Futura migrated to Mexico City five years ago,” says Marti?nez. Since making that geographic and cultural leap, Futura has cemented its reputation both inside and outside the capital. ca