It’s Time For The US To Look South: LATAM Is a Creative Force Worth Following

Posted inDesign Inspiration

Growing up in Mexico City, I remember looking up to so many things from the US. Back then, in the early 80s, we didn’t have much access to imported goods as we have now, and sometimes, we had to go to great lengths to get a hold of original items.

I still recall the rush I felt when I first laid my hands on my Santa Cruz skateboard or when my dad finally got me a pair of Vision Street Wear tennis shoes—man, those things were slick! And I can’t think of my school days without eating Nerds or admiring the “avant-garde” illustrations on my friends’ Trapper Keepers.

One of my most precious childhood memories is watching the Yankees play over a satellite dish with my father and two brothers, a thing that will stick with me my whole life. But what was really influential was, during the commercial breaks, I would get exposed to vibrant packaging products. I often didn’t know what those products were, and it made me crave them. 

At that time, I was unaware that US design was also influencing me through the outstanding work from the one and only Lance Wyman. His work is still relevant to this day. As a kid, I used to move around the city on the subway, and it’s one of Mexico’s most well-known brand systems of all time—designed by Wyman, it heavily relies on pictograms. 

His work has inspired many designers around the world in different ways, like Mexican designer Ruben Santiago Hernandez, the creator of the famous Mexico 86 logo for the Soccer World Cup. His linear typeface treatment evokes Wyman’s iconic 68′ Olympic Games logo in a way but made it ownable and distinctive, to such extent that FIFA, the ruling organism of global soccer events, recognized it as one of the best World Cup identities. To this day, Hernandez’s logo sticks out in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong—we have impressive designers, past and present. But given our exposure for so long to US design, companies often look for creative options from our neighbors up north. Once, our studio lost a big project to an American company only because they worked with a famous American brand in the past. The funny thing is that our client confessed we were more qualified than our competition, but we happened to be on the wrong side of the border at that time.

As far as I remember, we have been globally recognized for our culture, food, mariachi, clothes, architecture, nature, weather, and, of course, tequila. These elements get endlessly used as tools for creatives. An example of that is our strong use of vibrant colors, which have inspired products, brands, and corporations in general, to the point that companies have told me about their love of a Mexican color palette.

However, we are way more than that—we’re leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk-takers. Latin American creativity has been rising steadily for the past two decades, with designers, illustrators, architects, and the likes, winning awards and putting the Latin vibe in vogue. 

Take, for example, the Three Amigos, the incredibly pull of talented and award-winning film directors Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu. Their unique approach to storytelling is beyond any measure, and the world has enjoyed their quirky, powerful, and heartbreaking films. Or how about Carlos Santana? The mind-blowing guitar genius inspired many generations through his music and is recognized as one of the best guitarists in the world. But Latin America has given us countless creatives across many fields, some of whom you may know and some you may not, like Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Luis Barragan, Rebeca Mendez, Alex Atala, Enrique Olvera, Ale Paul, and ‘Chivo’ Emmanuel Lubezki, among many others.

For many years, Latin American talent has been working in the US in key positions, from running companies to being part of leading teams developing outstanding creative work. Now it’s time for the US to look down at the Latin American movement and appreciate how much talent, diversity, and creativity we have to offer to the world. 

This column will be dedicated to drawing attention to Latin American creatives and companies excelling at bringing creativity and new ideas to life. Stay tuned for more.

Ricardo Saca is the US and Mexico Managing Partner for Cato Brand Partners, a Global Design and Branding Consultancy. He is a Master in Branding from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has 20+ years of experience working with a wide range of companies, from startups to airlines. He is an animal lover and a plant-based cyclist.