David Zedan and Alfonso Gonzalez, two of the three partners behind young design studio Shift, begin our interview by explaining the unique design scene in Monterrey, Mexico—according to them, it's a gaping void.
“Monterrey is a city where the design scene is very young, and basically not recognized,” says Gonzalez. As design professors at Universidad Tecnologico de Monterrey, their alma mater, it’s been a challenge for the two to make an impact. But there is hope: what this four-million-resident city lacks in creative industry, it makes up for in construction materials and manufacturing facilities. “There is a lot of machinery and a lot of know-how, but the design piece is missing. So that’s where we come in.”
Zedan, Gonzalez, and Shift's third partner, Oscar Carrales, met in the undergraduate industrial design program at Tecnologico, where they collaborated to win an international student design competition. Tecnologico rewarded them with the opportunity to continue their studies by earning master's degrees in design innovation. Now, Gonzalez and Zedan teach at the university, where they are sowing the seeds of design in Monterrey.
“That’s one of the reasons that we started teaching—we wanted to help this movement. We are already seeing it happening, but it’s slow,” says Zedan. “This area of Mexico is very rich in culture and resources, but Monterrey hasn’t opened their eyes to all of that yet.”
Levels, a sculptural DVD shelf for which the pieces are laser-cut and then assembled. Zedan does the custom coloring by hand with high-quality paint markers (“It took us a really long while to find the right paint markers,” he says).
One tip they share with their students is to incorporate regional elements and materials into product design. “We tell them, try to use something really special from where you’re from. Something that people from other places don’t know about. That gives real value to the product,” says Gonzalez.
And they practice what they preach. In this industrial desert city, there’s no shortage of concrete, which inspired La Morena, the firm’s rustic-industrial concrete and pinewood planters. The design for La Morena marries the artisanal culture of the region with the industrial and natural materials that define Monterrey.
La Morena, a pinewood and concrete planter pot.
Shift worked with a local artisan to develop the concrete molds for the pot. Another vendor laser-cuts the wood, and the designers' favorite carpenter assembles the elements.
Shift’s design philosophy goes beyond function and aesthetics—it mandates the consideration of the economic, social, and environmental implications behind every design choice. “Design can be a tool for progress. With each product we show the richness of Latin America, and we want to use each product to create or activate new businesses,” says Zedan. Shift is working to enact social and economic change and spur economic and creative stimulus in the Monterrey community.
Gonzalez says, “Given the fact that we’re here in Mexico, I could say that we are, in a sense, behind, in that companies don’t really look for—and are just starting to look for—design... We’ve gone to companies that would never come to us, and that’s how we start new business partnerships.”
Here's one example: when debuting La Morena at a recent design show, the Shift team met a Monterrey concrete producer who specializes in tiles and other construction products for a volume market. Upon seeing the planters, he realized the design market’s potential for development and yet-untapped economic return. “We met, shared some ideas, and now we are working together. For some of our projects, he’s even lending us his tools. So we are building a very good relationship there.”
Viva. Furniture pieces are made to order. The stool seat is composed of four triangular wooden pieces carefully hand knitted by artisans.
Shift is still navigating the obstacles of a fledgling design scene. “Most designers move to Mexico City. The best ones are kind of running away, which adds to the challenge of developing the scene here.” But the studio anticipates growth, and expansion to other places including Miami and El Salvador, Zedan and Gonzalez’s mutual home. Their headquarters, however, will remain in Monterrey, as a testament to the city's creative progress.
Look for new products from Shift at the beginning of 2014.