Last week, I had the enormous pleasure of flying to Mexico City to represent SVA’s MFA in Products of Design and run a five day intensive workshop sponsored by Nike Air Max at the Centro University for Design and Communication. Centro conducts annual workshops with corporate clients under the name, Zona C. This year’s Zona C was timed to coincide with a large installation and party celebrating Nike’s global Air Max Day at Centro’s gorgeous, year old, LEED platinum certified campus.
Drawing from a student population of about 1800, Centro’s Zona C workshops assemble a mix of 2 or 3 of the strongest students from each of its seven departments: interior design, film & television, communication design, industrial design, digital media, fashion & textile design, and advertising & marketing. It was a thrill to work with 15 truly gifted students, trained in a diverse range of skillsets. Each student was sufficiently grounded in the fundamentals of design practice that they could change positions at the drop of a hat to get the project and deliverables to the best place possible. Not one of them was predetermined about the role he/she should have and not one of them was a prima donna. It was like conducting an orchestra where every first chair could also play every other instrument almost as well. The pressure and responsibility I felt to steer this group of young stars to its highest potential was intense!
The Air Max Zona C brief charged the students with exploring how to deepen Air Max’s market penetration as a lifestyle brand in Mexico’s youth culture. The deliverables were left open by the brief, but the key insights going in were plain: the Air Max brand DNA lies in making the technological innovation of high performance athletic footwear (literally) transparent, and as a consequence of the cross pollination of North American sports culture and lifestyle culture, Air Max has been able to transcend the category of high-tech sportswear to become a leader in conspicuous, lifestyle apparel. However, right across the border, in the vibrant and diverse megalopolis of Mexico City and its surrounding regional market, that cultural framework has not allowed Air Max to establish the same strong foothold by relying on its formula for North America. In short, The USA has a deep sneaker culture, and Mexico doesn’t– what to do?
Is this a problem of styling? Is the Air Max bubble uninteresting in Mexico? Is it a problem of function? Does the Mexican youth not relate to exercise and leisure? Is it a problem of connecting consumers to direct and brick & mortar retail outlets? Do Mexican young people not shop? Or is it a question of brand extendability? Does the Mexican youth lack the same semiotic flexibility as North American consumers that allows them to mix and match cultural signifiers in such a way that athletic footwear can become lifestyle apparel? Intuitively, the answers to all these question seemed to be a resounding, no. But as with all things design, we needed to do our homework.
We began with that critical stew of market analysis and design lead research. After a night of scraping through the surface of the brief and the state of Air Max in Mexico, the students returned to the studio with their insights. Based on the insights they developed and how they sketched them out, and NOT on their trained skillsets, we broke the students out into four teams to begin working on deliverables: logo & brand DNA, three dimensional sneaker prototypes, app development, and a video.
At an early presentation of preliminary design sketching to the Air Max team, the key insights of the students were unanimously applauded. It was immediately apparent that asking 15 young people, all trained in the art of exploring and manipulating the tools and materials of culture, to tell a brand how to sell to their own demographic was a good call on the part of Air Max. The shape and direction of the deliverables was adjusted and focused. But the underlying thesis of the students’ collective insights moved forward.
I would go on in detail to tell you what that their thesis was and what we gave to Nike Air Max, but as we say in the business, then I’d have to kill you. #NDA #signhereplease
After five days of ceaseless research, sketching, filming, prototyping and deck building, the 15 exhausted students presented their work to the Centro community and the Nike Air Max MX office. I am happy to report that the project was a hit and that talk of continuing the work with additional workshops is still buzzing. Additionally, some students whose work and participation showed particular promise may be rewarded with internships at Nike in Portland.
In truth, our work only scratched the surface to reveal what could be done to deepen Air Max’s role as a lifestyle brand in Mexico and to lead the growth of sneaker culture there. So I sincerely hope the work is ongoing and that I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity to participate again.
My trip to Centro was incredible. While I spent little time site seeing in Mexico City, I was able to have an immersive cultural experience with a group of extraordinarily sophisticated designers and thinkers, students and teachers, young and old alike. That kind of experience cannot be seen or purchased in any museum or market. And I made good friends with a group of people whom I hope to see again some day soon. I congratulate everyone at Centro on the fine job they are doing to create a curriculum that produces such capable students and I applaud the students for their hard work, good humor and welcoming spirit throughout the workshop. I am deeply grateful for the confidence and trust that everyone showed me in letting me steer this workshop and I look forward to Round 2!
For this incredible experience, I would like to thank the following people:
From Nike Air Max in Mexico…
Ana Maria Rozo
From Centro’s Administration and Faculty…
Kerstin Scheuch, General Director
Uzyel Karp, Chair of Visual Communication
Sebastián Ocampo, Chair of Industrial Design
María Bostock, Head of Development and International Relations
Daniel Pezzi, Design Coordinator
And last but certainly not least, the students…
Chantal Fernandez Lopez, Interior Architecture
Ruth Araujo Gutierrez, Textile and Fashion
Mariana Martinez Lozoya, Textile and Fashion
Arturo Neuman Smolovitz, Industrial Design
Carolina Moyano Izquierdo, Industrial Design
Daniela G. Trejo Buendía, Industrial Design
David Iniguez Spinola, Marketing
María Elena Guadalupe Elorza Sánchez, Marketing
Carlo Canún Uribe, Visual Communication
Raquel Achar Cohen, Visual Communication
Emilio Ferrer Rueda, Visual Communication
Mariana Mena Tello, Digital Media
Javier Martinez Martinez, Digital Media
Jaime Jair Montañez Cervantes, Interior Architecture
Pavel Cortés Ramírez, Visual Communication
Finally, huge thanks to my friend, mentor and the chair of our department at the School of Visual Arts MFA in Products of Design, Allan Chochinov, for the introduction to Sebastián Ocampo that lead to this fantastic experience.