Graphic Design From Around the World: Mexican Design

Mexico is a zestful blend of Indian, American, and Spanish cultures.

Despite this, their sense of national identity is unswerving. Folk arts, religion, and family permeate almost every nook and cranny of modern Mexico — so much so that even their graphic design culture is deeply rooted in native heritage and traditions.

Keep reading and let the eight distinct features of Mexican design show you the Mexican’s unique, homegrown way of seeing the world.

01. Animal Motifs

Anthropomorphized animal motifs are a prominent feature of Mexican design.

Their significance to Mexican culture goes back to deep rooted spiritual and cultural beliefs. Native wild and domestic animals such as donkeys, roosters and jaguars are very common and can be seen used in stylised logos and other branding elements.

Animal motifs are a great way to add personality and playfulness to a design and when done right, can appeal to both adults and children.

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El Burro translates to donkey in English, so this brand has gone for a very literal interpretation of their name.

Donkeys are a symbol of rural Mexican life and are dependable and hard working animals, which are positive traits that will come to be associated with the brand. The stylistic interpretation of the donkey gives it character and keeps the design refined and contemporary.

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Roosters are considered a strong masculine symbol, making them the perfect icon for an independence day poster. The Mexican flag colours in the tail are another great symbolic addition.

02. Hand Drawn or Textured Elements

A lot of contemporary Mexican design still draws on techniques from the past, which gives it a traditional feel. You’ve probably heard it before but having imperfections in your work is humanizing and can be a very refreshing in an industry saturated with digital media.

Take note from traditional Mexican handicrafts and folk art and utilize hand drawn elements and gritty textures to give you work that personal touch.

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The textured elements of these posters keep this brand of soft drink casual and approachable.

The organic look and vibrant color overlays not only it stand out from it’s sleek, digital competitors, but also signify the freshness of the advertised sodas. The hand drawn style is also very on-trend at the moment as people move away from the computer to create their work.

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The Book of Life is an animated film focused heavily on Mexican traditions and the hand drawn style of this movie poster helps convey that. The traditional-looking illustrations and textures complement each other perfectly and are very different to most modern movie posters we see, giving it an edge in the market.

03. Bold, Bright Colors

When it comes to color in Mexican design, more is most definitely more. Bold and often clashing colors are used in excess to create wonderfully saturated and cheerful designs.

Jenny Hoople describes Mexico’s use of color as “a natural extension of their whole cultural attitude of freedom and taking chances.” Think of it as a fiesta on a page and team traditional mexican colours with vibrant hues and lots of contrast.

The colours of the Mexican flag are also commonly used in designs either subtly or as a prominent feature to showcase patriotism. Each color of the Mexican flag has significance, with the green signifying hope and prosperity, the white represents peace and harmony and the red symbolizes the blood of Mexican heroes.

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It would be hard for this poster to go unnoticed with it’s beautiful bold colors exploding off the page. The colors of the Mexican flag are most prominent in this design, with 3 distinct stripes at the top depicting them.

Each color in the design has been carefully chosen and complements the others on the page so well, with hints of black and white tying the design together. The pastel neutral background also helps the bright colors to pop without being too overwhelming for the audience.

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This contemporary take on color is a great example of having fun and experimenting with different color combinations.

At first glance this poster looks as if it is made up of many clashing colors, you wonder how it comes together so well, but looking closer it is made up of only a few key colors with the addition of white. Negative space is important in this design to give the saturated colors much needed breathing space.

04. Cacti

Cacti are very on trend in design at the moment and have become a key feature in contemporary design. They can be found on everything from stationery to textiles, becoming one of Mexico’s most iconic symbols.

Cacti are fresh, colorful and fun and work across a variety of uses. Eddie Fieg says the physical environment has a large influence on Mexican design, so if you’re looking to inject some Mexican style into your work look no further than your own backyard and take inspiration from your own native flora in your next Canva project.

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This minimal cactus themed invitation is a great example of how to include nature into your own designs while incorporating your own style. The pastel colours in this design are fun and vibrant and could easily be altered to make it unisex for any occasion.

05. Intricate Details

Intricate detail in Mexican design is not out of the ordinary, with the most obvious example being sugar skull (calaveras de azucar) designs. Originally made from clay-moulded sugar as early as the 18th Century, sugar skulls are a key aspect of the Day of The Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations.

They are used to decorate the gravestones of deceased family members. Very different to the Western symbolism of skulls being macabre, sugar skulls are lively and celebratory and intended to celebrate the lives of passed relatives, not mourn them.

Sugar skulls have gained a lot of attention over the past few years and since been adapted and popularized by mainstream culture. The loud visuals and very intricate fine lines and patterns can be used across a variety of mediums such as posters and packaging.

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The detail in this design is incredible and would have taken quite some time to complete. This kind of intricate detail is great if you need to create a poster with maximum impact, such as launching a new product.

The festive sugar skull is far from macabre and is a tasteful and respectful interpretation of the traditional art form.

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Although a less detailed skull than the previous example, this poster still demands attention. The display typeface works well with the traditional style, and using only two colors keeps the design refined.

06. Folklore and Traditional Influences

Many design elements take inspiration from traditional influences and folklore, such as skulls and devils. In Mexican culture death is embraced and the lives of passed on loved ones are celebrated rather than mourned.

Although death is respected, it is not seen as daunting and is often poked fun at. Skulls and other symbols of death are not considered spooky or taboo and can be seen throughout Mexican design.

Other traditional influences such as luchadore wrestlers and matadors are another recurring motif in Mexican design due to their cultural significance and symbolism. It is important not to steal from tradition when using it as inspiration and always be cautious of whether your appropriation could be considered culturally insensitive.

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The branding for this Mexican confectionary brand pokes fun at the devil making him comical and child-like. Unlike Western culture, it is not seen as morbid making it appropriate for all ages. The team behind this design wanted to create a fresh and modern take on the character.

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The above example incorporates the well known symbol with bold playful colors to create a standout design that is “super-macho”.

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As opposed to Western culture where the use of a skull or skeleton often indicates something eerie, this design is lively and light-hearted. The skeleton is depicted the same way as a human character would, removing any connotations of death.

07. Organic Typography

Similar to incorporating gritty textures, imperfect stylized hand lettering will inject fierce personality into your designs.

The stylized lettering, introduced in part by the colonial Spaniards, is a very distinct Mexican design feature that is often incorporated with many of the other styles we have looked at. With organic typography you can go as simple or as intricately detailed as you like, depending on your designs intended look and feel.

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The above example shows how to utilize organic typography but still retain a sleek modern look. The uneven letters perfectly fill the space and minimal illustration elements balance out the design. Click on the link to see Steve Simpson’s design process of this piece to get a better understanding of how he created this organic typography.

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When using organic typography there are so many different styles you can choose from. The above example highlights just a few styles you could try experimenting with, from thick slab lettering to detailed display typefaces, that also include traditional Mexican colors.

08. Fine Art Influences

Not only is it great to look at other cultures for design ideas, but fine art is a great place to find inspiration too. Fine artists such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and José Guadalupe Posada among many, had a huge impact on early Mexican graphic design and continue to inspire others to this day.

Their paintings, murals and illustrations feature strong social and political undertones that are also seen in contemporary design. Mexico has a history of graphic design with a social purpose that arose from their fight for independence and the modern revolution.

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Frida Kahlo has not only inspired generations of artists and designers with her impressive oeuvre but also her personal style and accomplishments.

The above magazine cover acknowledges this and incorporates many natural elements, a recurring motif from Kahlo’s paintings, into the layout and styling. As one of the most iconic Mexican artists and one of the most well known and studied female artists, Frida and her work are a great source of inspiration.

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This environmental graphic is reminiscent of Mexican street murals, and although not portraying a political statement, like the traditional Mexican murals, the design still tells a story through the colorful and quirky characters. The dynamic scene that it depicts adds a great relaxed and festive atmosphere to the venue.

Over To You

Mexican culture is rich and diverse and because of this, these eight points only scratch the surface of Mexican design. That said they are a good place to start for those of us looking to expand our knowledge on design from around the world.

It is not only fun to explore design styles from around the world, but also a great way to better understand the design principles and trends that we have today.

Each of the above eight styles can be incorporated into your designs with your own modern and personal twist. Try experimenting with bold, outrageous color or adding some fine lined, intricate detail in your next project, and be sure to share the results with us!

If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out the others in this series — Japanese Design and Swiss Design — to expand your design potential even further.

Thanks for reading — adiós!

Elly is a Graphic Designer living and working in Sydney, Australia. She is a lover of all things design related and enjoys finding ways to combine her passion of traditional art forms, design and photography. She thoroughly enjoys a good hand lettered design or a colourful repeat pattern and it is near impossible to show her a cat video she hasn’t seen.