Many would be glad to be one of the most awarded interactive advertising agencies in the world, but Mexican digital agency Grupo W is taking it further. Here is how a company and its school helped put Mexican web design on the map.
Grupo W was founded in 1999 in Saltillo, a Mexican city of 700,000 inhabitants one hour away from Monterrey. The group opened a commercial office in the capital Mexico D.F. in 2009, and another one in Miami at the end of 2010 to enter the US Hispanic market. This expansion is easy to explain: over the last decade, Grupo W imposed itself as one of the most creative digital agencies in the world, particularly with regard to web design, and counts with clients such as Coca-Cola, Nike and Unilever.
Since the group is also heavily involved in developing the Mexican industry, it was a natural choice to interview one of its founder, Ulises Valencia. According to Ulises, Mexican web design should still improve, but the sector has grown a lot recently. In his view, the gap with developed countries has narrowed over the last years. As for the region, ”Mexico and Brazil are now well ahead of the other Latin American countries, though there are some interesting things going on in Argentina and Colombia.”
His area of expertise is digital advertising, where he witnessed the same shift that had already happened in other countries: most Mexican campaigns have now integrated mobile and social elements. As a consequence, Flash is less prominent and HTML5 is gaining ground. Digital advertising budgets have finally increased: Mexican advertising clients now spend an average of 15% of their total campaign budget online, vs. 5% a few years ago (though Ulises hopes that this share will keep on growing). Visually, Mexico also follows global design trends.
Does this mean that it would be more appropriate to talk about “web design in Mexico” than “Mexican web design”? The answer is yes in most cases, but small digital offices still manage to maintain a Mexican perspective. One example is Zoveck Studio, known for re-interpretating Mexican symbols and clichés; their website is also worth a look!
Grupo W too is making efforts to reflect the Mexican culture in its creations whenever it’s possible. This was the case of PS3 and XBox 360 video game “Lucha Libre: AAA Heroes del Ring”, whose campaign looked very Mexican.
However, Grupo W’s most interesting contribution to Mexican web design wasn’t exactly done on purpose. When it decided to create its own school in 2008, it was only looking for a solution to an internal problem: while growing quickly, it wasn’t managing to fill vacancies in the group due to the lack of qualified young professionals in the country. This is why the Digital Invaders school was born in 2009, when it welcomed its first promotion of students.
Since then, 3 more generations have completed the course and a 5th promotion just arrived in Saltillo. The school is located there because all 11 teachers are professionals from Grupo W. According to Alejandro Montoya, the school’s Director, the fact that the city doesn’t offer many distractions is a plus for Digital Invaders: it helps the students to remain focused during the 3 months they spend in Saltillo.
The best thing about Digital Invaders is that it had a huge impact on Mexico, much beyond the original intent. Of course, it did answer Grupo W’s contracting problems – from the students who graduated from the school each year, about a third joined the agency, which currently employs 55 people. But the unexpected collateral effect is that the remaining students (all of them Mexican so far) also joined other Mexican agencies in Mexico D.F., Monterrey, Morelia or Guadalajara. They brought with them what they had learned in the school, contributing to the Mexican digital industry’s professionalization - which is the school’s key mission. Agencies and clients are now well aware of this and most students don’t pay tuition fees thanks to third-party scholarships.
As for the curriculum, it doesn’t include any programming classes: students should master these skills before joining. According to Alejandro, what they learn is how to use these skills for creative purposes and unleash their creativity. A good example of this is Digital Invaders’ website, which unexpectedly became (and still is) Grupo W’s most awarded piece. Since it’s a Flash experience, I can only recommend you to go and see for yourself, but this image already gives you an idea of the design.
Though Digital Invaders is crucial, it’s not the only way Grupo W contributes to the digital switch in Mexico: some professionals have recently left Grupo W and joined traditional agencies to work on digital projects. Unexpectedly, Ulises seems very pleased about it: he is confident that they will bring a more digital approach with them and help the market grow.
One final example of Grupo W’s sharing mindset is the Labs section of their website, where they put some of their work for others to use. As Ulises says, “Grupo W learned a lot from others, so it’s appropriate to give back too”. Let’s leave him the last word: “Generosity is one of the greatest things about Internet”.