Silva, Designer

Design should be endless research.


Silvia Dufour is an industrial designer specialized in ceramics. We met at Irma’s studio where she was working her own clay . She is also passionate about calligraphy. We started chatting and she accepted to answer my questions. We met in Toscan coffee shop in la Condesa district. Silvia is the first designer I met and I exposed my project to. She shared her experience in design with me as well as her point of view on Mexican design and the coexistence of design and craftwork. The fact that she has spent almost twenty years in Barcelona helped me speed up my understanding of Mexico.

What is the source of your inspiration?

When I was in college I would love going downtown to enjoy the Art Deco style, pre-Hispanic art in Sonora Market and all the colors. I used to draw a lot. With a friend we met a man working in a library. He showed us all his books related to Art Deco. This is how I started « studying » Art Deco here in Mexico. I devoured every book. I also found out about international cinema. It’s very important to see many things while growing up.

Over the years, you can find out the origin of a design choice and the transformation process that occurred.

For instance, as a student I had to design chairs. I wanted them to be very « Mexican ». I got a lot inspired by traditional costumes, food colors, flowers and pre-Hispanic architectural geometry.

Why did you choose to specialize in ceramics?

Because the material is noble. You can do anything with this material and you never stop learning. In Barcelona, I wished to break up with geometry and coloring.

I decided to focus on the creation plates for restaurants, working along with a partner. Chef Rafa Pena requested a « rare plate ». The truth is we didn’t know what to do. We eventually decided to use pure clay, a material that is not that often used. We made quite irregular plates with a bit of a grainy touch. The result was really cool.

Once back in Mexico, I worked with an indigenous community near Puebla called “Los Reyes Metzontla“ (“Metzontla kings“). Women from this community learned to master the technique of polishing clay a thousand years ago.The city of Puebla created a program called Idea+material to help and value craftwork. The challenge was to conquer new markets. I worked with women from the community offering them news designs and creating products with a specific use for the consumer to feel the necessity to buy them.

The use of national materials was mandatory. People in the community were humble. This means making the most out of local materials.

The richness of craftsmen hands in Mexico is what allows us to be in good place at the global level in all that concerns craftwork.

I lived 15 days with women of that community to understand how they work, to see how they use the materials, and the techniques they apply. This helped me create trust with the community and be able to work together. Women know and perfectly command the material and the technique since they learn it very young while playing. I applied design learnings : ergonomics, how to reduce production costs and how to distribute profits. As a designer, the first person i think about is the consumer, the user. That’s how i define the requirements. For instance, a bottle of water needs to be easy to use, not weight much. .. I also helped them to change the processes, i taught them how to use tools since they didn’t have any. The fact of helping them extend their knowledge in all this allow them today to improve production and create more functional products. At the end we created 50 adapted designs. Some pieces can be found in Barroco museum’s shop in Puebla.

This story is an example of how design can change things.

What makes you happiest?

Women’s joy. They were happy about their work and to know their products were easily sold. They were motivated by selling the pieces.

Can anyone be a designer?

If we follow the example of women of the “Los Reyes Metzontla“ (“Metzontla kings“) community, they can go through a lot of change, even if women of this population still make craftwork learned from their mothers and grandmothers. In general, people have the ability to solve a necessity. We all have the capacity to design something when facing a need.

For instance, when I’m thirsty i can drink from my hand, carrying it to my mouth moving my arm. The spoon for instance responds to this need reproducing the first shape.

An idea appears when one is wondering how to solve a problem.

What would be design’s future?

Man keeps on going forward. We will always face needs. That’s why design has a future. We can say basic needs are more than satisfied. Design is alway closer to technology to solve other necessities.

Besides people always want to be surrounded by pretty things.

It’s hard to make new things, to use new materials. Design has to be a constant search.

Why did you choose this career?

I have always liked observing and questioning myself about why a product is as it is. Here in Mexico, there were no design boom, that’s why my environment did not affect my decision. I am thus sensitive to analyse what’s surrounding me and try to improve it, whether using new materials, new shapes….

Industrial design implies to take advantage of materials to create something functional and pretty.