Biography by Lindsay Reichart
“Thank you for calling UNO, a cross-cultural design agency.”
This is the first thing you hear when you call the firm founded by Luis Fitch and his wife, Carolina Ornelas. Born in the border city of Baja, California, Fitch spent much of his childhood traveling across the United States-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana. It’s this upbringing, as well as an open and observant mind, that has equipped him with a uniquely globalized design perspective.
Fitch’s early education in Mexico focused on the fine arts, where he honed his illustration and technical drawing skills. After dabbling in architecture, his passion for the more creative aspects of technical drawing—merging the technical with illustration—became clear. In the early ‘80s while still living in Mexico, Fitch would take the trolley over to San Diego a few times a week to hunt for art and design books, so when his family moved to San Diego when Fitch was 20, it was hardly unfamiliar territory. Fitch attended San Diego City College, where he was able to exercise his creative and technical skills attending classes in marketing and strategy, all while drawing from the rich source of inspiration he found in the work by Mexican painters and muralists.
Fitch went on to earn his BFA at Art Center College for Design in Pasadena, California. After graduation, he cultivated clients through freelance gigs for small businesses in Southern California and Tijuana, whom he knew had something to gain from communication design. Fitch says he wasn’t selling design, rather he was “selling opportunities from a small business perspective,” showing small shops the financial benefits of strategic design. “My portfolio was strong, with a different look, culture, and identity, and that was exactly what they wanted: a totally different view of things.”
One such success was for a tiny Tijuana bakery well-known locally for their donuts. Seeing an opportunity for both the small business as well as for himself, Fitch offered to develop the identity, branding, and packaging to allow for sales beyond the storefront. Strategic branding and design was unfamiliar territory to the shop owners, yet after Fitch presented a mock-up that spoke to the concerns of each of the bakery’s stakeholders, the family was hooked and invested in Fitch’s design.
Fitch’s first company job was working with a design firm coincidentally named Fitch Inc.—no relation. As the only Latino among 200 employees, he proved to be a unique asset and was named lead designer on one of his first projects. Then, in 1999, the United States census was released, showing the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in the country—a whopping 40 percent over only 10 years. After going on to work for a number of major design firms on a career trajectory that ultimately led him Minneapolis, it suddenly became clear to Fitch that it was time for him to devote his efforts solely to his passion for cross-cultural communication design for the Latin American community.
On the cusp of the millennium, Luis and his wife Carolina founded UNO, a strategic cross-cultural design agency with a mission to bridge the formerly disparate United States and Latin American markets. Founded in Minneapolis, the demand for UNO’s services, like the neighborhood’s Latin American community, has since grown exponentially. “I give credit to being open-minded, not because I’m Mexican,” says Fitch.
Pushing the potential of his cross-cultural approach, Fitch developed UNO’s own Filtros™ system, a tool for businesses to understand their market culturally via a set of filters that describe how their audiences see the world. Born out of the need to explain the basis of their communications strategies, Filtros™ provides UNO’s range of clients—from small shops to Fortune 500 companies—a level of reassurance and understanding of UNO’s work, and is particularly useful to those clients who may not be aware of the markets they stand to gain or lose.
Filtros™ became indispensable early on for UNO, when companies were asking for designs that simply looked Mexican, rather than attempting to encompass the diversity within Latin American cultures and their target audiences. However, UNO would only represent the cultural cues demanded by the particular audience, a position that stemmed from a design point of view as much as it was a nuanced strategy that reflected positively on UNO’s client. Filtros™ has been indispensable in widening perspectives both internally within UNO as well as on a mass scale externally, through use by institutions such as AIGA, marketing agencies, and universities plus UNO’s larger clients, such as Target, Frito-Lay, and Quaker Oats Company.
The global outlook of consumers in recent decades has allowed for cultural twists to infiltrate traditional American products—think of all the available flavors of potato chips. Fitch notes that the average U.S. consumer is more sophisticated, knowledgeable, and familiar with Latin America than ever before and wants to seek out authentic global products in their own backyard. With these new cross-cultural products and interests, Fitch sees the future for UNO in designing not only for the Latin American market but for the general market, where the United States and Latin America continue to meld closer and closer together.
While maintaining a pulse on the fluctuating demands of cross-cultural trends and economies, Fitch still flexes his muscles in the fine arts as a successful artist, and most recently as a recipient of the 2015 McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship. Fitch’s artwork explores traditional Mexican imagery and methods such as paper cutting, silkscreen, illustration, and mixed-media painting. This artistic influence transcends the borders of UNO, where their most recent and upcoming projects bring fine art, design, marketing, and branding skills together, out of the gallery to create street art and murals.
Though his latest project is largely under wraps at this time, Fitch’s excitement can hardly be contained. Most likely because with the fellowship and UNO’s public art projects, Fitch is able to give back to the community of Minneapolis. Yet the future of UNO and Fitch’s work remains progressive and adaptable by its very nature. As Fitch describes the past 50 years of his design work, personal life, and artistic practice, “We are honest and we are truthful. We don’t do this because it’s hip or cool. We don’t do it from 8 to 5. This is a way of living for us—we live and breath it.”