For Duplo Design, Each Product Has a Hidden Story

According to Guadalajara-based product designers Marcela and Tania Medina, all products have a story to tell. This is theirs.

Rachel Robey|Aug 12, 2022
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In Guadalajara, a studio sits over 5,100 feet above ocean level, but is encircled by mountains and ancient volcanoes looming even further above. There, two sisters practice industrial design on a small scale, partnering with local artisans to create and sell beautiful kitchen tools that draw on the region’s ancestral traditions, natural materials, and current design landscape. For them, products are an artistic medium like paint or charcoal.

Product designers Marcela and Tania Medina, our collaborators on the

Duplo Design x Made In Collection

, describe the

meticulous design process

—which was informed by craftspeople and their expertise—as the “humanity” behind our collaboration. As consumers, we’re all prone to prioritizing performance and aesthetics over how, where, or why something was made, but as Tania explains, “the product’s story isn’t just about the art design. It's all of the people involved, too.”

Since launching Duplo Design six years ago, they’ve been working iteratively, continuously returning to familiar objects with new methods, materials, and silhouettes. But in some ways, the products they make have a history that predates them. Molcajetes, like the ones they produced for the Duplo Design x Made In Collection, were used by the Aztec and Maya, and the artisanal processes behind Duplo Design’s wares are still handed down from generation to generation within local families, like the Rodríguez Coculas who make their volcanic stoneware products.

However, the construction materials themselves are the most acutely ancestral. Each native Mexican oak comprising these Tortilleros has grown for at least a couple generations, and the basalt forming each Molcajete in the collection has waited some thousands of years to be carved.

The Medina sisters strive to make each item feel “atemporal.” While each piece is grounded in the history that preceded it and the current design moment in which it was created, their primary goal is to make timeless objects that feel as familiar as they are  functional. “They’re not just art objects. We want to tell a story,” says Marcela. This intention comes through in the final products, which Marcela says have a magnetic pull when you first notice them. “People want to know, ‘Is it real? Can I touch it?’”

But there’s a third element that’s integral to the product narrative—what the sisters call “the hidden stories.” These are the most personal. They’re the anecdotes associated with the design and craft process, which customers typically remain blissfully unaware of. “Even things produced on a massive scale had to be physically made by someone,” says Tania. We’re used to products just showing up on our doorsteps with the click of a button, but, as Tania reminds,  “products pass through so many hands to get to you, to your home.”

One of these stories involves the sisters themselves. Hiccups in the production timeline caused scheduling conflicts with the artisans originally enlisted to build the Tortilleros, and so the sisters stepped in to assist the lead carpenter, Dante, on the job. It was stressful work, but with some auxiliary support from friends and  family, they completed both the Molcajetes and the Tortilleros in time.

In fact, their father was often at the workshop, sometimes until midnight, oiling the finished wooden vessels to prepare for shipping. The sisters credit him for the entrepreneurial and ever-persistent spirit he ingrained in them. “We have never been taught to give up. We are always very persistent, even when it's hard or involves something that we don't want to do,” says Marcela. “We do it, because it's our responsibility.”

It’s their passion, too.

To add to all the stress they felt while negotiating their biggest undertaking and first experience with large scale international export, Marcela and Tania’s production window coincided with Guadalajara’s rainy season. After spending hours in Dante’s workshop cutting and sanding oak planks, they had to load up the finished Tortilleros into their car each night for safe storage.  One night, as they transferred the final few Tortilleros into the trunk during a torrential downpour, a rogue driver sped down the flooded street and sent a tidal wave of water into the trunk. Every single Tortillero was destroyed.

“Just like that, a hundred pieces were ruined. Two days of work,” says Tania. “I was like, I don't have time to get mad. Tomorrow, we’ll do them again.”

For the two designers, these hidden stories are the most salient, despite being the most likely to go unnoticed by customers. But with everything they create under the Duplo Design brand, Marcela and Tania are hoping they can encourage people to think more about the stories—hidden or otherwise—behind their products. And encourage customers to make their own stories while using the products as well.