or how to discard old models and embrace new ones.
Paradigm – a standard for others to follow.
Shift – to change from one place, position, person, etc., to another.
“To be perfectly honest with you,” Adrian Martinez, Partner, and 3D Director, admits, “at first, we just thought the name sounded cool, you know?” He looks like he just got out of bed (but maybe he hasn’t gone to bed yet). He’s in slippers, plaid pajama pants, and rocking a brick-red t-shirt whose front features a sketch of a sizzling bacon strip and promotes some sort of cured pork meat festival. He rubs his eyes and continues.
He explains the name Paradigm Shift comes from a doodle he penned on the back of a high school notebook. “I don’t think we gave much thought to what the name meant aside from ‘hey, this name sounds cool.’”
“That’s not true,” Veronna Corral, Managing Partner objects. “Well…” she rethinks her original position, “okay, maybe it’s actually partially true.” Veronna sports thumping black boots, slim black jeans, and a long black-sleeve tee commemorating the last nationwide tour of one of those forever-young-looking American punk rock bands. Her look is all black, except for her hair. Her long straight hair, which flows down onto her hips, is a dazzling aqua.
“Listen,” Veronna clarifies, “it’s not like we didn’t know what the name meant, we knew, it’s just that, it took us a while to realize that we had stumbled upon the perfect name for our studio, a name that tells our story.”
She flicks her wrist, and magically her chair motors forward, toward the little table where the coffee maker is. In reality, her chair is no ordinary chair, she’s sitting on a 3-wheel electric mobility scooter she uses to get around because she was born with a rare, undiagnosed neuromuscular condition that hampers her physical mobility.
It’s early in the A.M., and we’re sitting in kumbaya form on the ground floor of the Artspace building in downtown El Paso, TX., inside the brand-new Paradigm Shift studio. We’re all sipping strong coffee from Styrofoam cups and listening to the lulling hum of computers powering on and waking up.
Who’s “we”? The Paradigm team.
It’s the start of a new day in our new place and before everyone gets to work, I’ve sat everyone down to find out:
“What’s the story? Where did it all start? Why is everyone here?”
Like old defeated and deflated helium balloons, the three questions hover over everyone’s head, but don’t really go anywhere. Vienna, Studio Manager, is the first one to break the silence.
“I’m here to be the grown-up.” In a room full of designers who laugh out loud and throw ideas around like six-year-olds playing dodgeball, Vienna is the adult.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a sense of humor. Vienna wears a purple V-neck t-shirt commemorating the El Paso stop of a famous Mexican American stand-up comedian’s tour. In fact, earlier, when I arrived, Vienna—usually the first one here—was half-watching and half-listening to that comedian’s latest stand-up special on that ubiquitous streaming platform with the big scarlet “N” for an icon. “What can I say? If you’re going to manage a studio like this, answer the phones and greet everyone that comes thru the door, you need to always smile.”
Next up, Dolores, Marketing Manager, jumps up and snatches one of the questions from the air, like that famous videogame plumber grabbing a power-up mushroom.
All eyes are on her.
Dolores’ hand retreats to her lap and she laughs. “I just want to go now so I can get my part out of the way. Can I?”
Her words hint that she’s nervous, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that just by looking at her. She’s got a cool onyx-colored leather jacket that shines like oil in the light, cute glasses with hot-pink heart-shaped lenses, and long voluminous curly black hair that gives her the silhouette of an 80s rock superstar.
Dolores answers her question, “I joined the studio because Veronna invited me after meeting me, is that simple,” she laughs. “But yeah, seriously, I came to this place because it feels more like an artist collective and less like a traditional company. And as a young creative starting a career, I found that aspect very, very, very attractive.”
“I second that,” Lucero, Design Director, jumps in. “When Veronna first told me about her plans, that’s exactly how she pitched it to me. She told me she didn’t want to just lead a company, she wanted to lead a team of artists, artists that will work together on design projects for clients, but also on their own projects, all under the same umbrella. And that’s exactly how we work.”
Lucero is the colorful one in the group (every group has to have at least one). She’s got Korean-style mismatched plaid pants, laceless tennis shoes that look like they can glide your feet into the future, and a Warholesque mango-color T-shirt that sports the original logo of a famous cable tv channel that 30 years ago used to showcase nothing but music videos but now just plays boring reality tv shows.
“It’s a new and exciting business model, a ‘shift’ away from the norm—see what I did there?” Lucero winks and snaps her fingers, and we all laugh.
After a Hong Kong second, Veronna speaks up, “that was my original mission, to move away from old models and create my own.”
I follow up, “What was the germ of the idea? What moved you to start your own business, especially one that’s run like an art collective?”
“It was always my dream, you know?” Veronna says. “But I always thought I would get to that in the future—that I would build up to that—didn’t think I would create a design studio from the get-go, but I had to.”
As Veronna starts opening up, the clouds in the sky shift a little. As a result, direct sunlight pierces through the front door windows of the studio, shining a natural spotlight on Veronna. Blinded by the sudden change in light, Veronna makes a face and scoots back a couple of inches. Then she starts her story…
In 2014, Veronna graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. The otherwise proud moment, however, was bittersweet. “After the diploma and all the hoopla that comes with the ceremony, I got scared. In my mind, in my head, my future seemed vague and uncertain, you know?”
Actually, I don’t know, but I’m afraid to probe because I can tell the subject matter is sensitive.
Veronna’s eyes are red and slightly watery. Adrian squeezes her hand. “Sorry, I don’t usually like to talk about my body or disability. I feel it makes people uncomfortable, plus I never want my disability to define me, you know? But at the same time, I can’t ignore it. To overcome these sorts of things, you must face them.”
She clears her throat, and continues, “the thing is, I was leaving the accommodating safety of the school environment, where everything, my classes, my schedule, even my professors, adapted to my needs, and I was now coming face-to-face with the outside world.”
Despite her apprehensions, Veronna ventured out to start her career as a graphic designer. “The thing about Veronna is—she’s a go-getter,” Adrian says with pride.
However, not only did Veronna have to contend with the typical problems that come with the job hunt, like pre-job interview nervous jitters, but she also had to deal with literal obstacles, like how to get into the room for the job interview.
“One time—this is before I had a scooter—I drove across town for a job interview, and I had to park my car way out in the back of the parking lot. And I remember just sitting there alone in the car, looking at the long stretch of pavement between me and the building, and thinking: ‘if I get the job, how am I going to walk this freaking distance every single day?’ I mean, I can stand and walk, but not for long, you know? So, I just left.”
Eventually, Veronna found the perfect 3-wheel scooter to move around in and traverse long distances like that, but the experience inspired her to start web-spinning. “I started thinking about how to gain more control over me and my future, you know?”
Still, that was just one battle Veronna had to deal with, the worst came when her health took a sudden dive.
Turns out, on top of her disability, Veronna developed severe scoliosis in puberty, which impacted her breathing. So, from 2014 to 2016, Veronna was coming in and out of hospitals, being treated for both hypoxemia (low oxygen levels in the blood) and hypercapnia (CO2 poisoning).
Veronna tells us it was a long and arduous couple of years, but thankfully, the doctors found the right ventilator machine for her to use, and the right combo of steroids and inhaler, which, to this day, she takes daily to stabilize her oxygen levels.
“It was a hard and haunting experience, but at the same time, it taught me a lot. I know it sounds like a Hallmark card, but there’s a lot to learn from pain and hardship.”
After this harrowing experience, Veronna decided to do everything and anything in her power to claim her independence and follow her passions. “I didn’t want to depend on an employer or deal with any variables in case my body decides to act up again. So I thought to myself: ‘you know that dream you have of owning a cool, creative studio? Why wait, let’s do it now.’”
The first thing Veronna did was study up. School had taught her the basics behind graphic design, but not much in the way of business. For that, she had to go online and develop her own “Freelancing 101” curriculum.
Her first venture was StudioVeronna, a boutique design studio she started with her husband and burgeoning designer Adrian.
“I wasn’t crazy about the name, but that’s where we both cut our teeth,” Veronna says.
Even though Adrian didn’t finish school or formally studied graphic design, he picked it up quickly. “I’m a…what’s the word?” Adrian shuts his eyes tight, trying to expel the elusive word from the tip of his tongue. Veronna saves him, “an autodidact.” “Really?” Adrian is skeptical, “that’s the word? Sounds wrong, but—anyways—yes, I’m self-taught.” Veronna helped at first, but after learning the ins and outs of the design software, Adrian took off all on his own. Most impressive is, he taught himself how to design and render 3D models completely on his own, from free online resources.
“You can say StudioVeronna was Paradigm Shift in its ‘beta phase,’” Veronna says. The next phase came in 2017, when Adrian and Veronna were among the first artists selected to live in the new artist community Roderick Artspace Lofts, built in the heart of the Art District of Downtown El Paso, TX.
“We were so excited,” Veronna says, “not only were Adrian and I moving together for the first time as a couple, but we were going to be among the first artists to move into this new crazy-creative experiment.” The experiment Veronna is referring to is Artspace. Created by local partners, including the El Paso Community Foundation, Artspace is a national non-profit that offers artists and creative businesses a live/workspace meant to help artists across the country to thrive through the arts.
This move greatly accelerated Veronna’s and Adrian’s budding design careers, especially since they started meeting other like-minded artists, like Lucero. “That’s right!” Lucero says with a big ear-to-ear grin on her face. “It’s funny because we quickly went from neighbors to friends to collaborators.”
Inspired by this new community of artists she was living and working with, Veronna decided to re-brand her studio and thus Paradigm Shift was born.
“For the longest time, she had the idea, I had the name,” Adrian adds, “and finally everything clicked into place.”
“Yes, exactly!” Veronna says, “the new name sounded fresh and edgy, but also it was perfect because that’s why I’m here, why I decided to start my own studio and become my own boss, you know? I’m trying to transcend the ‘paradigm’ laid out before me. And that’s also part of our process. When we work—whether on a brand or an art show—we look at what’s been done before, what the old models are, and how we can move, change, alter, evolve, or transform things.”
Suddenly, there’s a knock on the door. Adrian gets up from his chair and slides his slippers towards the front door. He turns the key; the bolt snaps awake and the door yawns open. It’s a young man with a large, insulated lunch bag. He opens it and the deliciously mouth-watering scent of breakfast tacos ribbons into our nostrils. It turns out, these tacos are for me.
Who am I?
I’m David, the brand-new Project Manager. The last time I looked in the mirror I had tan slacks on, and a full-moon-blue Acapulco shirt spotted with little lime and lemon wedges (the kind you put on the rim of a cocktail glass).
This is my first week with the team, and I gathered everyone around this morning to investigate the genesis of Paradigm Shift to write out this story. However, unbeknownst to me, the team organized a surprise taco party to welcome me.
I’m extremely touched and moved, but also self-conscious. My face is crimson, and I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say. I guess: