He's designed a few favorite places around Miami, and now Mark Diaz is trying to take television by storm. The Miami-raised, FIU-trained industrial designer is one of the contestants on the sixth season of Design Star, a reality competition that's all about transforming challenging spaces with ingenuity and creativity -- not to mention sweaty palms at elimination time. Through three weeks, the 33-year-old behind Miami's MAD Design has already experienced the highs (winning the infamous 'white box' challenge) and lows (partner drama, possible elimination) of compelling competition. Will he win, and be handed the reins of his very own online show? Time will tell -- but before this hometown talent hits TV again Monday night at 9 p.m., he tells on himself.
How does it feel to win a challenge?
It was really exhilarating. It was the white box challenge, so for me, it was the most exciting. Next to winning Design Star or being voted fan favorite, everyone remembers the white box challenge winner. I was so passionate about it. I had never done a mural before, but jumping into that space and in the first twenty minutes having the concept ready to go, I felt so strong during that episode.
Do you find yourself to be portrayed properly on the show?
I don't necessarily think that the show was able to fulfill the explanation behind the concept [in the white box episode], but there's 10 other designers and there's a lot to fit in an hour. I understand that.
In the first and third weeks, you had to work with a partner. Had you ever done that before?
Not exactly like that. It's a little like writing a book: if you have two authors, the concept may be so far different and the direction of the story would be different and then end goal may then be different...If you're malleable, if you can be adaptive, you can have a great collaboration. But if one person is not willing, then the design has the ability to fail.
How how terrifying is the elimination process?
Our nerves are absolutely at wit's end. Everyone's so nervous, sweating -- we're all like, "Oh my god, what's gonna happen next?" When they chose to keep me in week one, it was a total shocker. I had no idea.
We hear you applied to the show at the last minute. How harrowing was that process?
I knew I had to get to Georgia [to audition], and I had a 14-hour drive ahead of me. I threw my stuff in a tote bag and figured everything out on the way. Between Savannah and Atlanta, I was reading questions, recording answers into my phone, and sending them to my girlfriend. She was typing them up and sending them back to me so I could copy and paste them [into my application] when I got to a Kinko's.
Is Miami a place that fosters good design? Is it a supportive city for anyone who wants to become a designer?
There's a lot that's available here if you have the time to hunt it down. There's Wynwood, the Design District, and there's also Design & Architecture Senior High, which would be a great place to start. Not far from that is the Art Institute. Then there's my alma mater FIU, who has a great architecture program. If you have an interest and the wherewithal to do what you have to do to grow as a designer, you can absolutely do that here...There's design all around us.
Do you have favorite spots around town to find inspiration?
I get my inspiration from two places: one is nature, everything from the lines of a palm frond to the way a root system connects in the ground. The second thing is details. So everywhere I go, I'm constantly looking at details that some architect or designer has created. If you can find art inside the details, you're going to be able to transform that. [I find inspiration in Miami from] Morris Lapidus' great concrete structures to the urban planning of LIncoln Road.
Where can we see your work in Miami?
You can go get a mani/pedi at Avant-Garde! It's one of the places I featured on my application to the show. Borolo south of Fifth, and the El Bolero Room at the Electric Pickle. Those are three different venues that the public can go in and out of. There's also a home on Palm Island that's currently for sale, if anyone wants a Mark Diaz original!
If you yourself had to hire one of the other competitors from the show, who would it be?
Karl is the person who has inspired me the most to this point in the show. I relate to him because he comes from an architecture background as do I, and the reasoning behind what he does is through everything he does. Nothing is arbitrarily placed or designed.
What's most important to you as a designer?
For me, it's all about concept. Telling the background behind the concept is the most important thing.
What's next for you?
Right now it's all about the show. I wanna win fan favorite and I want to show everyone that there is a dynamic difference between the designers on the show and the decorators on the show. I represent a very strong sensibility, and that's what right now is all about.