Design Team Management and Doing Good Work from Unit Editions’ “Studio Culture”
Unit Editions’ “Studio Culture” is a book of interviews conducted by Adrian Shaughnessy, published in 2009.
I’ve read through this book a couple of times since picking it up probably 4 or 5 years ago, but picked it up recently to specifically scour for gems on design studio culture and what it takes to make good work. Here are a few selections and passages that stood out to me.
Experimental Jetset on the challenges of putting your soul into your craft:
“We have a very difficult relationship with graphic design: we wouldn’t want to do anything else, but at the same time it sometimes hurts us. It is very much in the nature of graphic design. On the one hand, you are expected to put your soul in it, on the other side you are expected to compromise, to make concessions. So it’s a very difficult balancing act: you have to dedicate yourself fully to your design, while at the same time being prepared to kill some of your babies along the way. It’s not something that will ever be easy.”
Pentagram’s Paula Scher on what makes a good graphic design studio:
“I think the best graphic design studio provides time for R&D. A designer should be able to experiment and produce professional work at the same time in a pleasant and reasonably secure environment.”
Neville Brody on the challenges of directing design while leading and mentoring a team of designers:
“…it’s a difficult balance because if someone in the studio has produced an idea that I don't like, what do I do? Do I say ‘you can’t continue with this’? If I go in and say ‘it’s wrong, you can’t do that, you have to change it, here’s what you should be doing,’ then I’m not nurturing. But if something’s really wrong then of course I have to say so. Managing creative staff is so difficult because by the same token, they could have the same point of view about your work.”
Thirst’s Rick Valicenti on keeping everyone on the team motivated:
“Thirst is a campfire and if everyone does not contribute some wood to the fire, we will all soon be breathing and coughing in smoke. Simply by painting this picture and reminding everyone of our braided path, the privilege to sit by the fire is shared.”
Andrew Blauvelt on working as a collective vs. working to the vision of an individual:
“…the group of designers as a whole needs to set the direction and evolution of the work, not as an unquestioning groupthink but as an organic developmental process. If one is not hiring randomly, I think one ends up with a set of people who bring their own individual tastes and influences with them yet share some affinity for what already exists. If so, then the question is what can each designer contribute to the whole — I don’t mean job duties, but rather aesthetically and conceptually. How do they see their contribution reflected? Do they add breadth to the existing palette or is their contribution catalytic?
You can pick up the entire book as a free download on Unit Editions’ site.
Studio Culture interviews - free to download
Like everyone else, designers and design studios are facing unprecedented times at the moment as they navigate a new…
They’re also publishing a second installment of the series, “Studio Culture Now” which is available on their site (for money) as well. Would definitely recommend both.