KW: After studying, we both had a lot of internship experience and realized that we often did not enjoy the working methods of others. You are dependent on someone who structures his enterprise according to his own rules, which you cannot comply with. We both have a vision of how we want to work and deal with each other we have not found that in the Berlin creative industry.
JD: There is this dichotomy where you want to work. Either one goes into the advertisement and earns appropriate money—but the work is mostly unsatisfactory. Or you go to a cool graphic office, where you gain, despite working extra hours, 900 €. Already during our bachelor studies, we noticed that we are a good team, so there was this idea to become self-employed.
KW: Our profession is not a high risk. Everyone has a computer and the programs and it is possible to work from anywhere. Even if it does not work, you have not made a big loss.
AH: In our industry, it is usually the case that one is either employed full time in an agency or works project-based as a freelancer. During my studies, I already had my own clients and also worked for agencies. After I graduated, I worked in an agency full time, but with the status of a freelancer, so it was actually a bogus self-employment. If I had been aware of the costs and hurdles coming from self-employment, I might have insisted on being hired. At the time, I was a bit naive, but at some point I consciously decided to become self-employed.
AR: The plan already existed during our studies. I personally think that it is important to try different things and to learn a lot during this phase. The wish to work independently evolved from the desire to decide a lot on our own and to have the most possible liberty with the design.
AH: In my studio, there are usually two people working. I have long refused to hire interns, because I don't really approve of this system: as an intern, you have certain advantages, but it turns out to be problematic if you work like a junior designer five days a week in one place and do not get paid. I therefore offer my interns a part-time position so that they can still work independently. In addition, I only accept students who have to complete a compulsory internship. It is important to me that both sides can benefit from each other during an internship: I pass on experience and projects, they learn from it and can become an integrated part of my studio. In a small studio, you can actually become an all-rounder and are able to do almost everything you do as a proprietor. In large agencies, this is often not the case hence there are very limited possibilities.
In addition, I work with freelancers and often collaborate with other designers, people from marketing, curators, and others.
MP: Yes, a lot. I did a lot of learning on the job I got straight after university, which is a good and a bad thing. There has been a huge amount of business, client and money related things I learned—everything that you don’t learn about in university. I could never have done Yukiko without that experience. But I also had to unlearn a lot of things, working practices I didn't agree with, or wanted to do differently.
KW: By now, our projects are running quite similarly, but it was a long process. Whenever we receive a request for a project, together with the client we create a briefing and afterwards develop the concept. With regard to the visual implementation, we continue to work on it separately. We used to do it together, which was nice, but we cannot afford it anymore. But this is all right, because the one who works on the project can realize oneself and the other only interferes up to a certain extent.
JD: However, we always have to agree on the design. If Katharina finds that a draft does not work, it will not be sent out, even if I love it.
IS: At the beginning of a project, we normally we work together, because we appreciate the exchange and it is easier to put things straight. Whenever we receive an order, we first talk about it and collect ideas. Afterwards, everyone implements different ideas, which we then also discuss. In that way the process continues until we have all ideas aligned. From this point onwards, we separate the tasks, nevertheless, we follow the principle of dual control: before a design gets presented to the client, we always double-check it. Although simultaneous work is very time-consuming, we are convinced that time the projects are of higher quality. That is one reason we work together.
AH: Each project has different requirements, so there is not one right approach. However, the analysis of the project is always the same: size, scope, duration, circumstances. There are several preliminary talks, because it is important for me to get to know the people involved in the project. Regardless of the design, I leave the frame as far as possible, because often the customer does not know what to expect. What follows is the proposal phase. Consulting and project management are also important parts of my work. Then the ping-pong starts. The customer delivers content, we create and return it, and so on. Some clients need a mood board that helps me understand what they like, what language they speak and what they feel comfortable with. It's always about building trust—no project works without it.
PC: The initial research and brainstorming usually take place between Ann and me. Thus, emerges a pool of ideas out of which we then, also in a dialogue with the customer, create a concept. In the next phase, one of us will be responsible in order to have the organizational side all bundled up.
SK: This depends on the size of the project. For the most part, we first discuss what it is all about, the most important questions, and exchange ideas. Then, each one does research and brainstorming and implements initial approaches. We give ourselves a clear time frame so that designing becomes something playful. Then we discuss our ideas and decide which directions might be interesting. In the case of smaller to medium-sized orders, one of us then implements and communicates, while the other provides advice. For large projects or long-term projects, we divide or work together. It is important that we represent each other at any time.
NP: I usually start with research in a traditional way: formulating a question, going to a library, reading texts. Only once I feel sufficiently informed, I come up with a concept or approach for the project. If the project is a commission, I usually first try to find my own personal position in order to then develop a concept. It’s hard to say how much time it usually takes, since it varies a lot. For the exhibition »Taking a line for a walk« I almost instantly came up with the idea of focusing on assignments as verbal artifacts of design education, and working with students in the making of the show. Maybe that was because I had already done the »Escola Aberta«, which made me dive into different ideas about design pedagogy. In contrast, the concept and approach of my current project, researching the history of the publishing house Arthur Niggli, took me much longer. First, I was interested in design manuals as a whole, then I narrowed it down to one case study. Afterwards, I eventually became fascinated with that publisher and ended up expanding my scope to look into their entire publishing program! I really enjoy the whole process: starting from a first impulse or drive, getting a bit lost, ending up in a totally different place, and finally coming up with a plan for how the project can truly become public.
KW: Time is a big issue for us at the moment, because we have neglected a consistent time recording in the last two years. Meanwhile, we have realized how important this is in order to be able to assess the effort better. So far, the estimation and the actual expenditure of time have been very different, but since we have recorded it, we have become somewhat stricter. We do not necessarily work out yet another idea when we realize that we already exceeded the estimated hours.
AR: We usually take the amount of time that the project requires. At the beginning, we estimate the work hours and of course, it is ideal if this number coincides with the workload, but the design has priority.
SK: It's important to be able to stand behind what is being published. Therefore, we always take the time to examine even details that the customer probably does not notice, but which are important to us. For orders with a detailed cost estimate, we check whether our effort is still within the scope. But there are also projects, for example publications, where we work with flat rates and do not pay attention to the hours. For this, we mostly have a greater creative freedom.
CN: As time goes by, you eventually get better with judging your own efforts and make realistic offers. For this reason, we began to measure our working hours and are able to draw conclusions after each project. By doing so, we see whether we have underestimated certain work steps or have neglected them in our calculations
MP: This is actually where Johannes and I differ quite a lot. I would just work on something until I think it’s good enough—which is never. Johannes understands much more how much our time is worth, how long we should be working on something and at what point we have to tell people if they are asking too much. We are really lucky to have many nice Indie projects that are paying, even though it’s not much. We also have a few projects that pay better, but can be somewhat boring—which is fine. Also we do mostly periodicals and magazines, and we have one client for whom we do branding for fairs three times a year. We’re really quite lucky to have established regular work.
JD: So far, there was no need to actively acquire customers, which is quite astonishing. Especially since we do not want to work in advertising, but for customers from the social, political and cultural sectors. Our existing customers have always been able to generate new jobs.
KW: What you should not underestimate is private acquisition, which we both do intuitively. Whenever you meet new people and talk about your profession and thereby offer graphic advice, this can often lead to new projects. We received the first orders from our circle of friends. Since about half a year we get orders that we cannot trace back.
Do you actively go on acquisition? processes
AR: It is a rather a mixture of active and passive acquisition, since we do not have a fixed customer base; whereby, the passive part is predominant. What mostly follows to a great project is a new request, which is very pleasing. It mostly happens via recommendations or the visibility of past projects. For the acquisition, it is beneficial if there already exists a connection to requested persons or institutions. For example, during our studies, we were responsible for the design of the exhibition »Atlas 2013—Kunststudentinnen und Kunststudenten stellen aus« at the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn. We have contacted them last year and made them aware of our office. That is how a new cooperation evolved: The six-part catalogue for the current exhibition »Comics! Mangas! Graphic Novels!«
CN: We had rare success with active acquisition. We find it much more effective to keep in touch with people and to communicate with others. Not only because we hope for jobs, but because we are interested in what is happening around us and what concerns others. In addition, we also occasionally work on self-initiated projects and organize workshops. With these projects, we are creating a network that creates new orders from areas that we find exciting.
SK: We are rather active and by that, visible. This also helps us to expand our competencies and to play a more active role in contracting. We like to collaborate with people in whom the customer-service relationship is not so important, and with whom we can communicate openly.
MP: Technically I do more of the wilder graphic design work and Johannes does more business, communication and also a lot of art direction. But we lean on each other a lot and look at everything together. We both get a little bit nervous, if the other one hasn’t looked over something before we finalize things and make decisions.
MP: No, I wish we had a stricter routine. In the morning we start at ten, and tend to work until the job is done, which means we finish a different time every day. We have a very nice office now, with another design studio and an architecture studio next to us and this environment has helped us to concentrate a lot more. Before that we worked in an old swimming pool complex with a nightclub in the basement and many artists in the floors above. It was super fun, but it was this arty kind of thing; everything was made of junk and thrown together. But we still managed a lot of work! There were various workshops and we were much more multi-disciplinary back then. Then we got burgled and our laptops were stolen. At this point we realized that things were getting too serious and that we have to grow up.
JD: I'd like to be more experimental, but that depends on the budget. Now and then you have to force yourself to try out new things and, for example, expand the analogous experiment.
KW: We would like to introduce one day a month, in which we can try new approaches and techniques or research. Unfortunately, the time is missing. But, of course, we treat each customer differently, analyze his target groups and adapt the design to it.
MP: Difficult question. I think we are not consciously experimental—we just are generally experimental. We care a lot about what the brief is and what the content is that we are working on. At the moment we seem to be doing mostly magazines, but they are very different. Sofa magazine is a society chit-chat magazine that talks about things like Tinder, Instagram, youth culture or sex. We approach it very differently compared to a magazine like Flaneur, where we work with artists and on location. It’s a conscious decision that these are completely different things. But the process of work, and the way we come up with ideas, is the same. Maybe that’s how we do it: we keep making stuff we’re really into and then just throw out all the ideas that don’t make sense, until we find something that does make sense. I guess I just figured this out.
NP: Depends on what you consider »experimental«! As a researcher, my work is all about reasoning. So if experimental is the opposite of »reasoned« or »rational«, then I’m »consciously conceptual«. But if experimental means looking for unusual angles, seeking oddities, complexities, brushing things »against the grain«, then I'm »consciously experimental«. So maybe I'm both?
IS: We are both very self-critical and have a strong attitude towards aesthetics and certain design forms. However, we do not want to develop a dogma, like some studios where everything looks the same. But we do not want to be a studio in which every project is different and that has no unique selling point—we are still somewhere in between.
For example, we have certain quality standards and a preference for typography, but we customize it for each project and try to reinvent something at first. In the initial phase, we often try out new designs that may even look terrible at first. Through reduction and systematics, the design becomes more compelling and the concept becomes clearer. The cleaner the design, the easier it is to argue. Our time-to-work for design is, of course, quite intensive and lengthy through this phase of experimentation.
SK: That is extremely different. We work more conceptually and content-based. We are not necessarily the right graphic artist when it comes to making a »cool poster«—we can not do that very well. We need an interesting topic, we like to work with existing image material and, for example, go into archives or develop an image concept with photographers. Editing has high priority.
CN: For »Swiss Films«, we have suggested, for example, that instead of working with film images to use language. A strong concept, which can be further developed, interests us more than a beautiful surface on which one can build nothing.
SK: That does not mean we do not appreciate the beautiful surfaces—on the contrary. But for us, the discussion of a concrete subject always comes first, after which form comes into play. Intuition also plays a role. In the case of publications, for example, we often ask ourselves what feelings we want to convey. What character would the book have if it were a person? Is it accessible, it is rather complicated, is it stubborn, is it playful? We also pay attention not to be constantly sitting in front of the screen, but to sketch first ideas by hand, to print something and to hang on the wall, with scissors and paper ... This change between analog and digital helps us not to get lost in something unimportant.
CN: Basically, I rather do a lot of drafts, while Simone is pretty fast on an idea and continues to follow it. This is how we complement each other: the one tries out more, the other is more detailed. As a result, we usually find a common vision.
AH: I find it difficult to define my style visually. I always care about creating order, but chaos and coincidence are part of it as well. Sometimes people tell me that they like my work because it's so reduced and simple. To me it seems rather complicated, overloaded and full of ideas. They see the surface rather than the conceptual part. For me, it is also a relief, because you often interpret a lot into the work.
I work very conceptually and for me the idea is always at the center: through it I try to implement the ideas that the customer has expressed. Therefore, the visual part becomes almost secondary and only one possible expression of the idea. In the visualization process, I often take a step back, throw the concept overboard in order to make it freer. Sometimes, I must admit, the concept really becomes apparent in the course of doing it. But my way of working changes again and again.
AR: Describing your own style is always difficult. At the beginning, we both introduced our own style and then, tried to create a common studio style. By now, we have found a good flow that could be located between classic and daring.
MP: I don’t think any of our magazines look similar, but some friends might say »Oh, this is so Yukiko«. I personally think that’s strange. Maybe it’s a certain attitude you can feel. We are not the kind of designers who make things necessarily look »beautiful«, that’s not what we are interested in.
AR: Our claim is to develop a new visual language for each project. Otherwise it gets a bit boring and the appeal of creation would decrease.
SK: Of course, we try to make any work look different or works in a different way. At the same time, we have a certain approach to design, since it is difficult to completely reinvent each project. The time at Werkplaats Typografie was very good, because we have learned to separate ourselves from safe solutions. One should dare more, experiment and not only design things that trigger a feeling of well-being and repeat what is already familiar. Concerning this, we could certainly be much more radical. At the same time, it is important to us that design makes sense, is readable, so that the form does not function over the function. Often, it is a struggle between radicality, consistency and readability.
CN: We are always trying to express new things about materiality and experiment a lot in this area. Our sources are our archives, which we put together when we found the office. We look at many things: their texture, how something is bound, different printing techniques.
NP: I had a really good start after graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in 2012. My Bachelor’s project, the »Escola Aberta«, was a temporary, free of charge design school that took place in Brazil. The project attracted a lot of attention—I was for example selected to be part of the »Best Dutch Graduates« exhibition that year. Shortly after that, I moved to Berlin and started working part-time as an assistant for the graphic designer Julia Born. I still had a lot of free time to develop my own projects, mostly organizing events, workshops and lectures. Then in 2013, I was asked to curate a big exhibition for the International Graphic Design Biennial of Brno, Czech Republic. I had no prior experience in curating, so it was very overwhelming. After that project I knew that I didn't want to be a designer in the strict sense ... The exhibition was also very positively received and I ended up receiving a Swiss Design Award for it, which was a big step for me.
In 2015 I had a baby. If you are woman, once you have a kid, society sees you as a different person—especially in a rather conservative country like Switzerland. So I had to step back from my own practice, which was difficult for me, since I really take a lot of pleasure in it. I eventually went back to school and completed an M.A. in design research at the HKB Bern, and now things are slowly taking some steam again.
JD: It used to be a big issue to me, but it does not concern me anymore. In general, we have no particular style that we pursue. Rather, I consider every project to be a metamorphosis with the customer. Sometimes I come up with great ideas before I have to realize that the customer does not feel comfortable with it. Therefore, a project is rather a relationship with the customer, in which the outcome is like a common baby. Before the start of a project, however, we already carry out research in order to differentiate ourselves from similar projects.
KW: I've also left this self-realization phase behind me. It was interesting one year after my studies, but that's not what I'm looking for now. We focus on a happy customer and that we are satisfied with the designs. There is no sense in producing »hot shit« that no one understands.
PC: We work with available material and content and try to create a form out of it. The own handwriting is always incorporated—we do not try to exclude it.
AR: I would say that we do not have a formal handwriting, but rather an own position that shapes our work. Thereby, the form can vary depending on the project and yet still there is stringent line. We regard our work as cooperation with the client so that each project is shaped by different influences and no project equals another.
JD: The focus should be on the project, but of course we want to use a good font and do not try to use a different design, just so that it is less hip. In Berlin you can hardly escape from trends, so I think that our design is pretty up-to-date.
KW: The problem is that a trend must also be sold to the customer. Just because you find something hip and beautiful, does not mean that someone wants it.
MP: It’s really funny—we worked at »Zeit Leo«, a kids’ magazine, and we did the cover: a girl with a magenta background wearing a green jumper. Then the next »Zeit Campus« came out and its cover was like the big sister of ours. Crazy! I know for sure they hadn’t seen our cover before, but it’s like there is a collective consciousness, isn’t there? Sometimes it’s frustrating to see things that look like yours, but in the same way I don’t think design is just about striving to always be different for the sake of being different. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that there are trends. Everyone is learning of each other much quicker than they used to. It can get boring though when everyone is just doing the same thing because it looks nice.
IS: We often hear this question: »Can design change the world?« I have no clear answer. I do not believe that design alone can change anything, but it can affect the way that topics are viewed, just like language. Depending on the way that it is formulated, it can be repugnant or open up new worlds, either grant or deny access.
The potential of design is definitely not exhausted. In addition to being used for advertising and pop culture, it could also be applied to scientific areas. I hope that the area of knowledge transfer becomes even more present, because design has the ability to change something—it can help people to understand facts better.
AH: I am currently working on the conception of Hier Magazin, a magazine with and for refugees, the first issue will hopefully be published in autumn. This is my way of applying my skills to create a platform for more awareness. I could have volunteered as well, but I wanted to do that—social design. I have noticed that the sustainable and conscious life that I lead privately is not visible to the outside world—so I wanted to make an active contribution. I believe that we all have responsibility and can do something in the context that is available to us. Without active action, we agree with a phlegmatic bearing of conditions that we may not approve of.
IS: That depends on the project. With regard to socially important issues, I find that the design should follow a logic that is not misleading. At the same time it must not be boring, the subject should still be accessible. However, if you create a flyer for a jazz band, the context is different. The design for the flyer can be good without meeting this requirement. It depends on the context.
NP: I would rather not even try to answer this question! I think this line of thought inevitably leads to a kind of prescriptive idea about what design should be. Design can be so many different things for so many people! My version of it is, whatever makes sense for my own practice, but that is not necessarily right for others.
AH: For graphic designers, there is always the dilemma between the artistic, the conviction of one's own ideas and the satisfaction of the customers. Which compromises can I make? I think it's okay to do something less according to your own preferences and to meet the expectations of the customers. Most design projects are rather a kind of service and not art. I really enjoy meeting so many different people and having to deal with my own skills again and again.
Sometimes, there are certain dynamics that push you into a purely executive position. I have already rejected such projects in the past. For example, if you have been hired for a kind of art direction and then been given an exact introduction of what each double page should look like, that's not what you agreed on in the contract. It is important that the distribution of roles is clear from the beginning, and that mutual trust is maintained throughout the work process.
AR: We do not regard this division all black and white. Though we try to integrate our artistic part in many projects. Design can be understood as an esthetical means and as a form of authorship. In Germany, this attitude is less represented than in the Netherlands or in Switzerland, therefore there are some people that view design as a total service. Whereas, I have the feeling that the importance of design increases and I am pretty optimistic about the situation.
PC: Our attitude may be characterized through our studies at an art academy.
CN: We do not see ourselves as pure service providers. It is important to us that we are not only an executive force, but also develop a solution together with the customer. We question ourselves a lot and are very involved. For example, we often work with different material than what was provided to us at the beginning of a project. It also happened that we found a publication unnecessary and suggested something else.
SK: There are graphic artists whose work resembles art. For artists' publications, for example, the graphic artist's contribution is sometimes so large that he becomes a co-author. Many artists question conventions, animate to re-read what is known, or challenge our perception. What we do is not that different. Nevertheless, I would not describe myself as an artist.
MP: Well, of course we are a service, but I really hate that idea. We have probably pissed off a few people who treated us more like a 24 hour-copy shop. Those collaborations don't last long. We once worked with a very nasty guy who came back to us with a potentially massive job. What do you do if someone is treating you really badly, but offers you a huge potential job? I talked to Ian from State, and he had one of the best pieces of advice someone ever gave me: »The one thing I’ve learned in life is just work with nice people«. We cancelled straight away.
I actually do have a bit of an artistic mission. There was an article in »AIGA Eye on design« about Sofa magazine and the trend of magazines going in a kind of trash direction at the moment. Since then people have been asking me about what my take is on ugly design. I don’t think it’s ugly—if there is a chit-chat-conversation happening, we will use the chit-chat format. Design conversations revolve a lot about ugly or beautiful, good or bad design, but what is ugly and what is beautiful? I feel that there are a million other words, a much bigger design vocabulary that should be used and a larger discussion to be had, drawing on far wider cultural references than just the graphic design. Recently I read an essay by Metahaven saying, really simplified, that design is often seen like a surface or a layer you apply to stuff to give it »added value« or »luxury value«. From a surface point of view I think it’s true, but this part of design bores me, I hate it. In this sense, we do consciously think about what it is that we are doing: Are we a service? At what point can we start telling our clients what’s good and what’s not? These things keep me up at night.
NP: In general, I find this debate about design as a form of art or a service a bit pointless. I don’t know what there is to gain from it. What is the substantial difference between the two? I also find it difficult to describe what it is that I do in one word. At dinner parties, I still tend to introduce myself as a designer, but usually that's just to keep things short! My work is mostly self-initiated, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a social function. On the contrary, I would like to think it does! I have always been more interested in promoting discussions and conversations rather than in making things. For me, design can help create environments, where discussions and conversations can happen. And that potentially can lead to changing social structures!
KW: Mirko Borsche still inspires me because I feel that he can do what he wants and every customer buys it. What l’m missing is a female role model and someone I can look up to entrepreneurially. We have made it ourselves and often it would have been nice to have a mentor, who can give advice. Perhaps a little bit more agency experience would have helped as well.
JD: I have no specific person as a role model, but rather a certain inner attitude as a goal. My vision is to not let myself be stressed and to work on things with an inner balance. Self-employment is a strong challenge for the inner balance, so I hope to be like a little Buddha, who can keep his serenity and transfer it to clients.
PC: We are currently working on an exhibition about Willy Fleckhaus in Munich. I am interested in his striking editorial style and the strong contrasts. But I would not say that we have one role model, but rather that there are various influences that we consciously or unconsciously integrate into our own work, cite and redevelop.
AR: The danger of idols and role models is that you emulate them too much, therefore, I prefer looking at a broad spectrum. For this reason, I am rather pluralistically oriented. I may have a top-20.
LF: It depends on what kind of role model you’re referring to. Sheila Levrant de Bretteville is a big role model for what she did as a feminist graphic designer and teacher. Muriel Cooper is also very interesting because she dealt with new technologies that usually were identified as »male« tools. The Guerilla Girls are also great – their work is very intelligent and also graphically very well made. I’m more and more inspired by and interested in collectives like Gran Fury and Fierce Pussy, bringing together art and activism during the AIDS crisis. I also admire a project called OOMK—One Of My Kind— a thematic bi-annual artistic magazine with contributions from women of diverse ethnic and spiritual backgrounds, especially inclusive of Muslim women. The artist Martine Syms is also doing amazing works, many of which reflect on the cultural history of radical black thoughts. It was confronting to realise some time ago that most of my role models were white, which is a reflection of my education and the limits in my field of vision, but luckily I discover new inspiration every day!
MP: There are definitely designers and studios that influenced me, especially as a student, but nowadays there are less specific role models. Johannes has an art and film background. He’s very into culture and arts, so we spend a lot more time in this area than in the design area. I would even say we don’t have many designer friends apart from BANK and State, the latter with whom we share a studio. For whatever reason we don’t socialize a lot in the design circle. BANK taught me a lot when I worked with them; they have an avant-garde approach to their work which I really like. They had a big influence on me.
NP: I have many! First and foremost my grandmother, who was very open-minded, always fought for her independence, and who really saw me for who I am. Then, at the Rietveld, Linda van Deursen. Linda is an amazing person. She is incredibly critical and sharp, but also very open-minded and generous. She has this incredible ability of bringing out the best in you. When I had this idea about my graduation project taking place in Brazil, most teachers were sceptical, but Linda was supportive. Then, Julia Born, another teacher at the Rietveld. Julia is extremely thoughtful and bright, she can really listen, which is a rare quality, and she has this ability of giving critical feedback in a very empowering way. Working for her after graduation was great; I could not only could see how she designs, but also how she manages the wholesome of her life—at that time she was the mother of a young child. Then more recently, Catherine Ince, a design curator working at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had a chance to have her as a mentor during my M.A. Catherine is also incredibly thoughtful and generous—that seems to be a pattern for my role models! Then finally, from a distance, Beatriz Colomina, the director of the graduate studies program in architecture at Princeton University. Colomina is a brilliant researcher—maybe she’s more of an an idol than a role model! Hopefully I'll get to meet her some day. I guess all my role models are female!
IS: When my interest in editorial and typography started, I had role models like Mirko Borsche or Hort. At the core, my taste probably has not changed: graphic, precise, not too playful work. I was very interested in Swiss graphics at an early stage, which led me to do my Master's degree in Zurich. What triggered my interest more than a certain style was the high quality claim. I find that the craftsmanship is far more precise and more elaborate than in Germany. What is often missing though, is the love for detail in typography, but also in print.
IS: Except for Larissa by Kasper Florio, Ines Cox and perhaps Veronica Ditting, I can not think of many other female designers. Vinca Kruk of Metahaven, for example, is a very strong personality. While studying, I had a workshop with her and that she performed so strongly, seemed unusual. It was the first time that I had a workshop with a woman, the subject of which was neither drawing nor illustration. I also talked to Andreas Uebele about this, who found that the gender equality in design was no longer an issue. After having told him that I had no female models during my studies, the only female designer that he could think of was Paula Scher.
I do not know if this is so because women do not fully exploit their potential and do not go far enough in their work or because they are not mentioned so often. They are not mentioned at all by historiography. Sarah Owens, the director of visual communication at ZHdK, gave a lecture on women in art and design at AGI a year and a half ago. She has dealt with the subject historically, and discovered that women, among the otherwise so advanced Bauhaus, were placed in the textile and pottery classes and were not allowed to study architecture.
AH: We can all confirm that there are hardly any women in our history books to whom an active role is attributed. Mostly, they are mentioned only as wives of famous men whose role is not explicitly stated. The same is true in graphic design. Our books are full of men who have achieved miraculous things, but it cannot be possible that the women were always at the stove at home and had children. In the past, I was very angry about that and considered it my personal mission to fight against this tradition and to prove that I can stand my own ground. This is not the case anymore. It is not so much about the gender struggle, but it remains a social debate. We often pretend it's been a long time, but it's still a hot topic right now. There is no equality at all, otherwise the books would have been rewritten.
AR: Yes, definitely. If you look around, you will find that men dominate most design conferences. There is a tremendous need to catch up.
AH: Inspiration is relatively abstract for me. I enjoy being in nature, in exhibitions or walking around the city. Here, proportions and details of architecture can be exciting, a play of light, material combinations. Inspiration can also be an old book that suddenly comes to my mind during a project. Actually, it can be anything, linked to everything I do. It's not just visual things, and certainly not just graphic design context, that's hardly inspiring. But a work can of course be in the reference or tradition of something, and that's exciting.
CN: We're not the ones who know all the graphic design blogs. I get my inspiration from my environment, from art, architecture or traveling. And also from the everyday life. Sometimes, at first glance, there seems to be something insignificant to me that can suddenly lead to a project.
SK: The inspiration certainly does not arise in front of the computer. That is why we try to keep our working days as short as possible and to have enough time for leisure activities. Visiting exhibitions, going to the theater ... A lot of ideas come from reading, something I find exciting and that inspires me. When we brainstorm, we also go to the mountains.
JD: We've been thinking about that lot. Success for me is the realization that I am in a steady process and not just work on a goal after all, you are constantly working on new jobs and it makes no sense to try to empty the to-do list. Understanding this process is a big task for me.
KW: For me, success also means having fun at work and earning my livelihood. If you are constantly thinking about your financial balance, you have no fun. Being able to identify with the projects is important to me. I do not want to work for assholes.
IS: This is an ongoing process. My attitude towards success always changes. Success has always been very important to me, perhaps because I often have self-doubt and success is something that simulates assurance and confirmation. For instance, this signifies that you get recognition in your own ranks or receiving exciting orders. I have always been very anxious, because I often felt that is harder to be successful as a woman. I did not know any successful female designers, so I wanted to try harder. Success for me is to be invited to be part of a jury and to realize that this is something new for many. This seems to be rare, so I find it very important and see it as a kind of duty to participate in it.
AH: My decision to go in this professional career was not driven by any financial expectations at all. Nevertheless, it is of course good to have a livelihood, because that makes me carefree. My priority is to live out things that I enjoy. I could as well have become a potter, a florist or a writer—and that can happen too. I believe that we have many facets. My kind of success means peace and happiness. It is important to me to live every day so that in the evening I think I could die now. This might sound a bit pathetic, but I do not want to do anything for a long time, which I think is pointless. That would be anti-success for me.
PC: Success is, if you can work together with a client, while at the same time, live up to your own standards and to those of others. A project is successful, if the client and we are satisfied. The own contentment about a project that turned out to be successful as well as a positive feedback means success.
AR: I would also count recognition in the scene.
CN: For us success means that we can work independently and pay a regular salary from which we can make social security taxes. And that many of our customers want to cooperate with us again and again, so that through the work accomplished, we are always generating new orders.
SK: In our profession success cannot be equated with financial success. We will never achieve financial success in standards as usual in Switzerland, no matter how successful we are as graphic artists—unless we were employed as art directors in an agency. What is more important is that we can work on exciting projects, are our own bosses, can allocate our time ourselves and take a day off whenever we want to. At the same time, of course, we are also fully responsible for the work getting done, the business running and we are able to pay the bills at the end of the month.
LF: Well, in terms of success, what I feel best about is having brought a certain attention to hand lettering and custom typography that didn’t exist before. Another aspect is mentoring and the fact that women want to come to work here to learn from me.
MP: My goal in life is to work with nice people on interesting things and earn enough to not worry too much. I think about the house I want in the future sometimes, I’m that age. Most importantly however, we have been extremely lucky with the sort of experiences we have through our work. I really want to keep that going. As long as my mind is always excited, things are going well.
NP: Being able to make a living from work that I enjoy doing. Living a comfortable life, being able to travel often, and not letting money be the ultimate decision-maker for what is possible!
CF: There are many, even recent, investigations through which we know that for men merit and career still play a big role. A man is rather likely to accept a new job or get involved in a new project that may not interest him or where he is not sure if he can do it, only because he knows that it brings him a step further. Women in Germany have only very late caught up with the educational deficit, through the education reform in the 1960s. Previously, there were three groups of people who were not included in the educational system: working-class children, children from the country and girls. Then the school reform was introduced, schools were built on the countryside and bus lines installed. There was the coeducation, which means that girls and boys were taught together. I probably belong to the first generation, the so-called babyboomer generation, who attended the gymnasium, studied and started a career. Up to this day, highly qualified women are known to emphasize the importance of the message, the team and their company. The concept of a career, the concept of power, is still negatively or ambivalent connoted for many women. This is like treason to the message.
LF: I think women and men both have similar goals for success, but women also deal with the additional factor of having a family. If you care about starting a family, you have to figure out how to integrate it into your work. This is one of the reasons why I started my studio right after my son was born. Before I never had an interest in having my own studio. When I returned to Pantheon Books after my three months maternity leave, the work there didn’t seem to be interesting anymore. I already did a lot of freelance jobs when I was at Pantheon, so it was easy to start my own business. However, I always kept my studio near my apartment, which gave me an enormous flexibility to see my family. Most of the people who leave here, male or female, all end up opening their own studio. And, actually, two of my former designers got married to each other!
AR: We work a lot with the cultural sector: we would not have chosen it, if the financial aspect was our main priority. Nonetheless, once you own a studio, you automatically occupy the position of management and therefore, you need to consider it and plan wisely.
KW: The importance of public attention must not be underestimated, even though we are both not very good at it and often do not feel like working on it. Self-presentation also takes a lot of working hours, which can be exhausting. Men are often better at it, because of their big flap. Women are much more self-critical with their performance and therefore, could follow the men’s example.
JD: I am always happy when someone acknowledges our work. At the same time, it is difficult for me to implement self-imposed measures consistently. For me, it's more of a burden to present my work on Facebook and Instagram.
SK: We do not have time to actively work on our public appearance. At the beginning of our collaboration, we were fortunate enough to receive a lot of commissions that reached a wide public, such as the catalog of the most beautiful Swiss books. At the same time, we were able to draw attention to our new studio.
CN: We do not post something new every day on our Instagram account. I personally, I am not a great fan of self-marketing. Our active achievement is to deliver a lecture from time to time. At this point, we enjoy talking about our work. We find it important to be a role model.
MP: It’s something we women should work more on. Johannes has taught me to understand what I’m worth, what my work is worth and that it’s on the same level as other designers. I’ve had to change my attitude to also think like this. Be conscious. Don’t ever apologize for your work. Defend it. Have confidence.
NP: Not much, and I'm not really keen on self-promotion. For instance, I haven't updated my single-page website since I graduated from the Rietveld in 2012. When you work with research, everything is much more about the subject matter than yourself. I enjoy making projects that involve others, and I see myself as someone who can bring people together. That inevitably means that I often assume the role of the »director«, which usually attracts some attention, but public attention doesn't really motivate me.
IS: Although it is exhausting, I get excited every time I get invited to do so. From the beginning I always felt that it was my duty to give lectures and I really enjoy doing so. I cannot remember one single lecture by a female graphic artist in the first half of my studies. That is the reason why I usually accept the invitation. I have the feeling that, especially in lectures, there is only this one perspective, namely middle-aged men and their particular way of presenting their work. This could lead to the impression that only their way is successful. But you can be just as reserved and still be good at what you do!
NP: Yes, both. I’m often invited to give workshops and I really enjoy teaching. I prefer lecturing about subjects and ideas over talking about my own work, but I’m usually expected to do the latter. So, I generally tend to use the opportunity as a means to advance my research, or to reflect on my own practice. Right now, I’m preparing a talk for a conference on Brazilian design, which will take place in New York City. This has been such a pain! It brought me into a kind of existential crisis, making me question »in what sense is my work Brazilian?«. So I’ll try to use this lecture to understand my position of being a foreigner in Switzerland. I will talk about the work of a Brazilian artist and designer who lived in Switzerland for most of her life, Mary Vieira. In a way, the idea is to hijack the lecture, so that it becomes less about me, and more about someone else.
AH: I'm a project manager for The Lovers. Originally, this was the Goerlzclub Berlin, founded by Yasmine Orth, in which only women could be members. Because the approach is now more inclusive, it has been renamed The Lovers. The idea is to offer mentoring, meditation and yoga classes to young single parents, families, children and the elderly—I am a yoga teacher myself. We develop mentoring programs that work outside of gender roles. I am hardly represented in professional networks, because I rather seek exchange in other areas. From time to time, I participate in Show & Tells, where you can give each other insights into design processes.
AR: We are in contact with a friend, who built up the women-network in Cologne, called And She Was Like: Bäm!. In Berlin, there is also a network for women in the cultural sector: Salon. We got invited from a befriended artist and we would like to go to a meeting soon.
CN: We are in contact with a lot of friends, but we are not in any association.
SK: The word »network« for me is rather negatively connoted. As if you only wanted to make contact with people from whom you hoped to gain an advantage. But in fact, such initiatives are great to get to know each other and exchange—especially if you are not in the privileged position to have many contacts.
AR: We often use Instagram to present our works. Other than that, we do not do a lot of PR-work. But we are always very content if we get introduced on various blogs.
KW: Whenever we meet with a customer for the first time, we feel that there is some sort of mistrust regarding our performance, because we do not wear jackets and are not very big. At the beginning of a co-operation, there is often a sort of fake fight, in which we should prove ourselves, although we were specifically requested to do the job. This behavior could be partly attributed to our sex, but perhaps also to our appearance. Many men are much more self-assured and thereby have a different effect on the customer. You can convince customers quickly, but at the beginning you come across small barriers.
I once worked in an office with two bosses who have only hired women. In retrospect, I feel that this is some sort of oppression—the hardworking women who are not pretentious.
JD: In part, I also feel that I am not properly recognized as a consultant in the design process, but rather as a service provider. As long as the design is satisfactory, there are no complaints—but whenever there are questions or doubts, I am not perceived as a professional who can clarify these questions. This can also be due to the fact that many graphic designers work with a different self-understanding.
At a Christmas party during an internship, someone told me that I only got the job because there is a video of me in which I eat a chocolate banana. This is already really sexist and was very shocking. It can be a naive strategy to play the sweet girl, but at some point you do not feel like it anymore.
IS: I have made bad experiences in a rather indirect way, for example, in situations where I felt that I was given less difficult tasks because I am a woman. Particularly in the case of presentations for the customer I am under the impression that the statements are taken less seriously. You are less likely to be seen as a genius, but rather questioned. The younger you are, the harder it is to appear experienced. It gets even harder if you are not this charismatic type, which has this appearance and presents everything as if there was only one right way. For a long time, I also was scared of failing. Whenever I applied for an internship during my studies, I deliberately did not apply at some studios. Some had not had any female trainees so far, so I did not dare to apply there and also did not want to work with them in many ways. In retrospect, I sometimes regretted not having done it anyway, but I was still too insecure at the time.
AR: Not directly and indirectly it is hard to proof. For example, how are we supposed to know how much money an all male bureau would get paid for the jobs that we do. Via statistics, one knows that there is a gender pay gap in many jobs, but with regard to our scene, the numbers are pretty non-transparent.
CN: I do not think this issue plays a particularly important role in the area in which we work. Often we are also asked because we are a women's office.
SK: It is true, that we hardly experienced any negative situations. On the one hand, until now we’ve had the privilege to work with people who had a feminist attitude or were at least sensitized to issues of gender equality. On the other hand, a certain behavior surely helps. When we founded Studio Noi, we already had some years of experience. It helped to behave more confident and calm towards clients. At the same time, I find it naive to think that every women is responsible for experiencing negative situations or not. Studies, for example, show that people in positions of power primarily promote those who resemble themselves. White men promote white men. I even noticed this kind of dynamic in my personal environment. Men supply each other with jobs and create invisible alliances to strengthen each other. At the national level, however, we are much less advanced in Switzerland as we should be: women still earn less for the same work. The topic paternity leave does not have a chance in parliament. Not even, if ridiculous two or three weeks are being demanded, instead of the one to two days prescribed by law. I recently read that 60% of women work part-time, but only 13% of men. As a mother, I am also regularly asked how I handle my work. Whereas my boyfriend never gets asked that question. That such stark differences between the sexes still exist, annoys me.
MP: After two years in my first job at a studio, the female art director left and I was asked to step into a higher role: »lead female designer«. I was the only female designer left. I was excited about promotion, but my male bosses asked me to dress a little »smarter«. It was very strange to hear that when all the other guys in the office wore jeans and t-shirts. They were actually nice guys though and I was pretty young when it happened. I was a bit shocked and confused, I didn’t say anything! Before that, I had never ever thought about this difference. That really woke me up. I left that place not too long afterwards.
NP: Yes, the classic example is not knowing if someone is truly interested in my work or if he (yes, he's usually a he), is only interested »in me«—that is always very disturbing! Also, just generally not being taken seriously, or being talked down to. Recently, I had the experience of working with a male publisher who was behaving in the most unprofessional way, for example by sending me five emails in a row, and even opening my design files. He then proceeded to explain me how an offset printer works over the phone! Can you imagine? I had to interrupt him to call his bullshit, and say that he was being extremely patronizing. I think I even used the word »mansplaining«—he had a bit of an attack! He couldn't see his own behavior! I eventually pulled out from the job, which made me really sad, since it was a book project about a couple of artists that I really love.
KW: I think external circumstances are very difficult to change, so basically we only have the opportunity to work on ourselves. Perhaps it is a way to adapt one's own appearance and to present oneself as one would like to be perceived. I do not want to disguise myself at all, but I would like to try to be more confident when starting new projects.
JD: In the existing economic system, you are often being taken advantage of as a sensitive person. If you do not build a protective wall against these harsh structures, your own character quickly collides with the system. For me, the key is to recognize your own limitations, communicate them and stick to them.
PC: That is difficult. Fundamentally, our profession is not gender-specific, but it remains the question, whether these obstacles have something to do with graphic design in specific or with the business world in general. We have already realized that we had way more female clients than male ones at the beginning, but we do not know whether it was because of chance or something else. By now, the gender ratio of our clients is a bit more balanced.
NP: Yes. I never felt that I was unable to do something, just because I am a woman, until I had a baby. Having a baby was a turning point because it made me realize how society expects different things from women. Being a freelancer in a rather precarious discipline like design makes managing these two worlds—being a mother and pursuing an own practice—especially hard. Also the academia is still very patriarchal, with mostly men holding positions of power. So I think yes, there are still many challenges ahead!
CF: There are many women who have concerns that they are postmarked as »Ah, this is a woman who must be encouraged and protected.« This is completely understandable—who wants to be considered a protective being? However, the following fact is being ignored: Over twenty years, companies have made self-commitments to change something. They never changed anything. That is why I consider the quota to be a very important transitional situation. But there have always been women who do not want to be promoted. My study »Managerinnen 50+« shows women, who have started off with a great career, right up to the executive floor. They were convinced that their performance counts. They have used the sympathies of the men, but at some point it stops. Then comes the point, when it suddenly stops. Promoting young women is smart for any executive. They only get promoted up to certain point. For centuries, men have always been mutually supportive and women have been deliberately excluded. The principle is called homosociality: the same among equals. I recruit someone who is similar to myself, so I can control him better, because I know how he ticks. The mutual protection has caused a great mediocrity, because it is not about the selection of the best.
IS: I think we rarely work equally. In many studios, which consist of a man and a woman, the man is more in the foreground. I do not know whether it is because some women feel uncomfortable about being in the spotlight, or whether it is due to the fact that being self-confident is not considered as a positive feature for women. I feel that women often want to be particularly strong because it is a success factor for men. Also, personally, I think about how I must be and I do not want to appear too girlish. This does not mean that I play a role, but it influences the way I behave in order to be taken seriously, or how I appear at conferences. Sometimes, however, I still find that I, too, judge women and men differently for the same behavior.
With us it is a special situation. Christoph is very much in favor of changing old structures and has suggested, for example, to write my name first, so that the woman is for once not second. My generation is actually the first one to deal with it differently, but I think it could go faster. In Zurich there are actually many good designers, but they are partly invisible, because they do not go on lectures or are not active in the community, especially in the older generation of designers. In many younger studios, such as Kasper Florio, it is no longer the case that only the male part is visible and is in the foreground.
NP: Not equal, but I think changing for the better. When Emilia Bergmark and I edited the book »Taking a line for a walk«, which focuses on assignments in design education, we didn’t base our selection primarily on gender. Actually at first, we hid all authors’ names from the assignments and selected them based on their content. Once the selection was finished, we analyzed the result: in the end, we had around 60% men and 40% women—so not exactly equal. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that most submissions were by male designers to begin with—although I’m not sure this accurately reflects the teaching landscape out there. Perhaps men are simply more keen on submitting their work to open calls. The book starts with an assignment about »form« and develops into »content«, »context«, and finally ends with »meta« or self-referential assignments. However, we discovered an interesting pattern: the beginning, which is more technical and vocational, is more male, while the end, which is more reflective and critical, is more female. Isn't that nice? I don’t know if we picked up something, but maybe that’s an important observation!
It’s not like there is less design made by women, it just doesn’t get as much attention as design made by men. Recently, I saw a picture of the winners of this year's Swiss Design Award. There were 20 people in the picture—15 men, five women. This image was posted online, but there were no reactions about this blatant gender inequality! I personally reached a point in my life where I have zero patience for this bullshit, it really makes me angry! I think it's our job to call the bullshit every time we face it! Last year, I attended a design conference, and during an all male panel, a guy talked about team diversity, showing a picture of four guys. I got really enraged and wanted to interrupt his lecture to call the bullshit, but then my friend Corinne convinced me to wait. We both calmed down and confronted him after the lecture in an articulated way. I think it is also very important to not fulfill the stereotype of the »angry woman«. We sure can be angry, but in general we win more if we react in a more strategic way.
AH: Oh, very! I believe that being a good-looking woman can be beneficial. However, it may also be the case that you are less valued or perceived as a designer. The less you are judged by your outer appearance, the more people focus on your work. Once I worked with older people who seemed very distracted and I did not know why. Maybe it was because they rarely work with young women…
I did experience sexist situations, where I was told that I would not be hired because I could become pregnant. This clearly shows how women are stigmatized, because with regard to men, the issue is not up for debate.
When the Mad Men series was released, all the men compared themselves to Don Draper. The women wanted to be Peggy, work their way up and show it to the men. I would rather be a female Don Draper!
AH: At the political level yes, but it would be good if more happened there. Education must take place but especially in a smaller circle. Agencies could pay more attention to gender balance, and every woman and man must start with themselves. Men expressing sexist slogans at work must be made aware that this is not right. To defend oneself when one is lower in the hierarchy is often difficult and requires courage. Here, equals have to be much more active and engage in dialogue. »Women-promoting measures« is a big word. Although I am in an association that initially only welcomed women, I do not want to be perceived as a heinous feminist, but as an integrative one. I also want to be able to call my boyfriend a feminist, without that sounding like a dirty word. That should be possible in 2017.
SK: I do not think you can say that in general. When you look at works, you cannot really tell whether they were made by a man or a woman. It is possible that women are more conscientious and are more likely to stick to agreed terms—but that can not be generalized, it is rather type-dependent.
FS: I teach in different schools in Brussels, with different types of students and different issues. In a technological environment, female students are often curious, but not yet skilled. Men are more likely to develop a technological interest already at a young age. They decide to do a M.A. in that specific field, in which they already know the tools. That creates problems of confidence in the first entry, because you still have to learn the basic tools, while dealing with the fact that other students get bored by you not knowing how to do a loop, for example. It makes the tutors, who take care of it, feminists, even if they wouldn’t say it that way. Most of the women graduating from this programs might not be very skilled in the end, but have a lot of confidence in working with technology and speaking about it. They are usually very good in having an intellectual and at the same time technical practice.
LF: Well, it’s not like boys are working like this and girls are working like that; I don’t want to make this kind of general distinction. There are things you can notice, which are not only coming from arts education, but from how we have always been taught to do things. It is something sociological and for me it’s hard to point out specific differences. The ideal would be to not differentiate them based on their gender identity. Of course, I cannot ignore the fact that men were and are often more highlighted than women. I don’t want them to feel personally bad about it, but for things to change, they have to understand that they are privileged.
I sometimes get very strong reactions from female colleagues, which is heartbreaking for me. Some people, also women, are really against »feminism«, which they talk about in a very stereotyped and negative way, even when they don’t necessarily reject its fundamental ideas. What is so wrong with this word and its history? Of course sometimes it is not so easy to be a feminist and to fight the cliches.
LF: Steven has done hundreds of books on design on his own and has a stellar reputation. When we started working together I thought it would be just another couple of books for him, but the way we collaborated worked very well. We collect and select the work together, he does the writing. Normally he does the first edit and I do the second, and then we design and layout the book here in the studio. It works very well, because we both do what we are good at and we rarely disagree on anything. After we had worked on books for several years, I started writing my own books. It was a big step for me, but I enjoyed doing that a lot. I didn’t know I had enough to say about the signs to fill a book.
MP: This is the first time we have done an interview separately. We usually don’t split black and white what our roles are in our work. He talks to clients more than I do, so a lot of people presume that he does most of the work. For me that’s okay, because it saves a lot of hassle and communication with people. On the website, there is only his phone number, it’s the first point of contact with a client. Occasionally, when we have meetings with older men, they would talk to Johannes most of the time. With young people that doesn’t happen much. Actually, I don’t think we would be as far if Johannes wasn’t there. That is mainly because of our personalities, but maybe it is also a male/female issue. He is much more confident to say what we do is good—I would never talk about my work unless someone asks me about it. I grew up to be tough and independent, but I was never expected to be »great«. If I got a good job, that would be OK. Boys are expected to be »great«. This male attitude of having to prove yourself from a really young age, even on the playground, does translate later in business and graphic design. For example, Johannes sends out work to press and blogs, I would never do that! Women don’t push themselves forward as much, they don’t feel like they should. And when you have a male/female studio, people generally presume the guy is the creative head of the studio.
KW: At the beginning we worked a lot—you think that for this a great project you could work also at the weekend, but then comes the next great project and the weekend work does not stop. After two years we were pretty drained and had to learn to stick to strict limits. Now there is an office telephone and e-mails are not read in the evenings and at the weekend. The flexible working hours are tempting with regard to mixing private life and work, but that is not good. I prefer to separate the time I work from the time I rest. These limits must also be made clear to the customer when suddenly he writes messages on Facebook or WhatsApp.
JD: There is this romantic idea of self-realization in a creative profession in Berlin, but it is hard work, in which financial aspects are also important. At the beginning, I tried to work full-time, studying the Master, but that quickly brought me to my psychological and physical limits, which must be recognized and communicated.
IS: This is the theme of my year. Designing is very important in my life, if not the most important thing. In recent years, I have worked extremely hard, spent little holidays and spent a lot of time and money to get where I wanted to go. By the end of last year, my health had hit my head—from one day to the next, my right arm was so inflamed that I could not hold a pen. For four months it was not clear whether it would heal again. This was a great life crisis for me—we had just founded Offshore and I could not work at all. At some point I realized that I have to rethink and have to deal with other things besides work. I still work on many weekends, but I try to have one free day per week. And I now have a dog with whom I have to go out at noon. In the early design phases of a project, I am also mostly mentally stressed, so I often work the rest of the evening, or at do research until late at night and think about the project further. I cannot and would not want to switch off or do anything else. This is also a bit difficult for my environment. But I believe that in these professions, where one has a certain vision of what one wants to do, a certain amount of time and effort is required. That is why self-employment is so important to me and, at least until now, is the only option to work in design.
AH: Close the door and then I'm gone! I walk the park, do yoga, ride home or meet friends. The spatial distance gives me mental distance. It is also a form of conditioning to take only a certain number of hours per day to work. Everything else can wait till the next day. I always used to feel that a project with even more time would get even better, but that's not necessarily true. On the contrary, I have become more free and efficient. Whenever I'm really troubled, yoga or running helps me. Afterwards, I am relaxed and can get back to the project with a fresh mind. Of course, one does not completely rule out the work. It happens very often that a project runs quietly in the background and simmers in the subconscious. Sometimes I get a new idea while I am shopping.
MP: To be honest, our work-life-balance is very bad, more so because we are partners. You finish work, go for a drink and just continue to talk about work. If there is a lot on, you put in an extra day at the weekend to keep on top of it. Or you catch up on paperwork at the weekend. Occasionally we finish work at 7 pm and we have a good social life afterwards. I try to do some sport and used to play basketball, Johannes is into Tai-Chi now. But this is really an effort, we have to do something for ourselves. But we tend to go out for beers nearly every day after work.
CN: We've noticed that many graphic designers who are hired receive less responsibility as soon as they become a mother and no longer work full-time. If you are self-employed as an individual, it is harder to intercept failures. Family planning was therefore one of the reasons why we joined together: we can support each other and continue to work on interesting assignments, even if one of us is in maternity leave.
SK: Over the last couple of months, we both have been getting a child one after the other. Together with an employee, the first one, then the other of us, threw the shop. Now we both work again, but not quite full-time, but would like to achieve as much as before. That is why we have a staff member who supports us. One reason for our success is also that we both have partners working part-time and who are equally involved in childcare and the household.
MP: In terms of self-employment that was never a question. I covered a guy recently who was on 6 months paternity leave—if you are employed, this is amazing. Running my own studio, I don’t know how I’m going to plan a family. It is not going to be easy, but I’m not put off by that. One great thing in Germany is that the amount of time you can take off for parental leave as a man or a woman is equal. If we are looking for someone long-term to join us in the studio, there is absolutely no way we could discriminate against a young girl or guy because they might have a child. That is something many other countries don’t have and it is definitely something that women are discriminated against.
NP: It has been a hard process. When we decided to have a child, I was 28 years old and my husband 26. Until to this point, I had always been really busy with my own work, but when our son was born, I ended up having to take care of him full time, because my husband was doing civil service, which is mandatory in Switzerland. He had to work full time while I had to be the main parent during our child's first year of life. I hardly had any time for myself, and on top of that, we were living in a small, very provincial town, where women are still generally expected to be full-time moms. So for many people I was simply »doing my job«. I had to fight for my own space, which was one reason why I decided on doing a master—to reclaim my own space. Through this hardship, I became aware of how my position in society changed, but also how it changed within my family, and in my own relationship. The moment when you have a financial imbalance as a couple, all the domestic obligations tend to fall onto the person that earns less, and that just reinforces this gendered division of domestic labour. This happens so seamlessly, so much by default, because of the way we were raised and socialized. So all of a sudden you look at your life and don't recognize yourself! This can be especially disturbing if you consider yourself a liberal and progressive person with a liberal and progressive partner!
Things are getting better now because the financial imbalance has lessened. That makes it possible to have more productive conversations about how to split domestic labour. But I think there is still a gap between the way I see things and how my partner looks at them.
We all have ideas about what our roles should be, and it just takes a lot of time and effort time to break free from them.
KW: On the one hand we would like to continue working together and enjoy our freedom. On the other hand, it would be nice to hire someone to support us with projects. I think it does not make sense to set a firm goal, because ideas change again and again. It is better to have a vision.
JD: Other than continuing to work together, we would like to keep our friendship alive, which has so far enriched us both. The financial independence is important to me, but otherwise I am very flexible. It would be great to be able to start a family at some point without having to worry about the financial.
KW: Our main focus does not necessarily have to remain in graphic design, but could shift in a different direction, for example art direction.
AH: So far, I've always done just that. I cannot tell where I will live in a year, or in ten. I did not think that I would stay in Berlin for such a long time and be self-employed. Thinking backwards, my life was a clear line, but forward it is not so clear. Maybe I'll work in a company that I like. Actually, in the future, I'll see myself exactly following my idea of inner success, happiness, and doing what I'm good at. That could be something completely different than graphic design.
NP: To be badass! I have more mid-term goals, like ideas for projects I'm growing in the back of my mind, for example making an exhibition about the work and ideas of Mary Vieira, the Brazilian designer I was telling you about. Maybe also living in New York for a while? Or in Buenos Aires? In a way, I think that the biggest challenge in life is to find out what you are passionate about, what drives you. I think I have discovered that, so that makes me very fortunate. I realized that I don’t have to decide on being one thing, a graphic designer or a researcher or a curator, or whatever—it is completely fine to be somehow in-between, or to be all of those!
IS: Perhaps to work for a large exhibition, such as the Documenta or Venice Biennale. I would also like to make publications for research projects at MIT. I am interested in areas of social relevance, which also exist outside of the arts and cultural industry. I cannot name a specific project, but I would find something scientific that is aesthetically challenging very exciting and relevant.
AR: We have not really thought about that. What would be the grail for graphic designers?
PC: I find it a lot easier to answer what I would have liked to do, instead of, which design I would like to do in the future. I would have liked to design the Nike Swoosh or the »I heart NY«-sign or the visual identity of the Olympics in Munich in 1972. Thereby, I just realized which project I find desirable: the appearance of the »Kieler Woche«.
AR: Yes that would be an honor. By the way, a woman designed the Swoosh: Carolyn Davidson. It would be great, if we could build up a new magazine and thereby assume responsibility for the art-direction and design, for example a new feminist lifestyle magazine. It would appear as a digital and a print version and be financially well off so that we could work together with stunning photographers, illustrators and copywriters. It would also be exciting to be involved in the curatorial work of a big graphic design exhibition. The longer I think about it, there are quite a few things.
IS: Do not be intimidated. Do not be afraid like me to apply for a job at someone who acts as if he does not take female designers seriously, but do it anyway. The more women prove themselves in the field, the sooner they become normality. Even if you are an introvert person, you should try to get out of yourself, to talk about your work and to be visible, because that is the only way to create a collective consciousness.
AR: Be brave—just do it! There is nothing that you cannot do. Many women doubt too much.
PC: Push each other, help and connect!
SK: Do not understand yourself as competitors. Exchange, support yourselves, and join together.
CN: Follow your interests and goals—a lot is possible if you really want it.
LF: I think it is much easier for a woman to become a designer now than when I was entering the profession. Women can do anything, they have many role models now. But there still are challenges. What I always recommend to everyone, whether male or female, is to follow your heart. Combine design with something you are passionate about and do your own projects. I would never have believed that I would be able to combine my interest in typography with all things Italian and limit it to that, but I did. Without all these Italian related projects, I wouldn’t be the same designer that I am now. It is essential to have your own projects, so you can make your own decisions and not just satisfy the needs of your clients.
MP: Work with nice people. Only.
NP: This may sound like a cliché, but I think whenever you do things with passion, they turn out well, and that in turn, will generate other projects. I think that's the only advice that I can give. Otherwise, I think you, the young female designers, are the ones that should be giving me advice!