How to make sure a great design partnership
James Webb, a designer and half of Webb & Webb in London, says that “a lot of design partnerships start in the pub after a pint of beer or two,” he adds. He continues, “Of course,” adding that “many design partnerships end this way.”
Although the design world is filled with dynamic duos it can be difficult to nurture a design partnership. It requires more than managing creative projects day to day. It also requires healthy business relationships and division of labour.
Webb says that “everything sounds great in the pub.” But what makes a design partnership a success? Three pairs were asked to share their tips for anyone looking to form a design partnership.
An “words-and pictures approach”
Webb believes that the reason his and Studio founder Brian Webb have such a strong relationship is because they use complementary creative techniques.
He says that Brian draws his ideas out when he hears a brief – while I write down my ideas immediately after hearing a brief. This distinction in working methods is rooted in the early careers of both designers – Brian started as a technical illustrator while Webb was a journalist and marketer.
They have different ways of hearing what a brief means, so they can come up with ideas in words and images. Webb says that this “words and pictures approach” helps to communicate ideas to the rest the studio team.
“Set rules for who you will or won’t work with”
Webb & Webb’s day-to-day operations run smoothly because of their complementary creativity. Webb & Webb can also work together on an ideological level by using a clear delineation.
Webb states, “It’s important to have rules about who will and won’t work for you as a group.” “For instance, we both have said that we will not work for politicians to avoid this problem.
Webb states that politics is only one example. Webb also suggests working for a fast food or alcohol company. He says, “Have a plan for these types of things and there will not be many surprises later down the road.”
“Be aware of your partner’s commitments outside of the studio.”
Webb & Webb is a similar example. Studio Minerva’s two directors credit communication and complementing work practices as the reason for their success. Coral Harker, the studio’s managing director, says that her relationship with Daniela Nunzi Mihranian, founder and creative director, was built on trust, mutual respect, and friendship.
Because both of them are working mothers, this is a good foundation. Harker states, “It is important to be mindful of your partner’s commitments outside of the studio.” She says that having someone to share the “highs and lows” of the pandemic has been invaluable over the past 18 months.
She adds that being friends outside of work does not mean you have to allow work to slow down inside the studio. Harker says that a good design partnership is like a marriage. She states, “You have to be able support one another but also push each others at times.”
“Heated creative discussions around the dinner table don’t need to be had”
While some design partnerships feellike marital relationships because of their close working relationship, other have it written. Chris Trotman, husband and wife, and Anna Burles (heads of Run for the Hills’ interiors and graphic design consultancy Run for the Hills), are long-time collaborators.
Trotman manages the branding and graphic design of their projects while Burles handles the interiors. He believes that the various specialties flow well into one another. Trotman states that Anna’s interior design and branding perfectly integrate with his art and branding, so they don’t step on each other.
Trotman and Burles each have their own teams. This means that “heated creative discussions around the dinner table don’t need to be had”, he said. “Anna’s interiors teams do a lot more residential work than my graphics team, except for designing the odd wallpaper or neon sign.
“And my team does a lot more branding and website projects than Anna’s team.
It’s easy to let work take control.
Burles and Trotman recommend that others consider having different strengths when considering a partnership in design.
The pair states that two graphic designers starting a business together will mean they’ll have to work twice as hard and may fight for the best jobs and clients. The same applies to interior designers who join forces. It’s better to have different strengths.
However, design disciplines are not the only type of strength you have. They say that one person may be very conceptual and the other might be super technical or good at managing projects. This is in keeping with Webb & Webb’s division of labour view.
Trotman, Burles and Studio Minerva caution against ignoring other activities outside of work. Their two children are a “welcome distraction” to work but they also share a passion for travel, cinema, and food. They say that it is easy to let work take over. However, they love their jobs so it’s only natural that it would be a topic for conversation.