Work Life: Studio Culture

The November issue of Creative Review is inspired by Unit’s debut publication, Studio Culture. Here Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook discuss the book

“Designers will talk about every­thing under the sun, except for how they run their studios,” explains Unit Editions’ Adrian Shaughnessy. “I think it’s partly because most people have to make it up as they go along. Who do you turn to? Studio Culture is a series of interviews with 28 studios and we’ve pressed each one about how they got started, how they find clients, how they organise their workspace. It’s an insight into a world normally kept secret.”

Studio Culture also looks to address a timely problem. With so many design students graduating from colleges – and a distinct lack of jobs – a large number of gradu­ates will find themselves starting up their own creative business. And there’s been relatively little written on the subject.

“Otl Aicher wrote a small amount on this and his Rotis studio,” says Shaughnessy. “He went quite far down the road of theorising how people work together but nobody else really has. So there are students pouring out of design courses, who may well be setting up on their own, and then there are those designers that we all know; the ones who do very interesting work but, in terms of running a studio, they’re struggling. We think there’s an audience for this information.”

“It’s been fascinating to find out that other people make it up as they go along,” adds Tony Brook of Spin who is also Shaughnessy’s partner at Unit. “It should prove interesting for people running  studios to find out about where they might go next – be that to a smaller or larger size. However, we really wanted to feature studios that had a heartbeat, so we didn’t go too corporate.”

Studio Culture includes detailed interviews with, among others, James Goggin at Practise, Experimental Jetset, A Practice for Everyday Life, and Erik Spiekermann (whose chapter is reproduced on these pages).

“Spiekermann is probably the closest to Aicher in having a theory or philosophy of the studio,” says Shaughnessy. “He even has a diagram of how he thinks the perfect studio would look [see left]. Then there’s some­one like Paula Scher of Pentagram who offers, again, a different model. Her team is quite small but she’s still part of a larger studio; Pentagram is really a lot of small companies glued together.”

At the other end of the scale are the studios made up of one or two people, such as Matt Pyke’s Universal Everything. “He’s pioneered this networking idea and has a whole army of people that he works with around the world,” says Shaughnessy.

Significantly, the book also features an interview with Milton Glaser, perhaps one of the pioneers of what is now known as studio culture. “He really invented it in the 1950s with Pushpin,” says Shaughnessy. “There were no models for doing it back then. Though he did say that he went to see Donald Brun in Switzerland, one of the five agi founders. Brun had his house and at the top was his studio. There were two guys in there, two drawing boards and one piece of paper, a T square and a triangle. The men both had brown lab coats on. Glaser came back to the US and thought, that’s what I want; I want my designers to wear lab coats.”

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