he said/she said: designing together

by Amy Azzarito

For the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a number of designing duos about their creative work lives: filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley, super-creative photographer and styling duo William and Susan Brinson and Jesse James and Kostas Anagnopoulos of Aesthetic Movement. We’re wrapping up our series with Eight Hour Day, a design boutique run by husband-and-wife team Nathan Strandberg and Katie Kirk. They do everything from creating complete graphic identities for restaurants to writing a children’s book. The couple is based in Minneapolis, but just last year, they decided to shake things up a bit. They sold their Minneapolis condo, rented out their studio and set off on a tour around the US in search of design and inspiration. The plan was to travel to 10 cities across the US and spend a month in each city with a couple additional months in New York and San Francisco. They just wrapped their yearlong US journey and are celebrating with an overseas adventure. They graciously answered these questions from Europe. — Amy A.

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What’s been your favorite project to work on together?

She said: I would have to say our previous identity. The one before the one we have right now. We created and worked on it together during our very first remote working trip in San Francisco in 2008. It was a conscious new shift for us in the business, both in terms of work and the way we saw ourselves. It was a more mature approach, and although it was challenging, I think we both brought some of our best work to that ID. I would say it was one of our most collaborative projects to date.

He said: I would say our current blog. Being that it’s our first blog ever, it’s been a new challenge for us to record our experiences and keep track of the things that inspire us the most. It has really given us a purpose and a mission while we’re on this one-year trip.

The full interview continues after the jump . . .

Image above: Eli, No!

What’s your favorite aspect of working on projects as a couple?

She said: I would say the honesty we [have] for each other and the work during the entire process. I love creating things that we can call our own, together. I also enjoy seeing what he comes up with — I’m a fan.

He said: We typically don’t pass files back and forth — we each tend to work individually. We do, however, meet up to strategize quite a bit and end up passing a lot of ideas back and forth — there’s a great energy there!

What’s the first step in beginning a project together?

She said: We take a lot of walks and talk about the project. There’s a lot of inspiration hunting, as well.

He said: Lots of talking and sketching over walks and breakfasts.

Image above: Pressed at Studio on Fire

How do you resolve aesthetic differences?

She said: Most of the time, we talk it out and try to explain what we were after and why. Then we’ll go back and adjust or change the concept, so it is something we are both happy with. It almost always results in a better piece. Two heads are better than one.

He said: We trust each other’s aesthetic and have learned how to push one another within it.

What would be your dream project to work on together?

She said: I think something more in the entrepreneurial realm. Something where we can do more things for ourselves.

He said: We really enjoy doing our own personal work, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity to create more things like products and applications — a way to branch out from client work a bit.

Do you have a favorite tool?

She said: My laptop.

He said: I tend to go straight to the laptop, but I have been enjoying pen and paper more lately.

How do you organize your tools?

She said: Well, this last year we’ve been carrying them around with us in these fantastic IKEA organizers.

He said: I like to keep things pretty minimal. Most of the things I need are on my laptop or in my camera bag.

How do you structure your off time so that you’re definitely not working!

She said: Not working?!

He said: It’s definitely a challenge, being self-employed and all. We try hard to plan ahead as much as possible. Though a lot of our time away from the computer is rather impromptu, like: “Oh wow! We don’t have anything due today, let’s sneak out for the afternoon.”

Do you find that you each take the lead in different aspects of a project?

She said: Not really, it is usually more dependent on whose project it is. That person will take the lead; however, we’re always checking in and working together throughout the whole process.

He said: It’s pretty collaborative in the beginning — we come together equally to plan our projects. Then, whoever has their concept selected takes the lead.

Image above: Identity for Betsy Smith Worldwide

How do you structure your workday?

She said: We’ve got a pretty typical workday. We tend to do admin in the mornings and design in the afternoon. Nights are when we work on our own personal projects.

He said: We both tend to like habit and consistency. The day starts with coffee, blogs and emails and then gets into the heavy design lifting after lunch and a short walk.

Image above: Where We’ve Been Map

Can you tell me a little bit about your trip?

She said: Sure! We have been traveling around the country for the last year, working remotely from different cities and documenting the fantastic designers and inspiration we come across. It’s been a challenging and amazing experience.

He said: It’s been fantastic putting faces together with names (or handles) in that virtual world of designers, illustrators and bloggers. There are just so many talented, nice, successful people out there — it is truly inspiring.

What’s been on repeat in the studio?

She said: All Day by Girl Talk

He said: Distant Relatives by NAS and Damian Marley

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  • Colleen: I feel the same. My husband and I also dream of someday working together creatively. Cheers to you and to this series! Very encouraging.

  • These two are AMAZING! I just perused their website and their work knocks my argyle socks off! Such well organized creativity. Brilliant design team, and they are from MN, my home state! Gotta love those Minnesowwwtins.

  • They are as charming as their work! And so inspiring to go travel/work with your honey. I’m always happy to see people doing what they do best. Thanks for this!

  • I admire them! My husband and I working together would culminate into a diet of xanax, prozac and vodka martini’s each day. ha ha We’re better separate. Bravo to those couples who can work together and do it well. Nice work. (p.s. I especially love the Betsy Smith Worldwide project) …I may be a little partial though.

  • Oh, I want that book “Eli, no”. Mine would be “No, Maya”. I love that they include a photo of Eli with all the great examples of their work. He looks a little pensive, like he knows he’s been mischievous. I had to send this post to one of my favorite design couples.

  • As half of a design team with my boyfriend I find Katie and Nathan very inspiring. We are always trying to work together better and find more ways to collaborate and express ourselves without letting ego get in the way and clinging to our ideas too much. The question I would’ve asked them is did they have a hard time getting used to their collaborative situation? Was there any adjustment period or did they just work together perfectly from the git go? My boyfriend and I have definitely had a process of figuring out how best to work together so we aren’t putting down each other’s ideas or getting feelings hurt. It’s a fine line to walk with your partner.