This is the third of our ten Tech Specs interviews. Previously, we talked to Local Projects' Paul Hoppe.
Names: Dylan Davis and Jean Lee
Job title: Founders of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, a multidisciplinary design studio based in Seattle
Dylan Davis: We met in college—we were both studying industrial design at the University of Washington, in Seattle. We did a couple group projects together and realized that we had semi-compatible working styles. But then when we got out of school, we both got separate jobs. I worked for six years for Henrybuilt, the high-end kitchen system company.
Jean Lee: And I was working at Reload, a handmade messenger-bag company that was based in Philadelphia but also had a store in Seattle.
DD: Also during that time, in 2005, Jean partnered up with a coworker and started their own company called R&L Goods. That was our first foray into independent design and business ownership. And then in 2010 we started Ladies & Gentlemen Studio.
DD: We do most of our work from home. We each have 13-inch MacBook Pros on a little desk set up in our kitchen/living room area. So it’s a pretty condensed working area.
JL: It’s pretty low-tech.
DD: Yeah. In general, our working style is very hands-on, so computers and technology are just tools in that greater process. The only fancy thing we do have is a laser cutter. It’s not something that we use every day, but in terms of prototyping and a few details in our products—those are produced using the laser cutter.
JL: That’s not in our living area—it’s in the garage, where we have a shop set up. But in terms of communication and administrative work, we’re here at our desk in the house.
Dylan Davis and Jean Lee in their living room. Photo by Charlie Schuck
How much of your workday do you spend in front of the computer?
JL: I’m probably around four to six hours a day.
DD: My use really varies. I handle a lot more of the production end of things. So one day I could be running errands all day and only checking e-mail in the morning and the afternoon. Other times I might be doing some kind of CAD work and that would take five hours of the day.
Most used software:
JL: I use Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat—all Adobe software pretty much. And then, does Google Calendar count?
DD: Yeah, we’re on the web a lot, so we’re using the whole Google Apps suite for our spreadsheets and shared documents and stuff like that. That may be the thing we use most frequently, because we’re running the business end as well.
I’m usually the one to do any kind of CAD work. I use SketchUp and DraftSight, which is an affiliated version of AutoCAD. And in that program I only work in 2D. We try to get in and out of CAD as quickly as possible. At first we’re doing sketches and physical models. Then when it comes time to get into proportioning and trying out different variations of things, we’ll go into CAD. But as soon as we can get the CAD to the point where we can step back and make something real again, we’ll do that.
And then from there, most of our vendors are pretty lo-fi. So, for instance, I have a machine shop where I make two-dimensional technical drawings of the pieces I need, and I’ll e-mail him PDFs of those. If we’re water-jet cutting or laser cutting something, then we might send a CAD file, but more often it’s a fairly low-tech process.
JL: And I use Illustrator and Photoshop for a lot of our marketing materials—for designing postcards and mailers, and for doing color studies and mood boards. And Photoshop, of course, for editing all our photos.
Software that you thought you’d use more often than you do:
DD: Every once in a while we’ll get on a time-management kick, where we’re using an app to track all of our time. And it always ends up being too much work to keep it going. So it kind of messes with the fluidity of our workflow. Things like that we end up finding to be less useful than we originally thought.
Davis in the garage shop. Photos by Charlie Schuck Enter a caption (optional)
JL: I have an iPhone 4S.
DD: And I’ve got an iPhone 6.
DD: Jean is very good at Instagramming. And it’s really become a creative engine for our business. It’s hard to quantify how much actual business comes from us being active on Instagram, but there are definitely a lot of connections that are made that way—with fellow creatives, architects and interior designers, potential customers.
Apps that are actually useful for your work:
DD: We both listen to podcasts all the time. When we’re working on something that’s a little monotonous, we like to pop on something that relates to our business, where we can learn while we’re doing something—that’s really been useful to growing the business.
JL: Plus, Square for running credit cards—and now Square Cash is the new thing.
JL: We use an iPad occasionally.
DD: That’s definitely one of those things that we thought would be more useful. But it helps when we’re at an event and trying to run purchases or show someone our website or something like that.
Other machinery/tools in your workspace:
DD: A lot of what we do is using analog tools. Like, we have an old mechanical metal lathe that we use all the time.
JL: In terms of digital tools, the laser cutter is pretty much it. We’ve had that for six years. I got it with my previous business partner, and we used it primarily for producing small accessories. Now we use it more for packaging and branding. Prototypes, occasionally. But we don’t use it to make products.
Tools or software you’re thinking of purchasing:
DD: I have toyed with some 3D printing options, in terms of outsourcing that work. That would be a new direction for us. But I can’t think of any new technology that we want and need. Our process is very physical, so a lot of times technology feels a little cumbersome in the process. A lot of what we make is designed to be made analog.
How has new technology changed your job in the last 5–10 years?
DD: Well, in the last five years we’ve started and grown L&G Studio, so it’s really been more about delving into those tools that are for managing the business. So, bookkeeping software, credit-card transactions, spreadsheets, and things like that.
Our bookkeeping software is online-based. It was originally called Outright, but they were recently acquired by GoDaddy, so the name is changing to GoDaddy Bookkeeping. It’s linked to our accounts and it automatically tracks our transactions. We can go in and categorize things and make invoices. Everything’s connected, and it’s much more intuitive than QuickBooks. So it has allowed us to not have a bookkeeper and easily look at our financials at a glance. We’re not math people, so having something really intuitive is kind of empowering.
When it comes to new tech, are you a Luddite, an early adopter or somewhere in between?
DD: Degenerate Luddites. I got the new iPhone 6 when it came out—that was a big step for me. I had a really ancient iPhone 4 that had a cracked screen, so it was a bit of a necessity.
It’s not that we’re anti-technology—it’s more that it’s just not part of our process that much. It wasn’t what we built the studio around.
Do you outsource any of your tech tasks?
DD: We have a marketing manager who generally works remotely. So we’re all connected through Gmail and other Google tools. That’s not really outsourcing, but it is a remote arrangement—using technology to work remotely.
I can’t think of any new technology that we want and need. Our process is very physical, so a lot of times technology feels a little cumbersome.
What are your biggest tech gripes?
DD: The transfer of files and formats between different programs and devices. I still think that’s a really cumbersome process. Even just the printing process, or saving to PDF. All those little things that seem like they should be easy often feel cumbersome.
JL: Even just saving files—like, how many versions you have to save. After a while, I lose track of which ones I’ve saved and which are the most current.
DD: They’re little examples. But say you’re trying to save a presentation as a PDF to send to your clients, and you want the file to be small but the image quality to be good. It always seems like you have to save the file in a few different formats and open them to see how they look, and . . . that seems really unnecessary. There’s always a handful of things with each software service that are limiting.
What do you wish software could do that it can’t now?
JL: Right now the main thing that we’re running into is that we use Squarespace for our website and e-commerce—but then when we ship something, we still have to manually make a label and go to FedEx or the Post Office. I think there are probably programs to streamline that process, but we haven’t yet figured out which ones might work for us.
DD: It’s almost like there needs to be a website or a service that takes into account all your business’s needs and synchronizes all these services so that you’re covering all the bases. And this might be a matter of hiring some IT person to connect all these things for us. But I think part of it is that every business has all these idiosyncratic things that it has to do, and maybe it’s just impossible to automate some of those things.
Finally, we've all had instances of software crashing at the worst possible moment, or experienced similar stomach-churning tech malfunctions. Can you tell us about your most memorable tech-related disaster?
DD: I can’t think of anything that’s epic. Things tend to wear out at really inconvenient times. But I can’t think of one that’s a great story.
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This article is part of the Core77 Tech-tacular, an editorial series exploring the myriad ways that technologies are shaping the future of design.