This interview is part of a series featuring the presenters participating in this year's Core77 Conference, "Now What? Launching & Growing Your Creative Business", a one-day event aimed to equip attendees with tangible skills and toolkits to help produce and promote their products or services.
Joseph Guerra and Sina Sohrab, co-founders of the New York-based studio Visibility, successfully manage to ride the line between form versus function by applying a healthy dose of playfulness to their pragmatic designs. At first glance, their work carries a classic, almost archival feel. But after peering a bit closer, their design philosophy of making products that much more beautiful and useful through the editing of small details becomes apparent through thoughtful design tweaks. All in all, every aspect of their designs are there for a reason—no more, no less. Despite being a young studio consisting of only two lead designers, since starting in 2012, Visibility has already worked with a number of impressive clients, including Normann Copenhagen, Harry's, Outdoor Voices, Cooper Hewitt, and Good Thing. Even more impressive? Although the design studio often works for well-established clients, each product they design consistently maintains the voice of Visibility, reflecting both Guerra and Sohrab's serene and considered tastes.
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Guerra and Sohrab, who will jointly be giving a talk at this year's Core77 Conference called "Owning and Maintaining Your Design Identity", answered a few of our questions about the ups and downs of starting a studio and what they've learned in the process:
What does Visibility do & what kind of expertise does your studio bring to the table?
Visibility is an industrial design office that works as a general practitioner, designing products and furniture. We work on a wide breadth of projects and that allows us to bring a 360 view of thoughtful design to each we approach.
Did your idea to launch a studio feel more like a leap or a long, drawn-out plan? What are your thoughts on how it began and what are some really important lessons you learned in that early stage that helped the studio to evolve?
It was a bit of both. We put our heads down and made a plan to start the studio, moonlighting it until we knew we had to make a leap of faith. I think something we've learned is not to be afraid to ask a lot of questions. As designers, there were a lot of things we didn't know about business and asking for advice on key issues became a way through the weeds. We have also learned to listen to what our experiences were telling us and adapt, rather than letting preconceived notions of what a studio was supposed to be to get the best of us.
The Standard Paintbrush for Cooper Hewitt
You've worked with a lot of cool clients I imagine many designers wish they could include on their client roster. How do these relationships come about for you two?
We work hard to make lasting relationships with everyone we work with directly and indirectly. It starts with one client and the next thing you know, we have a full roster. Word of mouth is a huge driver. We like forging authentic connections with people, whether that leads to client-work or just a great friendship.
What does it take as a young studio to get deals with good clients? Is it about portfolio building, going to as many design-related events you can….?
Portfolio building and going to design events are certainly part of the marketing effort you'll have to do. It can still be very difficult for young designers and we think the best thing you can do is make excellent work, hold yourself to the highest standards and make sure people see that work.
The Shapes Bundle for Outdoor Voices
What type of products are you most interested in working on? Is there anything you haven't done yet you're really hoping to do?
We like to work on projects that allow us to use our best design-thinking. Anything can fall under this umbrella. It would be great to someday work on something for transportation or even space.
When you work with clients, how much flexibility do you have in terms of bringing your own voice to something?
We try to only take projects where we'll have a voice and a sense of authorship.
Your studio focuses mainly on design as opposed to getting involved in the full product cycle. Can you tell me a little bit about what it is about the process of designing a product you appreciate the most?
We enjoy the initial stages of a product design because it's where we get to dream up something that doesn't exist yet. Everything is still possible in the beginning and that's where we come up with our best ideas. Over the longevity of a project, meeting with manufacturers and understanding their process can be just as exciting. A new set of opportunities are presented in the manufacturing process and you get to work with experts in their craft.
Even if you're not producing the pieces yourself, what bits of information regarding that process do you need to know in order be a successful design studio and work with clients big and small who are producing these products?
We spend a lot of time researching the production methods of any project. Over time we've been lucky to work on a huge variety of products that have allowed us to retain a good understanding of how things are made. We use this as an opportunity to design with manufacturing and function in mind while challenging the process to see what innovations we can bring to the table.
The Ridge Kitchen carafe set for Areaware
When it comes to the business, logistical side of starting a studio, I imagine there are plenty of dilemmas where you feel a bit stuck or aren't sure what your next move should be. What are your favorite resources for finding this type of information?
This happens all the time where it's difficult to know how to solve some issues facing a new business. We reach out to people who can give us insight, we read super boring articles online and, as a team, we spend a lot of time talking about what it is that we actually want to do. We try not to let an issue feel like it's being forced onto us.
Finally, what are a.) some of the most challenging parts about owning your own business and b.) the most rewarding (if you're able to boil it down)?
The biggest challenges are: maintaining a constant stream of work because as a service you can't really plan on the future, staying true to your design values and prioritizing good work rather than paying work, turning a profit can be really nuanced and every business is different.
The most rewarding aspects are deciding on each and everything you work on; you build your own dream and not necessarily someone else's. Creative control over projects, but you also get to use those creative skills to drive the business in a way that's most interesting to you. There's really no greater feeling than launching a product that's almost exclusively created or designed by you.