Design October 19, 2015
by Lauren Festa
They say don’t mix business with pleasure, but for these creative couples, that’s just the perfect working formula between themselves and their clients in producing some of the best work in the industry today. For this series, we’re speaking to creative couples at the top of their game, running small design studios near and far, who prove that there really is such thing as a better half. As for ‘who’, well, that depends on what day of the week it is.
Kellie Miller & Kendra Eash work out of their design studio And/Or. Based in Brooklyn, this creative couple has been together since 2007, founding their studio in 2014. Kelli designed the show opening and packaging for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and Kendra penned the viral video “This Is A Generic Brand Video”. Their shared sensibility helps to create a unique voice in the industry. They quit their respective day jobs and took the plunge.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Names: Kelli Miller & Kendra Eash
Company: And/Or Studio
Ages: 38 and 33
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Working Titles: Creative Director/Design & Creative Director/Copy
ADC: Everyone here is refreshingly breaking the cardinal rule: Don’t date in the workplace. Do you think it’s time we changed this traditional sensibility?
K&K: Sure – although it’s common courtesy not to bring too much personal stuff to the office and vice versa. Nobody in an office wants to hear two people bitching about who last scooped the cat litter.
ADC: Sometimes you end up liking the people you work with and I think that’s okay.
K & K: Of course! If you find yourself in a creative couple, I think you just have to be aware of yourself and your tendencies, and make sure you’re not taking advantage of knowing your work partner as a personal partner, if that makes sense. A person’s priorities at work are not necessarily the same at home – it’s important to understand that separation and respect it.
ADC: Did you think this would work from the get go? Any doubts?
K&K: We had no doubt that the creative collaboration would be successful. We respect each other’s ideas and our skill sets are really complementary. Plus, we share a similar work ethic,and high personal standards for our work. If anything, we were a little nervous about not being able to separate our work and personal lives – that’s where things tend to get a little tricky, when you need to be in non-business mode but you can’t stop talking about business.
ADC: Has a client ever been skeptical to approach or have you ever been turned down work given your working relationship? Some people might feel like work may not get done or there are too many emotions involved.
K&K: No, never. We would honestly be pretty bummed if that ever happened. We usually don’t mention we are in a relationship unless someone asks – or to avoid awkwardness.
ADC: How do your employees feel (if you have any) that their bosses are together?
K&K: We have yet to hire anyone full time, but we have had freelancers work with us on site. We’re all pretty friendly, so I don’t think it’s a big deal. We also make anyone we work with fill out detailed astrological profiles so everyone understands each other. It’s kind of our version of a Meyers-Briggs.
ADC: Is this something that “is not for everyone”?
K&K: That’s a tough question. I think we can only speak to our own experience so it’s pretty hard to answer that. I would say it’s helpful to do a test run – do a project together, even if it’s just for fun – before committing to anything official.
ADC: Have you ever had a moment where you guys were like “that’s it, I quit!”
K&K: No…not exactly. Our biggest issue so far has been managing our time and leaving our schedule open so we can say “yes” to the right projects. I think we get stressed or frustrated about outside forces more than blaming the other person for something.
ADC: What are some differences between working in this dynamic (together as a couple), versus working in a larger agency setting?
K&K: Oh man, good question. You don’t have to worry about being overly polite, which can be a good and bad thing. We’re respectful with each other, but we know each other very well, so it’s hard not to jump to conclusions or take each other’s time for granted. I think in a larger setting there is a common courtesy and respect for people’s personal time that can kind of disappear in a partnership if you aren’t careful. The main benefit for us has been that we have ownership over the projects we take on and the people we work with, so if we’re not happy with something we’re doing, we only have ourselves to blame (and ourselves to figure out a solution). We’re both self-starters, so that’s been good for us. It’s not always rosy, but it’s kind of zen in a certain way. The complaints and the credit all go to the same place. You see a bigger picture of responsibility and reward.
ADC: Do you feel like you have more freedom?
K&K: Yes! We have a bunch of studio projects we’d like to do – some that are more art-based, some are kind of fun ways of describing ourselves and promoting the studio, and some are just weird. The goal is to try and dedicate some time to have fun and make cool stuff that reflects our sensibility. It’s more creative freedom to shape our work how we want. There are certainly larger organizations and agencies that encourage this kind of creative exploration but we are both pretty protective of our ideas and see our independence as a studio as a freedom to really explore those ideas with no strings attached.
ADC: How does it help each of you personally, to be able to work with someone you also cook with and do laundry with?
K&K: Well there’s a shorthand that develops. If one of us is slammed with work, the other will arrange to do chores and errands and house stuff – and vice versa. The other benefit is we don’t have to come home and explain why we’re upset or stressed or excited to the other person – they already know. I think we’ve all had that high from celebrating a pitch win or a great project completed. Getting to share that with the person you love is an awesome feeling. Collaboration is a big part of what our studio is based on. We like to call ourselves “a traditional partnership in an untraditional landscape,” meaning we function as a traditional art and copy team, but we apply that process to things like network promos, show packaging and media and entertainment branding. I think having that conceptual backbone to our work helps us stand out – and it’s because of that dynamic as each other’s sounding board.
ADC: Any tips, tricks or advice?
K&K: I think we’ve learned what NOT to do, which is always helpful. One thing is to never commit your partner to a project if you haven’t talked it over first. Basically, don’t take the other person for granted. Respect their opinion and always have each other’s backs, whether you’re dealing with freelancers, clients, vendors…Another thing is to stick to a process and routine. For example, we have a Monday morning meeting where we run through everything that’s happening with our projects, outreach, PR, social posting…even if we’re holding it in our pajamas eating breakfast, we make sure to devote our full attention to the meeting.
ADC: Do you generally work together as a team or individually with check-ins?
K&K: Whenever possible, we work as a team. For concepts, we’ve found it works best to think separately for a short time, then pitch our ideas to each other and build on the concepts from there. They always get better when the other person adds their perspective. For execution, we’re usually going back and forth as soon as we have something ready to share.
ADC: How do you balance the work/life thing? Do couples have a rule that when you aren’t at work you aren’t talking about work or does it blur into personal hours?
K&K: We’ve heard mention of this “rule”…and find it very hard to follow. The short answer is we don’t try too hard to cut ourselves off from work talk. Besides, a couple of glasses of wine at dinner are usually good creative inspiration…and it’s always fun to write off a nice meal. One of the reasons we started the studio was to bring all of our creative passions into one home. We want to live a creative life so even when we’re watching TV we are riffing on ideas, it’s just part of the fabric of our lives. That said, if someone is feeling burnt out we employ our safe word: “Pause Please.”
ADC: Do you give each other days off?
Kendra: Yes, we try to plan breaks. It doesn’t always work out. It’s definitely one of the hardest things to schedule once you work for yourself…I think it’s common to have that completely irrational sense that if we’re not working, we could be out of work FOREVER. It’s a complicated psychological mindwarp that we’re working on.
Kelli: I think it’s important to get out of the studio and stay current. We are trying to find ways to get out of the studio more, go see an interesting film, go see an exhibit at an art museum, go to a concert, etc. It all feeds back into our creative energy. Lately our workload hasn’t really allowed us time for this but we’re figuring it out.
ADC: Do you agree on most decisions or is there lots of debate and discussion?
K&K: It depends. We see eye to eye on creative things in terms of what we consider quality work, what we think is funny or great or awesome, and the type of people we like to work with. But when it comes to budget, scheduling, and deciding whether to take on projects, Kelli is more realistic and Kendra is more idealistic – sometimes we find that we have different expectations and that can lead to confusion. So we basically try to really communicate and break down why we’re taking on the projects we’re taking on. We have made a spreadsheet, with filters, and a complicated grading system to help us figure out whether we should take a job….it’s really nerdy.
ADC: It seems like the work came first and then the relationship. Does work still come first or has your perspective changed?
Kendra: There are always more important things than work, but the work we do is intrinsically part of our identities – and part of why we like being with each other, so it tends to get tied up with the really important stuff and big life decisions. That doesn’t answer the question, but it’s the best we can do.
Kelli: I think this is the opposite for us, we were a couple first then we started working together and it took years for that to develop. Our relationship will always be the more important aspect of this collaboration, if the studio gets in the way we’ll figure out a different solution.
ADC: What is one thing you wish people would understand about working as a creative couple?
K&K: Sometimes people immediately assume it puts stress on our relationship to be in business together. While that’s true sometimes, there’s a flip side: it brings us closer and helps us better understand each other. To quote one of our favorite poets: you take the good / you take the bad / you take them both / and there you have / the facts of life.
ADC: Please fill in the blanks: I _________ working with my significant other because ________.
Kendra: I am thrilled to be working with my significant other because she helped me discover what I wanted to do with my life_.
Kelli: I love working with my significant other because she is brilliant, hilarious and patient and she makes the thing I love doing even better.