Creative Couples Who Get S#IT Done: Jayson & Annie Atienza

Love in Work? It's Possible.

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.


I don’t speak ‘Atienza’, so I’ll let this creative couple explain the who, what, where:

“We met at a good friend’s backyard BBQ over Memorial Day weekend in 2008. Annie was like, ‘Dayum, that’s a fly Filipino.’ Jayson just stared at her, while a slow jam was playing in his head. We have been a couple for nearly 8 years, and were married in April 2012. Our creative collaborations started on our first date at Petite Abeille in TriBeCa. During our date we drew Annie riding a bull on a paper napkin in blue ink. We added a Vegas-style headpiece to this bull. We named the bull. We gave the bull cool sneakers to strut around in. And…the rest is history.”

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

Name: Jayson Atienza (YG 5)
Age: 38
Location: Shanghai, China
Working Titles: Freelance Creative Director/Art Director, Artist, and Amazing Ninja Husband

Name: Annie Atienza
Age: 34
Location: Shanghai, China
Company: Annie Atienza Image Consulting
Working Titles: Image Consultant, Wardrobe Stylist, Business Development Consultant for Jayson Atienza Art, and Wife Extraordinaire

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?

Jayson & Annie: So, as long as a couple doesn’t get together during a crunch time when a professional deadline is looming, everything will be ok…cause you know, that initial coupling can take up a lot of time. But really, if getting together makes the work better, then why the hell not?

ADC: Sometimes you end up liking the people you work with and I think that’s okay.

J&A: If someone you work with inspires you and pushes you to be a better person, go ahead and like that person, yao!

ADC: Did you think this would work from the get go?  Any doubts?

J&A: Well, when we first met, Annie was working in finance at a hedge fund and Jayson was being a creative animal. She would show up to places in suits, and Jayson’s friends would wonder if Annie was his date or his financial planner. But even though we came from very different professional backgrounds, our connection was immediate and electric. Also, shortly after we met, Annie changed career paths and started an image consulting program at FIT. Since then, and also with Jayson’s generous creative influence, the right side of Annie’s brain has been flexing quite rigorously…the perfect storm for Atienza collaborations.

ADC: Has a client ever been skeptical to approach or have you ever been turned down work given the work dynamic? Some people feel like work may not get done, or there are too many emotions involved.

J&A: We are professional ninjas. Ninjas don’t emote. That is to say, we keep it cool. Basically, you need to have emotional intelligence as a couple to keep things even professionally. And we always want to put out work that we’re extremely proud of, and the people who we work with or for know this about us, so they’re typically excited to see the outcome of our work together.

ADC: Is this something that “is not for everyone”?

J&A: Working creatively on a project with anyone is a journey. There’s a lot of inspiration and instinct involved, and when brainstorming about a project, it’s very important to keep it honest to honor the work, but also very important to not take creative criticism personally. This can be heightened when you’re working with YOUR person. You just really have to be on the same page and not be sensitive to the creative process when working with your person.

ADC: Have you ever had a moment where you guys were like “that’s it, I quit!”

J&A: We feel really lucky to have an easy dynamic when we collaborate. When you keep it fun, there’s no “That’s it! I quit!” in our mindset. And honestly, if there’s something going on with us personally that may be tense, shifting into creative collaboration mode helps us connect, and smoothes the way for solving whatever else might be going on.

ADC: What are some of the main differences between working in this dynamic (together as a couple), versus working in a larger agency setting with different people?

J&A: We had a situation recently in Shanghai, China, where we collaborated in a formal agency setting.  Jayson was acting as Creative Director, and Annie was acting as Wardrobe Stylist. What Jayson advises is Jayson’s territory. What Annie advises is Annie’s territory. And everyone around the decision-makers conference table felt this. But when the meeting ends, they also know the couple energy we bring to the group, which we would like to think is fun and irreverent. It’s about having fun, but reserving that fun in a judicious way, to not disturb the work. AND! In a less agency-oriented scenario, we can just do what we do. And what a blessing.

ADC: How does it help each of you personally, to be able to work with someone you also cook with and do laundry with?

J&A: There’s no one else we trust as much as each other, and that’s a huge plus in terms of decisions we make artistically. From concepting, to color choices, to material choices, to execution strategies, to marketing and publicity, we know our decisions are being considered THE SINGLE another person who REALLY gives a real shit about what is best for us personally and professionally. And when that happens, you can accomplish anything in the world together.

ADC: Any tips, tricks or advice?

J&A: Jayson speaks a very special dialect of English that Annie had to learn. She went on a 2-3 year journey to learn how to speak “Atienza”. When we first started to collaborate, Annie was translating in her head all the time, but now her fluency in Atienza is flawless. We are more in sync now than ever, especially in coming up with ideas. We know each other’s perspectives in and out, and we know how we both will react to external forces in art, design, life, and everything else. Also, we attend a lot of events together, and look at a lot of media and art and design together. This has exacerbated our collective mind for sure, yao.

ADC: Do you generally work together as a team or as individuals and have check-ins?

J&A: Our brainstorming is very collaborative. And then we work on points of execution independently, based on our personal strengths. But as we execute, there are on-going check-ins, because we value each other’s opinion a ton.

ADC: Can you describe your routines? (Morning, work hours, after hours…etc?

J&A: We work on our independent projects in blocks of time, simultaneously, and then have set times that we devote to our collaborative projects. Timing varies, and sometimes it can be tricky not to interrupt each other’s individual projects if the mind wanders and inspiration strikes, but we do our best.

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?

J&A: Blurred lines, friends. It isn’t always easy, but we wouldn’t change much. It’s pretty cool to be so in tune with your person.

ADC: Do you give yourselves or each other days off?

J&A: We are always brainstorming and grinding. But we manage to find quiet moments. But we definitely need our days off every now and then, so we don’t burn out. Hit reset, yao.

ADC: Do you for the most part see eye to eye on things and make decisions easily or is it an opposites attract kind of thing?

J&A: We see eye to eye on quite a lot creatively and artistically. Colors, clean design, visual simplicity, and on and on. We will walk into a gallery or a home interiors showroom, and will immediately gravitate toward the same things; we know what we like, why we like what we like, whether we recognize something for its literal purpose or for its ironic purpose, and get a real kick out of all of our common opinions. We usually get so excited that we do ninja moves or pat each other’s bottoms when we see something we like.

ADC: Are there things you wouldn’t be able to do if you were working in a traditional sense? Do you have more freedom?

J&A: To be able to control our own schedule is the biggest blessing. We also wouldn’t have been able to move to Shanghai, China, or to travel as frequently as we do around Asia to perpetuate both of our crafts independently, as well as our collaborative work. We are constantly on the move, and constantly finding inspiration together. Again, what a blessing.

ADC: Who does what?

J&A: Brainstorming is executed in tandem; execution is based on our talents/strengths. It’s just logical for us that way. But again, we are constantly checking in and supporting each other through the execution, so it’s a big creative love fest. We have each other’s back, and that’s a big reason why we work so well together.

ADC: It seems like the work came first and then the relationship. Does work still come first or are there more important things?

J&A: Our personal relationship developed first, and we began collaborating together professionally after a few years into our relationship. Developing each of our creative voices is a constant and a very important part of our relationship that can’t really be separated from our personal journey. There are loads of important non-creative things happening all the time, but we are inextricably linked to our creativity in everything we do. And that feels great.

ADC: What is one thing you wish people would understand about working as a creative couple?

J&A: Working with your best friend 24/7 is the best thing in the world, hands down. And we know, because our hands are well manicured by amazing people in China.

ADC: Please fill in the blanks: I ______ working with my significant other because ______.

J&A: Every day is a great day because I share it with my honeypot. No matter what challenges get thrown our way, we are there for each other. We’ve got each other. And that’s it. Boom.