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Jill Robertson is president of San Francisco-based creative studio Office. She leads engagements with organizations such as Google, Stanford Children’s Health, Disney and P&G. In 2014, Office won the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award, and the studio’s work has been recognized by the Cannes Lions, Clio Awards, Art Directors Club, Webbys, One Show and others. Robertson is co-founder of Wee Society, a kids’ brand that aims to help parents raise good little people by teaching kindness, sparking imaginations and encouraging creativity. Before joining Office, Robertson worked at Gap Inc. as the communications director and speechwriter for the company’s CEO and was part of a small team that developed new brand concepts. She holds a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School. Originally from Audubon, Iowa, Robertson now lives in San Francisco with her husband, Office founder Jason Schulte, and their sons Max and Leo.

07.08.14

Positive Social Impact

You went to law school. How did you get into design? I married into it. My husband (and Office creative director) Jason Schulte and I met at Iowa State University 20 years ago. I was studying journalism and he was in the graphic design program. He walked into a student office where I was creating a brochure and offered to help me with it. A couple of decades later, we’re still basically doing the same thing. I went to law school along the way and figured out early on that I wasn’t interested in a traditional legal career. But I use the skills I learned—framing problems and ideas, articulating rationale—pretty much every day.

How do you think winning the 2014 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for communication design will affect the agency in the coming year? We’re beyond honored to receive the award. But hopefully it won’t affect how we work (we keep our awards in the bathroom). Office also happens to be turning ten years old this year, so we’re concentrating on deciding what to tackle next.

What’s your dream project? Wee Society, a company we started to spark little imaginations, is a dream project. It’s become what we’ve been calling a creative playground for our team, where we can constantly try new things, from developing preschool apps to making heirloom toys to creating DIY Halloween costumes for our kids. Beyond that, my dream list is:
—The Olympics
—Redesigning the DMV experience
—Hillary 2016

Some of Office’s notable projects, such as your work for 826 Valencia, are driven by social consciousness. How did you move in this direction, and why is it important for a design firm to be socially active? Each year, we take on a pro bono project for an organization we want to support. Pretty simply, we believe it’s the right thing to do. But our motives aren’t completely altruistic—it really doesn’t get much better than coming up with products for pirates, or staging a Bigfoot Art Show. Obviously, making a positive social impact doesn’t necessarily mean doing work for free. Our (paid) partnership with Stanford Children’s Health, a nonprofit that does incredible work for kids and families, has been particularly rewarding. And we were inspired by IBM’s world-changing ideas when we collaborated with Ogilvy New York on the company’s Smarter Planet campaign. Whatever the project, our team gets excited about being creatively challenged and working with nice folks who want to make things better.

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Whose work do you deeply respect and admire? Do whatever it takes to work with them, and learn everything you can. More than anything else, those kinds of experiences will shape who you are as a designer.