How did you get your New York–based creative studio And/Or off the ground? In August 2014, I left my job at Trollbäck+Company with the intention of starting And/Or with Kendra Eash, who also happens to be my wife. We’re pretty pragmatic, so she stayed at her job while I got the basic business ducks in a row: setting up an LLC, bank account, accountant and website; reaching out to leads; and scheduling initial meetings with potential clients. This led to a decent flow of work, and Kendra left her job a few months after I did.
We weren’t 100 percent certain where this adventure might lead us, so we kept things nimble in the first year, hiring freelancers as needed and focusing on building the creative side and brand of the studio. Once Nika Offenbac joined the team, we were off to the races. Nika is our executive producer and partner, and with her, we were able to set up operational functions that made the studio a “real thing,” versus just Kendra and me kind of going with the flow. Now—including Kendra, Nika and me—we have eight full-time employees and work with upwards of 20 people when things get busy.
Why did you want to start your own company? Kendra and I decided to start And/Or after working on two impactful projects. I had just directed the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver show packaging and titles, and Kendra had just written the viral hit “This is a Generic Brand Video.” We both love comedy and wanted to bring that into our work. In the early days, it was almost entirely about finding the right creative work and crafting our voice as a studio. Now that the studio has grown, creating a unique studio culture and shaping the industry have become our driving forces.
The spot you created to promote Lifetime’s Christmas lineup is hilarious. What are the challenges of creating a piece that’s supposed to be funny? One is finding the right client. With Lifetime, we were so lucky. Its team totally got it and was extremely supportive of our vision. It’s also about keeping your mind open to who you might work with. Lifetime was not necessarily on our radar, but low and behold, it had been doing all of this clever self-effacing parody work in its promos that is completely on point with our studio’s voice.
Other challenges are not that different from any type of creative work you might embark upon: keep it fresh, keep it relevant and make sure it’s relatable to the audience. It’s also important to find the right collaborators. We do a lot of vetting of our staff and freelancers to make sure they get our brand of humor.
A few years ago, you directed the music video for Deidre & the Dark’s song “Boss Lady.” What’s the hardest part of directing? I love directing; it’s the ultimate creative team sport. It’s really amazing to see an entire crew of people working on different things to make this one thing happen.
I really enjoy the pre-production process and figuring out all the particulars that will make the piece come to life. I’m a pretty organized person, which has helped immensely when directing. The hardest part is just getting what you need out of the shoot. Everything is leading up to this one do-or-die moment, which can be really stressful and exhausting. Especially when directing a miniature horse, as in the case of our spot for Lifetime.
You worked in print for a few years after getting your BFA. What can print and motion designers learn from each other? Understanding how to grab a viewer’s attention as she or he flips through a publication is very similar to grabbing viewers’ attention as they watch a video. It’s a different kind of narrative, but if you’re working on a book or a magazine, it still has an element of time to it.
Motion designers can learn about great typography and visual hierarchy from print. Having a strong grasp on the fundamentals of what makes a piece of communication work is really important in motion design because you’re adding in two additional elements: time and sound, so you have a few more tools to contend with. Print designers can learn about getting to the point from motion design, where there isn’t a lot of time to take in fine details and excess. I gravitate to work that is simple, direct and bold in both print and motion, so it was a natural transition for me.
On And/Or’s site, there’s a great picture of you, Kendra and Nika—and your spirit animals, cats! Do you have any “spirit animals” in the worlds of design, music, pop culture and beyond? I have so many! When I was a student at Cranbrook, our artist-in-residence, Elliott Earls, had a whole philosophy about standing on the shoulders of giants, which I subscribe to. If I were to make an influence astrological chart, it would contain:
Design spirit guide: Tibor Kalman
Art spirit guide: Barbara Kruger
Film spirit guide: John Waters
Music spirit guide: Kathleen Hanna
TV/comedy spirit guide: Tina Fey
Beyond that, I am indebted to my teachers and collaborators. I’m only as good as the people I work with—and they are awesome.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened during a project? This is nearly impossible to answer. We are a bunch of goofballs at the studio; we take our work seriously, but not ourselves. We have a running studio board filled with one-liners that have tickled us, and we’re constantly giving each other absurd nicknames—Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Kel-ifornia are currently two of mine. The set of the Lifetime spot was full of complete ridiculousness. We shot a parody behind-the-scenes video to accompany the spot, and there was a point when Kendra got on all fours as a “stand-in” to block where the dog was going to be in the shot... I had to fight hard to not lose it and ruin the shot.
What advice would you give to designer who’s still trying to figure out her or his own personal voice? Examine what makes you excited and what you love. Don’t be afraid to make things that look ugly and unconventional while figuring out your own point of view. Don’t latch onto styles and trends. Question everything.
I fell into motion design because I didn’t have the patience for coding interactive work and because I love music, film and graphic design. Through being true to these parts of myself, I’ve been able to really grow as a designer and move into directing, which has turned into a really interesting and gratifying career.