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Who says long-distance relationships never work? Allyson Lack of Houston, Texas, and Pamela Zuccker recently of the Philadelphia area, have proven otherwise. In fact, until just a few months ago, Pamela did not even live in the United States—she lived in Québec—and even that did not slow this duo down. They were born apart but think alike. And that’s what makes this long-distance relationship keep on keeping on.

When I met Allyson and Pamela for the first time, I was struck instantly by how much they were alike—smart, eloquent, knowledgeable, striking—and how they finish each other’s sentences. Since forming Principle in 2005 they’ve been cooking, winning national recognition, tons of kudos, lots of ink and ample opportunities for clients such as Paddywax, Nordstrom, Chronicle Books, Larson-Juhl, National Building Museum and Texas Children’s Hospital.

How did they arrive at this enviable position? What's their magic juice? How do they keep it together living so far apart? Well, it all started long ago at a great little school in a humble building at the end of a dead-end street: Portfolio Center (PC) in Atlanta.

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Pamela’s interest in design began at the University of Michigan where she pursued a fine arts degree in painting. During a summer internship at a Detroit agency, she met two writers who attended PC and inspired her to enroll there. It is not accreditations that lure people to PC, it's the connections and contacts it offers and the top-notch portfolios produced there.

Says Pamela, “Nearly every week for two years I crossed paths with art directors, designers and photographers of great caliber. We were instructed by talented working professionals and shown how the industry works in real life. Because PC is a consortium of writers, photographers, illustrators and designers, we were expected to collaborate—just as you do after you walk out PC’s door. Also, having Hank at the helm is a powerful draw.” You cannot talk about the school without mentioning the ubiquitous Hank Richardson, PC’s president and chief cheerleader—he is PC’s magic juice.

PC may open the doors, but it is the students who must walk through them. Pamela and Allyson did just that. Hank opened the door for Pamela to an internship at EAI Atlanta with fellow PC alumni Todd Simmons (now with Wolff Olins) and Matt Rollins (now with Iconologic). Next, Hank introduced Lana Rigsby to Pamela at a portfolio review, and Pamela packed her bags for Houston. Two years later, Pamela met Allyson on a recruitment trip, wooing her to the great state of Texas.

Pamela joined Rigsby in Houston in 1998 where she would remain for four years. It was tough but rewarding. “Lana was the kind of first boss any young designer would want: exacting, hard working, brilliant and willing to throw you right into the fray. I had to manage all aspects of my projects from strategic planning to conceptual development, as well as design implementation and press checks. At times it was tough, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned fast.”

Allyson's path to design was similar to Pamela's. The daughter of a practical-minded and successful accountant, Allyson graduated in 1998 from the University of Maryland with a bachelor's degree in business. Her father told her that if she stayed in state for her undergraduate work, he would help her with grad school tuition. He did not expect his talented daughter to pick design over an MBA.

Lana [Rigby] was the kind of first boss any young designer would want: exacting, hard working, brilliant and willing to throw you right into the fray." —Pamela Zuccker

“A deal's a deal,” says Allyson, with her characteristic sense of irony.

“I had no inkling that ‘design’ could be a career,” recalls Allyson. “Maryland had a solid fine arts department, but not a notable design program. So I took some art classes.” She credits art professor Jim Thorpe for steering her towards design. Thorpe told her to “get on the computer” and experiment with design software. With newly acquired computer design skills, she “begged” for a job in the Office of University Design Services producing all kinds of things, from banners to book jackets.

“It was an unusual job for a business school student,” she remembers, “but it demonstrated to me that I had the capacity to be a designer. I was hooked.” In 1998, the year Pamela left PC, Allyson entered. In her final year, 2000, Allyson met Pamela and joined her at Rigsby in Houston where she was thrown into the deep end. “After about a year, I took a step back and decided what I wanted next. I sent my portfolio out to firms in the DC/Baltimore area and landed a job in my hometown.”

In Baltimore, Allyson joined the husband and wife firm of Tony Rutka and Joan Weadock. “Tony is an intense, energetic person who works at a deliberate pace. He is well known in the DC/Baltimore area for his work in education and the arts. He is a good teacher and, most importantly, he let me do everything.”

In 2001 at Rutka Weadock Design, Allyson found her voice. Tony Rutka liked her, trusted her and ultimately her confidence soared. She was invited to participate in new business pitches and client presentations, a challenge she attacked with relish. She was briefly married in 2003, ending in an amicable divorce. In 2004, she left Rutka Weadock to open her own studio. A year later, she started dating her childhood friend Randy Lack and began her partnership with Principle. Randy Lack had attended Allyson’s first wedding, all the while fuming silently at the opportunity he realized he had missed when living next door to Allyson during her brief tenure in Houston. In 2006, she moved back to Houston and married Randy in 2007. Time flies when you're a woman on a mission.

Meanwhile Pamela had left Rigsby in 2002 and started a shop called Pomme (French for apple) in Houston. Having met her future husband Michel Lacroix there in 2000, Pamela developed an interest in la langue Française. In 2003 when his visa to practice neurosurgical oncology expired, she relocated with Michel to Québec City.

I had no inkling that ‘design’ could be a career.” —Allyson Lack

She lived among a sea of francophones while continuing to serve clients stateside. Her work flourished but she missed collaborating so she turned to trusted design friends back in the USA. During this time, she, Allyson and Jennifer Sukis of Cleveland began serious conversations about a partnership.

Their new design “studio” would exist in three separate locations: Baltimore, Cleveland and Québec City. On January 1, 2005, the women launched Principle in the United States. From the outset, the combined firepower of these three talented designers attracted attention and new business. Jennifer left the partnership at the end of 2007 to join frog design in Austin and remains friends with her former partners.

Our story arrives at the present: Principle, 2009. Allyson is happy in Houston. Pamela recently relocated to the Philadelphia area with her husband. Many wonder how these two are able to accomplish so much as a pair working long distance. Here’s how it works: First, there is total trust-in work ethic, in numbers, in excellence. Both partners are engaged in all the work; clients get to know both Pamela and Allyson, while one takes the day-to-day lead in any assignment. In most cases, both originate two distinct solutions to the preliminary conceptual development, then work together to edit choices to one or two of the best directions. And they fly; travel to client presentations is essential. While each keep separate offices and studio expenses, they share accounting, financial planning and business development. They also spend time together face-to-face at conferences, educational forums and talks or seminars as much as they can. They do not nit-pick hours, ever. The magic is integrity and mutual respect.

The work on these pages is exhilarating, beautiful and exquisite; it demonstrates good ideas and the love of craft. “Where” has little to do with it. It has been said that there is a charm in distance. This may or may not apply to Allyson and Pamela’s business relationship. After all, one can easily erase distance with technology. They do. Sure, there may still be some neanderthal that needs a fancy design studio where he can “brainstorm” with “the agency” before turning attention to his afternoon tee time. Thankfully, those creatures are nearly extinct.

What matters is the work. Work that, in the words of Milton Glaser, “informs and delights.” Allyson and Pamela’s work does. It speaks for itself. The rest is privileged conversation—between consenting adults. ca

Matthew Porter is a writer, critic and creative consultant who lives in his hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. His company is PorterWrite Design Consulting.

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