Duration: Four years.
Location: San Francisco, California.
Key creatives: Un-’s cofounders are Kathrin Blatter and Andrew Johnson. Blatter and Johnson both received their BFAs in graphic design from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California.
Career path: “When I first moved to the United States from Switzerland, I started on my own as a designer, without a degree,” says Blatter. “After graduating from the Academy of Art University, I got a job at Chen Design Associates, where I worked on the global rebranding of The North Face. Since starting Un- with Andrew, we have worked with coffee and tech companies and sports brands.”
“I grew up skateboarding in and around New York City,” says Johnson. “All my friends were into skateboarding and in bands, so we were always making our own flyers, graphics, videos and T-shirts. I finished my senior year of high school at a community college with a focus on fine arts; I mainly took 2-D design and photography classes, learning how to create a lot of work by hand and with minimal resources. It was a pretty organic process; I sometimes feel like I have been doing the same type of work since then, just for bigger companies.”
Favorite projects: One of Un-’s first large projects was for Big Island Coffee Roasters. We took the initiative to visit the roastery and farm on Hawai‘i’s Big Island to get an understanding of what it wanted to do and spent two days on its farm, learning how its coffee is grown, harvested and processed. It has been great seeing the company grow and its positive impact on Hawaiian coffee culture.
Work environment: We have a casual-professional space above a photo studio in San Francisco’s Mission district. A few other creative businesses occupy the space with us, including duffel bag designers, photographers, sound designers and videographers. Sometimes we bounce ideas off each other, and sometimes we work with each other. Recently, one of our office neighbors put on a mini–film festival in the photo studio and showed nine short films by a local artist. The landlord also produced ice-like dancer sculptures; the downstairs was filled with mannequin parts for a week. As soon as a project is finished, everything gets cleaned up quickly. In other words, it’s the perfect place for us to work: inspiring, but professional.
Approach: “We are set up to be more unconventional and experimental than others,” says Johnson. “We have a modest, do-it-yourself approach. We like working on projects with people who are trying to affect things in positive ways. Because of our small size, we can adapt quickly to projects and challenges.”
“I do need off-screen time to create things by hand,” says Blatter. “In particular, the kitchen has influenced some of our projects and the approaches we’ve taken. Usually, materials make their way into our designs through type: We made type with colored sugar for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We made type with margarine for another San Francisco agency. I’ve also been growing mold into letterforms, which hasn’t yet found a place within a project—surprise, surprise.”
Philosophy: “Be distinctive with the work I do, using a personal lens as a focus,” says Johnson. “Work with talented people and to have fun on projects.”
Blatter’s philosophy: “There is only one way to find out: do it!”