Jacob and Christian didn’t go to design school, but the boys from the D.C. based – Composite Co. are doing a fine job at design to say the least. They tell us to explore more and take more risks! As you are never too late to go through your rebellious stage!
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what led you into design?
Jacob: I have so many. First was probably piano lessons. Then drawing and coloring. I think I checked out every “Learn to Draw ____” book from the school library like 500 times (although the ones on horses and dogs had a special place in my heart). Then we got our first computer. That mysterious glowing monstrosity of cream-colored plastic, a pixelated portal to the world. I messed around in Paint for years and proudly set those puppies—primal, ugly, and existential—as the desktop background, even against all my siblings’ deepest convictions (this was, of course, before the glory days of Windows XP where every user could choose their own desktop background). I also started downloading fonts from all those terrible websites where you could find a rendition of the “Coca-Cola” logotype in a shitty font and type out whatever your heart desired in Coke font, like love letters to your middle school crush. What I made in those days would probably be the prized posterchild of Brutalist websites today. And then, finally I got my hands on some Adobe software and the game started changing (kerning & tracking, what magic!). From high school on, I was doing design stuff full force. And never stopped.
Christian: It’s funny, I was an “art kid” growing up. Drawing and painting classes. Doodling everywhere. I even drew a mural on the inside of the coat closet at home with crayons when I was like, 6 or 7 because I just couldn’t stop creating. I got in big trouble for that one. Then, through a weird scheduling issue, I ended up having to drop my advanced art class in high school and switch to music. I fell in with the music kids and ended up becoming one myself. I still sing and play in bands to this day. But design kind of came back into my life when we got the offer to do our first project together as Composite Co. All my passion for creating aesthetically beautiful things came rushing back and it’s been history ever since. I’m an “art kid” again.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
Christian: I graduated from the College of William & Mary in Virginia with a degree in International Relations and Hispanic Studies. Right? I was all over the place in college. My plan was to do a bunch of traveling (I backpacked through Central America) then get a real estate job in DC because I was into business. I did that for a few years and got tons of professional experience that has helped me out a lot in running Composite, but it also certainly crushed my soul. Don’t spend too much time doing stuff you don’t want to do. Life’s too short. I could’ve probably gotten out after a year and gotten to where I’m at now by 24 or 25.
Jacob: I actually didn’t go to design school, either. Sometimes I wish I did, but I think it’s made me more scrappy and able to take more risks that someone hyper-academically trained might not. I didn’t have a grand plan, I was just lucky to get a design job right out of school. Granted, it was not glamorous. I was idly hoping to maybe go the agency route for a few years to get some intense worked-to-the-bone experience, but now I just do that for Composite instead, which is way more rewarding because I have so much personal stake in it and I love the projects and people we work with.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. Composite: Composite Co. is a multi-disciplinary creative studio. At Composite, we push the status quo. We live in DC, a city that hasn’t had a long history with high design, so we’ve got our work cut out for us in challenging everyone’s perceptions about the importance of branding and design in business. In order to do that, we’ve become a one-stop branding shop. Creating beautiful, functional visual identities and everything that goes along with them—websites, marketing materials, signage, product packaging, and photo/video. If you have an idea, we can probably figure out how to get it done. We love dreaming big.
Tell us about any collaborations you have been working on.
Composite: We love our partners. Since we’re a small studio, we have to be selective about who we spend time working with, so personality fit is everything. All our clients become good friends. Right now, we’re working with Rock Creek Social Club and A Creative DC on branding and producing some awesome swag for an event next month. We’re working with our favorite real estate developer, Ditto Residential, on a new concept for millennial apartment living called OSLO. We are helping develop a brand and tone of voice and doing lots of copywriting, which we love. Then we’re working on a brand identity for a new bakery opening in DC. I can’t even believe I’m saying these things. It’s such a dream to be doing what we’re doing. We’re so damn lucky.
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?
Christian: I would have never taken anyone’s advice at 16. I really thought I knew who I was and what I was doing, probably like lots of teenagers. But I would reassure myself that I was on the right track. I know now that I needed to go through my academic, nerdy, hyper-involved phase early on or else I wouldn’t be able to burn out at 23, which was the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t really rebel at 16. I waited until my mid-20s. And I wouldn’t change a thing about that. It’s never too late to go through your rebellious stage.
Jacob: This hits so close to home. Explore more and take more risks. Do what you were clearly made to do and be relentless about it. Live! Explore! CREATE! Growing up in a somewhat-isolated, micro-suburb of Minneapolis I just didn’t have enough exposure to the rest of the world (which is why I was obsessed with the internet / computers / technology growing up, and why I love traveling so much now). At 16, I don’t think I even realized that any field of design, let alone graphic design, could be an amazing, and perhaps even a financially-sustainable (gasp!) career.
What’s in the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months? Christian: I actually love that you asked because it’s going to keep us accountable! We’ve got big plans for the next year. We just moved into our first real office at WeWork Manhattan Laundry in a cool neighborhood in DC, so we’ve already conquered that first hurdle. Next, we’re thinking about designing a line of products including a book. Can’t say too much about that since it’s still very much under wraps. We’d also love to design a piece of furniture. All of it’s only conceivable because we have such an inspiring people surrounding us whose skill sets complement ours.
Jacob: We’re also planning on doing some (more) traveling. Together we’ve seen, embarrassingly, little of the United States so we’re coming for the West Coast in 2017. Hoping to spend a few weeks in SF. Late 2015 found us in Brazil. We also spent last summer in Amsterdam and Berlin and hope to work remotely in Europe again this coming summer. As far as our personal lives, Christian and I are in a relationship in addition to being business partners (it’s been said that business partners are practically married by default anyway), so we may finally take the plunge and find an apartment together, which will fulfill our dual dream of buying a proper couch and having real space to design and curate.