We had a lovely ol’ chat with the tiny Toronto trio, Equal Parts Studio, about the pros of a healthy debate when collaborating, how we can all contribute to the advancement of design, and shock horror – guess what!? Nobody has ever looked at their grades. 😉
Tell us a bit about yourself and the studio that you work for. We are Equal Parts Studio, an agile graphic design studio in downtown Toronto, and we focus on brand identity and digital and print design. We’re a three-person team, and between the three of us we speak 5 languages. Rhodi focuses on design and strategy, Peter has more of a neck for design and code, and Tom manages most of the written content.
We launched in 2016 and recently celebrated our first business birthday. Currently, we work mainly with small businesses and startups, but we are open to collaborating with larger organizations or agencies if the project is right.
How do you solve conflicting ideas within a group of collaborators? For each project we work on, there is a strategy to guide us and we make sure everyone is on the same page. If an idea doesn’t align with the strategy, then we know the idea is not a good fit for the project.
Sometimes there might be a debate on which direction might be more aligned with said strategy, and we allow all opinions to be expressed. If someone has an idea or opinion, they need to be able to back it up. If you can’t convince the team members, who know you, work with you, and are themselves creatives, about your idea, it’s highly unlikely that you would be able to convince and sell the idea to a client.
With practice and debate, we all become better at defending and communicating our ideas, and through argument we end up with better, stronger solutions for our clients. It’s a brain exercise all designers have to become open to.
However, if someone really believes in an idea but finds it hard to convince the team, we encourage them to try it out. We’re open to ideas and we’re willing to test them out to see whether they work or not. That will allow them to work on it, and possibly convince the rest of the team. Even if the idea doesn’t work out, it’s still a great learning experience.
Any passion projects you would like to share? Of course! We love passion projects and it’s possible that we have too many. Here’s three:
We created a drawing app to celebrate our first birthday. People can visit it and use graphics from our identity as a brush to draw something, write a funny word, or make an abstract painting. They can save or share their creation with their friends on social media.
In an effort to avoid the common misunderstandings in technology-enabled conversations, we created a Twitter bot that helps you add emotion to your tweets. Feelbot is an experiment, and we hope to one day turn it into and app. For now we’re just interested in putting out projects like this that deal with how we communicate or how we generate content.
Luv is an experiment we worked on last Valentine’s Day. We find the day very corny, of course, so we wanted to have a different conversation about love. The experiment uses hand-drawn typography and an algorithm to produce a different digital valentine every time the page is refreshed. There are over 100.000 possible combinations, which is meant to celebrate how unique and different every type of love is. We wanted to celebrate love’s every shape and form.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice? We try to be as involved with the design community as our schedule allows and to contribute to the development of young talent. We have hosted a few workshops with Eva’s Initiative’s at the Eva’s Phoenix location, have given a talk at OCAD University as part of the professional practice class, taken part in portfolio reviews and panel discussions through the Toronto Design Directory and have also mentored students in the Ladies Learning Code workshops and individual designers in one-on-one sessions. These are all things we hope to continue to do and definitely plan on repeating this year.
These practices definitely help our studio. The most important impact we see is in communication. Interacting with so many different young creatives is helping us become better communicators in general. It also forces us to think quickly on our feet, especially when it comes to giving feedback. We also think that these interactions are helping us slowly prepare for growing our team. We’ve managed designers before, of course, but we think that being the employer might be more challenging. So the more practice the better.
Lastly, we always learn new things from being exposed to different audiences, which helps us stay relevant.
What advice would you give students starting out? Don’t take your time in school for granted. If you feel like the projects you are assigned are not interesting, don’t align with your goals or are not relevant, try to use what you learn in class and apply it to other projects. Design is a process and a way of thinking. If you don’t have the time to take on extra projects, then bargain with your professors. If you can explain what your goals are and why the projects you are assigned won’t add anything to your portfolio, they might admire your conviction. Try to come up with something that blurs the line and can potentially earn you a passing grade and be a portfolio-worthy project. And nobody has ever looked at our grades…
Find mentors and peers! You should definitely spend your first year exploring different areas of design and gaining a foundation for your career but also forming bonds with your peers. It’s great to have someone to send a sketch or logo to and get their feedback, even if you don’t end up getting their advice. You are opening yourself to a different perspective. Spend your second year looking for people to guide you. After your first year you should have a rough idea of what type of work you want to do. Search for people who are doing something similar and ask for their help. It’s easier to get a mentor as a student than as a professional, since not many people would say no to a meeting with a student. These are the people who can help you shape your portfolio and one day recommend you for a position or hire you.
Having passion projects is important because sometimes the work you do for a paycheque does not align with the work you would like to be doing. You don’t have to have many, but make sure the ones you have really reflect your passion and ability.
Some designers start a practice right out of school. Unless you have someone financing you, a few mentors and peers to help you, and freelance clients from your days in school, it’s probably not a great idea. More importantly, though, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to work with other people and learn from them. If you work somewhere even for a few years, it will help you create a network of people you can reach out to and develop some solid communication and collaboration skills!
What do you think the design community could do more of to give back? We think seasoned designers should be more open to meeting with students and helping them out. Being a mentor is rewarding, since you get to pass on knowledge and shape the future of design in your community. Of course you have to mentor someone whom you believe in. Sometimes a student reaches out to you and you might not be the best person to mentor them, but it’s still worth a coffee and sending a few emails to help them out.
Try and contribute to the advancement of design. Whether you do it by providing royalty-free assets, writing tutorials, or facilitating workshops, you are putting a little brick in the foundation of our profession, and you are also helping others join in designing, making, and building better things.
Advocate for design ethics and best practices. Everyone is tempted to trade their ethics or best practices for a quick buck, but if you give in it will hurt not only you and your practice but our industry in the future. Help your mentees make good decisions by leading by example.