Forth + Back

We caught up with Creative Directors/Partners of Forth + Back studio Tanner Woodbury and Nikolos Killian. They explain how they decided on the name Forth + Back; give their take on the qualities and skills they look for in a graduate and how the "only way to do it, is to do it."

Did you have a plan for graduation and what actually happened?

The short answer is no. We were in the same design program and had classroom dreams of starting our own studio together. Upon graduation, we gathered the small accumulation of work we had and put it up under the name Forth + Back. We went on to work at other studios in Los Angeles (Tanner at National Forest and Nik at Italic) for a handful of years, learning valuable skills not only about design, but also about everything it takes to run a studio. In our off-time, we would apply these skills to anything and everything we could get our hands on, and continue to build our portfolio with Forth + Back. Eventually, we felt stable enough to take the jump and devote our full time to running the studio.

How did you name your practice and what does the name represent to you?

If a “back and forth” represents a dialogue, then the name Forth + Back represents our personal approach to creating visual communication. We embrace the struggle that is inherent in a “back and forth” because we see it as an honest acceptance of the process. The process of design is much more messy and haphazard than most practitioners would have you believe. Accepting this, allows us to find what we like to call a project’s unique rhythm - or what makes it “feel good”. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s our retrospective answer. The truth is a certain hip hop song came on one night and things just clicked.

Design work by Forth + Back The Design Kids interviews Forth + Back work-2

How does the local culture of where you live affect your design work and getting clients?

Being that we are located in the extremely diverse city of Los Angeles, the range of potential clients and work is endless. But more than the work opportunities it offers, we savor the many curiosities it cultivates. We love that on the outside, LA is this warm bright beautiful paradise - all of which is true. However, we are also very intrigued by LA’s darker underbelly that is saturated in neon lights and broken dreams. We see LA as this ever growing enigma, and it is just this kind of muse that drives our work.

What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate?

What sets a designer apart is their idiosyncrasies. It’s all that weird shit you know too much about. When these unique passions are allowed to translate into the design process, that is when the work becomes more nuanced and infinitely more rich. We look for kind, honest, and humble individuals who are just that - individuals with a rhythm all their own.

Design work by Forth + Back The Design Kids interviews Forth + Back work-4
Design work by Forth + Back The Design Kids interviews Forth + Back work-4

We embrace the struggle that is inherent in a “back and forth” because we see it as an honest acceptance of the process. The process of design is much more messy and haphazard than most practitioners would have you believe.

Whats the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Start now, and do the work. This goes back to the question about having a plan for graduation. We think you can always be more prepared, but that doesn’t necessarily make you better off. Our professor in school Andrew Byrom (who was also interviewed by TDK) always told us “the only way to do it, is to do it.” It sounds comical but we love the “just figure it out” mentality of this. Thinking back, could we have been better prepared to start our own practice - definitely. However, because we started when we did, we failed fast and gained invaluable working experience. You are always still learning, but there is something to be said for putting in the time and doing the work, rather than reading about others doing the work and trying to glean knowledge from that. Starting now always leads to figuring out what you want later - sooner than later.

Any passion projects/collabs you would like to share?

We take pride in designing and developing a printed mailer each year. What we love most about design work (and we don’t think we’re alone here) is when it gets printed. We’ve heard time and time again that “printed mailers don’t work”, or aren’t worth the fuss and honestly we can’t really dispute this. However, we think at the end of the day, what we enjoy creating is a personal piece of communication that is exciting to receive. We don’t really focus on “selling” or whatever that really means, but more on experimenting, playfully trying to create something that can translate, and share our curiosities with others. So far, we have really enjoyed coming up with a new direction each year, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Design work by Forth + Back The Design Kids interviews Forth + Back work-6
Design work by Forth + Back The Design Kids interviews Forth + Back work-6

Where to find Forth + Back online.

Get involved