[Adam Brodsley & Eric Heiman] We tried to do it. We really did. We ogled the other studios, pristine and airy, captured in meticulously framed photographs, and thought, “Maybe this is the time to finally freshen up the place and get those signature shots.” We started to clean up, but got distracted. Our studio — Volume Inc. — is a busy place.
There are tasks to complete. Projects for clients. Self-initiated work. Posters to send out. Required reading. Some days, getting to lunch can be difficult. Even when clients come over to visit, does our studio (or any studio) ever truly have all its spatial ducks in the proverbial row? With all our work comes initial confusion and disorder, and surely we’re not the only designers who submit our working space to the inevitable chaos that characterizes any productive creative process. (Never mind all the project samples and design detritus we’ve accumulated over the last eight years.) So we thought it might be more interesting and fun to show some of the mess that leads to the resolution of our projects — if not quite our working space.
In the beginning, there was less stuff, more room and no carpet. Our deer, a prop from an early exhibit project with Microsoft, and our office bike, picked up at a used bike store in our San Francisco Mission neighborhood, were the first items to add much-needed color to the space.
Initially our neighborhood was in transition and a little sketchy. Luckily, we’ve had Zulu to scare away potential riffraff. As you can see, he’s always alert, ready to pounce if need be. This is documentation of his signature “rope-a-dope” strategy to deter trouble. Split seconds after our then-intern snapped this photo, Zulu tackled him to ground. The intern was unhurt, but definitely a little shaken, and he soon accepted an offer to work elsewhere. We’ve since trained Zulu — and our interns — better.
Our communal pinup wall is the hub of our process. It’s the visual manifestation of what inspires us, all the ideas swirling in our heads, and all the possible executions of those ideas. It brings the disparate voices in the studio together in a perpetual discussion that continues long after we’ve finished group critiques and returned to our desks to retool and refine.
If these ramshackle collections of work on our pin-up wall makes the more anal-retentive of you anxious — as if you, say, overdosed on too many espressos — please consider this: The one time we did have an organized pinup wall (for the ReadyMade book we designed), Eric had multiple emotional breakdowns from too many late nights, and even went to the emergency room with severe chest pains … from overdosing on too many espressos.
Our environment is not just a collision of different design projects, but people as well. We’ve always been at our best when the studio is bursting at the seams and everyone works in close proximity. We can always turn to the noise-canceling headphones when we really need to buckle down, tune out and get the work done.
Part of our design philosophy (and partial source of the Volume name) is that there are “different volume levels for everyone” — that each project demands its own unique voice, form and style. We’ve had over 40 different people work with us over the last decade, usually between 7 and 12 at a time. That’s a lot of varied personality types, toiling on everything from California Academy of Sciences exhibits to Flip camera skins. We celebrate this rich variety with multiple business cards, often designed very quickly to fill the occasional empty space on press sheets for client print jobs. It’s a fun, eco- and budget-conscious way to celebrate the unique people and work that come through our studio.
Like most designers, if we have one obsessive organizational side, it’s our bookshelves. We lean towards shelving books by subject matter rather than the spine-color trend that’s sweeping the nation … although Adam would argue with Eric’s methodology, since by the time he learns the system, Eric has developed a new one and reorganized the entire shelf again.
Some of our favorite keepsake items we’ve kept out in the studio over the years were sent by clients and friends. Clockwise from top right: Our colleague and friend Bob Aufuldish had custom guitar picks made for Eric’s birthday (“Trev” is one of Eric’s nicknames). The Cooper Black postcard is from Hatch Show Print and was sent to us by one of our web developers, Michael Yap. We agree with its sentiment wholeheartedly. Dave Eggers made the Greek warrior drawing as a thank you for a recent project we completed for him. We’re not sure if it refers to us specifically — and if that’s a good thing or not.
Every once in a while there are those selected studio moments that verge on the surreal and defy explanation. “Good morning, folks. Anybody need coffee? Do you have those revisions for the Mohawk Solutions project finished? Oh, and don’t mind the film crew….”
Ultimately, still photos don’t do our space justice, so we included this handy little video to show the action in motion (and some of the work that came out of it). The process — and consequent mess — continues, so feel free to stop by and witness it anytime. Watch out for the dog.
Adam Brodsley and Eric Heiman are the principals of Volume Inc. Learn more and see their work by downloading the Volume Mini-Guide.