With its witty, urban style and firm grasp of the zeitgeist, the work of Washington, D.C., firm Design Army has achieved a rising profile in recent years. In this latest installment in our series on creative practitioners and their studios, principals Jake and Pum Lefebure talk about how their practice has informed their workspace … and vice versa.
[Jake & Pum Lefebure] Designers are messy creatures. Between the piles of books, mugs of caffé lattes and works in progress, clutter is an automatic accessory to any design studio. It was with that in mind that we crafted the color palette of our workspace — pristine and white. The color would come naturally from the mess left behind by our staff.
Creative clutter aside, the Design Army studio is open, with lots of white space. It’s the way we work. After all, the best design tool is still a white piece of paper. We sketched out our studio aesthetic just as we would a project concept: Clean space equals clean design. That’s our design philosophy for every client, whether they work in the arts, education or even politics (yes, our office is a stone’s throw from Capitol Hill).
Finding the right workspace proved to be a creative adventure. After littering our house (staff of two) with PMS chips and swatch files for a year, we moved to an old house (staff of six) near the convention center in 2004. That location had issues: AC problems, a semi-functioning microwave and live-in rats. A designer even got mugged sitting outside having a smoke. (He quit.)
In 2008, “change” was the national rallying cry, so we moved (now with a staff of 11) to our current digs — a row house in northeast D.C that was once a pool hall. We kept most of the original façade, added another level and built a “half” floor — now a kitchen and roof deck, which offers great views of the U.S. Capitol and Union Station. Where we once had a broken microwave and rodents, we now have weekly snacks on the roof and a picture of our beloved bulldog Dale, the official Design Army mascot (Dale died a few years ago).
We’re not a corporate/high-rise, elevator-equipped firm — never were, never will be. We prefer stairs and an open work environment, so our revamped row house suits us well. It accommodates the frenetic pace of our designers. Everyone has space to make creative messes, but at the same time can work together toward the same clear vision.
Clarity rules at Design Army — both in our creative strategy and our physical environment. We get lots of sunlight thanks to multiple skylights and large windows. Natural light = productivity. And productivity is driven by selectivity. We pride ourselves on being practical (results count) yet discerning (we don’t do work unless we believe in it). That means we dabble in a little bit of everything, from high-end collateral for the University of Virginia and Signature Theatre to nonprofit work for the Washington Ballet and AIGA. The AIGA Gain conference is close to our heart. Design Army thrives by balancing design passion with business strategy, and Gain celebrates that creative crossroads. [See Felt & Wire’s earlier post on the Gain site design here.]
Even though we started with a white canvas, we also went green: The office has a bamboo floor, recycled ceiling panels, painted raw steel railings and energy-efficient appliances. Of course our workspace color palette is also a reflection of our brand — the building is red and the floors brown. The only Design Army color missing in our studio is mint, but we chew lots of gum to compensate.
While we strive to be environmentally green and logo-centrically red and brown, we are equal opportunity color consumers. That’s why we feature “Color Consumption,” an ongoing collection of Design Army’s favorite color combinations on our Facebook page. It’s a big hit with our followers and a meaningful extension of our workspace and design philosophy: good and clean and fun.
The editor wishes to point out that not only is Design Army’s work attracting admiration, but so is the Lefebures’ financial savviness. And speaking of attractiveness, the stylish Lefebures’ dress is also drawing favorable attention.