What do studios and employers look for in a great creative team and inspiring collaborators? In partnership with Creative Lives in Progress, we’re launching Team Building; a series setting out to investigate just that. We’ve called upon some shining industry figures to share their ultimate creative collaborators, and what makes each of them so desirable. Next up, we pass dream-hire duties onto New York-based Jessica Walsh, founder of &Walsh, and formerly of Sagmeister & Walsh.
Illustrations by Imo Crossland.
A household name in the world of design, Jessica Walsh worked alongside Stefan Sagmeister for nine years as the co-founder of famed design studio Sagmeister & Walsh, before founding her own creative agency &Walsh in 2019. Through this new venture, she helps clients develop their brand strategy, art direction, design and production. The studio joins the startlingly low 0.1% of creative agencies owned by women across the globe, a shocking figure that Jessica and her team are striving to change. This has resulted in the studio dedicating a large portion of their time to self-initiated projects for social causes – including mental health, politics and championing female and non-binary voices – by developing books and organizations, as well as hosting events and exhibitions.
When it comes to putting together a dream list of collaborators, finding people who possess a drive for change is crucial for Jessica, as well as prioritizing a diverse mix of talent; “Not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in terms of design styles, ways of thinking and lived experiences,” she says. “[I’m looking for] people who are team players, who want to make great work together. People who are super-passionate about their work and who give a shit about the end result.”
So who exactly did Jessica pick for her fantasy creative team? As she admits, whittling down her dream collaborators from an endless list of “incredible, amazing women” in her life wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. For starters, there’s her sister Lauren, who runs the new business and strategy side of things at &Walsh, and her mum, who works alongside her on Ladies, Wine & Design (LW&D), Jessica’s non-profit initiative striving for greater diversity in the industry. Her final line-up is an incredible mix of powerhouse women from various corners of the creative world, all of whom bring truly admirable careers, approaches and perspectives to our latest fantasy team.
Meet Jessica’s fantasy teammates
Born in Brooklyn, Debbie Millman is perhaps best-known for her now-iconic podcast series, Design Matters. Founded in 2005, it was one of the first audio shows centered around design and how it relates to the world of creativity, and it truly paved the way for a huge wave of design-focused shows that followed. In that time, she’s interviewed more than 400 thought leaders, including Marina Abramovič, Steven Pinker, Milton Glaser, Barbara Kruger and Alain de Botton.
Alongside hosting Design Matters, Debbie is an accomplished writer – with six books under her belt – an educator, designer, artist and curator, who continually sheds light on important fellow artists and designers working today. “Debbie is not only an amazing designer, author and teacher, but an amazing human,” says Jessica. “I have so much respect for what she does for the design world and how much she constantly gives to the community.”
How can you be more like Debbie Millman?
Try something new
Looking at Debbie Millman’s impressive career to date, you can see that she’s always had her fingers in many pies – and all for the right reasons. After majoring in English with a minor in Russian literature from University at Albany, she made the leap to creative direction work, landing a role with radio station HOT 97, before going on to work with various brands like Pepsi, Gillette and Colgate. She also served as the editorial and creative director of design and culture publication Print, before founding Design Matters, and has contributed articles to numerous media outlets. There’s no task too big or varied for Debbie, who proves that it’s always worth trying out multiple skills and disciplines to figure out what you like doing – a perfect quality to demonstrate to any future collaborator.
Share your knowledge
Debbie is an educator through and through, and her generous outlook on creativity and community is utterly desirable for any employer seeking to expand their team. To be more like Debbie, don’t shy away from letting your knowledge and talents be heard. Not only did she found a graduate programme in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, she also became the president emeritus of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), as one of only five women to hold the position in its 100-year history. It doesn’t stop there either; she’s also a regular keynote speaker and curates shows on art and design.
Shantell is a London-born, New York-based artist acclaimed for her large-scale, black-and-white drawings. In fact, if you’ve found yourself in NYC over the past few years, chances are you’ve stumbled across one of her pieces adorning the walls of a restaurant or building facade. She’s also known for performing her process in front of a live audience, and has collaborated with the New York City Ballet, as well as artists such as Kendrick Lamar and designer Kelly Wearstler. Drawing on her own experiences, Shantell’s works touch on themes including identity, intersectionality and play, resulting in pieces that are both thought-provoking and joyful to behold.
A confident, recognizable style is something Jessica is drawn to, making Shantell an ideal fantasy teammate and collaborator. “[Her] work is lovely, iconic and has always resonated with me,” she says. “I don’t buy much art because I don’t have many places to put it, but I do have one of her pieces. I have a lot of respect for people like Shantell who carve out such a unique style that when you see the work, you immediately know it’s them.”
How can you be more like Shantell Martin?
Don’t rush finding your style
One major learning that Shantell has shared is to never rush the process, especially when it comes to developing your own style. Having grown up in London, she’s since lived in both Japan and New York, and it was in the midst of traveling that she learnt this golden nugget of wisdom: A skill, style or career cannot be rushed. Japan taught her that people master things over generations, and that it really is a patience game. With so much experience under her belt, Shantell doesn’t shy away from hard graft, and has an appreciation for new, exciting experiences – two qualities that make her a magnetic artist and collaborator.
Collaboration is key
It’s safe to say that collaboration has become a key element of Shantell’s practice, allowing her to try out new things in the process. So let this be a reminder for all you budding creatives out there! If you want to avoid being pigeon-holed for doing just one thing, Shantell is a prime example of testing multiple formats to build recognition across various sectors and corners of the industry. By applying her sketchy linework to everything from live drawing performances to workshops, she’s demonstrated an adaptability and willingness to experiment. In turn, she’s attracted a multitude of collaborative projects, stretching from work with fashion brands and shoe makers to scientists and musicians.
For her final teammate, Jessica has chosen Mona Chalabi, a British data journalist, writer, illustrator and host. Also based in New York, Mona is widely known for working with publications such as The Guardian, The New Yorker, The New York Times and FiveThirtyEight. Most crucially, Mona’s work is all driven by her mission to “take the numb out of numbers” by making big data more digestible and inclusive for a wide range of readers. As such, she creates pastel-tinted graphs and charts that shed light on all kinds of topics, from the number of Americans eating pizza for breakfast, to more pressing issues, such as voting, disability rights, racial injustice and coronavirus antibody testing.
When considering dream teammates, it’s Mona’s ability to condense timely issues and complicated data in such an engaging way that gets the biggest tick from Jessica. As she says, “Mona takes complex information and conveys it in digestible ways that explain all types of important, and sometimes difficult, topics. Her work is really important and makes an impact on the world.” All of which has converted Jessica into a “big fan and admirer” of Mona’s.
How can you be more like Mona Chalabi?
Make work that matters to you
Mona always goes the extra mile with her research, making sure she’s accurately representing the topics at hand, and in the most relatable way possible. No matter what theme she’s addressing, her desire to make an impact is the common thread that runs throughout. To do so, she uncovers data that really matters, and communicates it in the simplest terms for a broad audience. Keeping this clear goal in mind inevitably feeds into her distinctive use of colour, charming drawing style and storytelling, making it easily absorbed by any viewer, who might in turn be inspired to make change.
Use social media to your advantage
Whether sharing insight on hair removal preferences, police brutality in the US or antisemitism in Europe, Mona’s illustrative charts and graphs have reached far and wide in the online sphere. This has been helped, in no small part, by her well-followed social media profiles, with some of her works being shared up to two million times on Instagram. By putting time and energy into sharing content online, she’s been able to reach a huge audience, meaning many more people can learn from her work and push for action. It also helps that she’s super-easy to find online – something to bear in mind if you want to get noticed by any studio, let alone Jessica and her team!
We’re sure you’ll agree, Jessica’s fantasy team is a force to be reckoned with. If we have one key takeaway from her line-up, it’s to keep on doing what you’re doing – but just make sure you’re doing it with purpose and patience.