The practice: Emily Oberman’s witty studio

Published:  April 9, 2015

Words by Emily Oberman, partner at Pentagram

Before Pentagram, and before I started my own design practice, No. 17 with Bonnie Siegler, I worked for Tibor Kalman at M&Co. for six years. This is where I learned about collaborative environments, about ‘the best idea wins’, and about laughter in the studio. It was a very open space, there were no closed doors and often projects would involve the contribution of everyone in the studio.

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Pentagram is set up as a series of small design studios within one company. Each partner has their own team and is responsible for their own P&L (profit and loss), budgets and overheads, while the overarching structure allows for collaboration between partners, and a common database for everything — from vendors to snacks. It is within this structure that I like to be as collaborative as possible, and encourage a witty environment.

My goal is for the designers I work with to feel like they own their project. When working with a team, it isn’t about executing an idea that I have — in fact, it is often me loving an idea that they have, and working with them to flesh it out. It’s ‘the best idea wins’, so that, in the end, everybody who has worked on the project feels ownership of it.

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I want everyone to be excited and proud about the work they are doing, so I search for ways to make that part of the process. I like to do wall crits when we are designing logos, where the team talks it through as a group. I like designers to work in pairs or small teams, so you have the potential of different combinations of ideas depending on who is working with whom, for interesting and new perspectives on each project.

I come from the school of encouragement, rather than fear or disappointment. I like laughter. I like a smart team with humour and wit. Before I experienced that with Tibor, I learned it from my parents. I grew up laughing a lot and I want that in the work that we do, and the way we feel as a team.

This article first appeared in the February/March issue of desktop. Click here to subscribe. 

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