Design love: Design Army
July 20 2010
Design Army is one of best and brightest design firms in the D.C. metropolitan area.
Started in 2003 by Jake and Pum Lefebure, Design Army works with everyone from the Washington Ballet to AIGA to the Washingtonian. Their work has been consistently awarded and praised across the design industry. As part of our Design Love series, we caught up with Jake and Pum to find out why being a husband-and-wife team has helped their small studio flourish.
IDSGN: How did the two of you meet?
PUM: We met in Washington, DC. I was an intern, Jake was a new designer. It was just another typical DC romance—but ours lasted.
JAKE: We both began our careers in the mid ’90s at a design studio. I was as a designer and Pum was the intern—this was our first and last job. After many late nights and weekends at the studio it just seemed natural that we start dating—I mean we spent almost all of our time together so we might as well make good use of the few remaining hours each day as well. Soon we were doing laundry, grocery shopping and everything else together and it was not long before we were together 24/7. Right around 1999 is when we started to freelance together and really thought to ourselves that we could do this forever. At first it was mainly for a creative outlet since we never had full creative freedom in the studio—and it was a great way to pay for vacations, and eventually a wedding in Bangkok! So for almost 15 years Pum and I have logged many design hours and design awards, but the best thing ever we ever created was our daughter, Sophie, who is now six.
What made you decide to take your relationship to the next level and go into business together?
PUM: We worked long hours, the long hours became ‘happy hour,’ then happy hour got happier, then the next thing you know it’s the next level. Also, we knew that we would not find the perfect studio to work for. So, we decided to create our own from scratch. We were young enough to take that risk.
JAKE: I think it was our desire to be successful in design—we both have a great work ethic and we both wanted nothing more than to win awards starting out, but as time went on we also wanted to make some money and having worked at the large agency and seeing the good and bad side of business we knew what to do to make Design Army prosper (or fail) we would have to go all-in and commit—to the company/creative and to each other—to make it happen.
What are the best and worst parts of living and working together?
PUM: Best, we have more time to discuss our business and new ideas. Worst, we have more time to discuss our business and new ideas.
JAKE: Best, getting to see each other every day. Lots of couples have different work schedules and in our profession there are a lot of late nights, stress, and weekends at the office. Worst, I have to ride to work with Pum everyday. I have no place to escape. But it does save on gas!
How do you balance studio life and personal time?
PUM: Anyone who looking for balancing work and life is probably not truly enjoying what they do. I ‘integrate’ work to life and make it fun. For example, our daughter goes on photo scout with us all the time on the weekend. She sees what we do and has a good understanding of creative process—for a 5 year old. She enjoys seeing different things, being at different places, and we get work done. We make work fun so work it is no longer work.
Anyone who looking for balancing work and life is probably not truly enjoying what they do. I ‘integrate’ work to life and make it fun.
JAKE: I don't think they are ever balanced—you just learn to blend it all together and keep moving forward.
What are some of the odd things that take place at a husband/wife design studio?
PUM: Sleeping in the same room when you're on business trip.
JAKE: We keep Design Army as professional as we can, and try not promote the marriage as a marketing tool. We will often have clients that think we are siblings or cousins until they find out about our daughter—her drawings hanging are everywhere at Design Army—and then they make the connections.
How long have you been married? How long have you been designing together?
PUM: We've been together since 1997, married in 2001, started Design Army in 2003.
JAKE: We have been married for long time and designing with each other even longer. I try not to count the years so I can feel young.
Do you think some couples just aren't up for it?
PUM: Can't speak for others. We are very lucky that it works for us.
JAKE: It takes a lot of patience to work together—but Pum and I are on the same page to make the work the best it can be. So long as you do not allow any egos to overpower the relationship it can work. You have to have common goals to make the marriage/work relationship successful.
How do you manage disagreements in the workplace?
PUM: It's healthy to disagree at work. Jake and I not always agree. But when it's time to make final decision, we usually are on the same page. To me, work is life. I can't separate so I'm not trying to separate. I ‘integrate’ and ‘embrace’ the work/life concept.
JAKE: We do a decent job of splitting work and life—but they are so blended it's often very blurry on what is what. At work, I take care of the business, vendors, and clients as my main job role; Pum is in charge of the creative, designers, and also plays a large role in the business. We try to keep out of each other's areas—but it's hard to do and that's when the F-bombs start to drop. But even after we have a spat, it's over very quickly. We know that we are just to busy to sweat the small stuff and know that a deadline will kick both our asses unless we focus and move forward.
We know that we are just to busy to sweat the small stuff and know that a deadline will kick both our asses unless we focus and move forward.
Did you ever think you would marry another designer?
PUM: Not really. But I always knew I would be married to a sharp/witty man.
JAKE: I don't think I would get married again; once is enough.
Could you have married a bad designer, or a designer that didn't challenge you to be better?
PUM: I'm always drawn to talented/passionate people so I’m not sure if I would be attracted to someone who doesn’t love what they do. I'm so passionate about design and I need someone who understands, and accepts me being a workaholic. Finding a partner is not so much about challenging each other. It's more about supporting each other and knowing each other’s strengths.
JAKE: No—I can't stand sloppy or lazy. Pum is the most driven designer I had ever met and she has no fear of risk.
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