idsgn (a design blog)

Design love: SML Office

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July 22 2010

Identity and Branding for a Zurich toy manufacturer, 2006

SML Office is an up-and-coming design firm in Zurich, Switzerland.

Based in Zurich, Nico Schweizer and Jennifer Wagner founded SML Office in 2009. Since then they have been taking on numerous projects including everything from branding to typeface design. Their work has been recognized by AIGA, The Type Director's Club, ADC, and the Society for Publication Designers. As a part of our Design Love series, we contacted the busy couple about what makes SML office tick.

IDSGN: How did the two of you meet?

SML: In a restaurant in Little Italy, August 1996.

What made you decide to take your relationship to the next level…and go into business together?

Marriage and children have taken us into a much deeper level than anything ever could, but working together serves the best interest in raising our family. It certainly was the catalyst for going into business together. Being able to work and spend as much time with our children as possible in this most untraditional way is difficult but also liberating. For both of us, as long as the project is done and done well who cares where the work was created and at what time of day. Our children see our work woven into our daily lives and not as an abstract thing. We think it's healthy for them to see our dedication and that we enjoy what we do.

Jennifer Wagner and Nico Schweizer, SML Office

What are the best and worst parts of living and working together?

The best would be the spontaneity and organic way of how ideas are made. Creativity is not limited to a certain place and time. The worst would be of course the disagreements. I [Jennifer] hated Nico’s criticism in the beginning and now welcome it. I crave it actually, having been disconnected from a larger office environment for quite some time.

I hated Nico’s criticism in the beginning and now welcome it. I crave it actually…

How do you balance studio life and personal time?

To be honest we are rarely in the studio at the same time. One day a week with all 3 of us physically in the same room is plenty. One of us is always in the office with our business partner while the other works from the home office. This seems to work well. We are always in contact throughout the day of course with iPhone, iChat and email. These varying forms of communication break any static pattern and being in different places for part of the day is healthy. We gave up the television almost 2 years ago and we're amazed at how much more time there is in the day besides work. As a family we are constantly making things and developing our own family life avoiding parental peer pressure groups as best we can. So it seems that our personal time is wrapped up in the family, but if one of us needs time alone we both honor that very, very well.

What are some of the odd things that take place at a husband/wife design studio?

Probably the occasional much needed afternoon siesta, sometimes working on the laptop with child on the laptop, writing and designing a cookbook with our children.

I.D. Magazine

How long have you been married, and how long have you been designing together?

We have been married for 10 years. We tried many times to start a business while holding various full-time jobs and could never manage to make it take off. We started designing freelance projects for a record label from the very start of our relationship 14 years ago.

How do you manage disagreements in the workplace?

The best way is with humor and our partner, Melanie, makes a great buffer. With respect to her we wouldn't want to drag her into any of our arguments.

Is it possible to separate work life from personal life?

Of course it's possible. Even though we work in an unorthodox way and it seems like the boundaries are blurred we both manage to keep meaningful hobbies and side projects excluding the other. Nico has his font design and toy projects. Jennifer has illustration, cooking, gardening and German lessons. We both read as much as we can and rarely the same books. We both need to take a sport/physical exercise seriously, this is something that is missing for sure.

Signage typeface for Lester B. Pearson Airport

Even though we work in an unorthodox way and it seems like the boundaries are blurred we both manage to keep meaningful hobbies and side projects…

Did you ever think you would marry another designer?

The creative type yes, but not necessarily a designer

Could you have married a bad designer, or a designer that didn’t challenge you to be better?

Of course, but we probably wouldn't be working together.

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By Thomas Wilder