My Experience with a small studio

My experience with a small studio is not a straight-forward one. Over the past eighteen months, I have been involved as a volunteer, contractor, freelancer, potential employee, travel companion, and - most importantly - as a friend. I have witnessed the love of the team, the boldness of the vision, the grit to create it, and the struggles of the process. If I were to give a theme to it all, the ringing sound of John’s classic phrase “this is just the beginning” climbs the list. So let’s start there, at the beginning.

The story starts with a community event called 1 Million Cups, a volunteer organization that supports early-stage entrepreneurship and local communities. Back in early 2019, I was starting my business and looking to build a network in the Seattle startup community, so I hopped into the Wednesday morning event a little sleepy and ready for the free coffee. Caffeine in hand, I was welcomed by someone who introduced themselves as John B. Johnson, which I remember thinking was a pretty cool name. It took about 30 seconds for us to realize that we were in the same business for the same reason: to use our skillsets for good. We set up a coffee chat following the event, and the rest was history. In just a few days, I had gone from hopeful but floundering, to a community organizer of 1MC and the design lead on a dream project (which I’ll get to next). With only a modest body of work to reference, John took me under his wing because of my potential, not my portfolio. I told him my story, my dreams, and where I was in the midst of it. More than my potential, John saw my light, and he held me accountable to it.

Collage of images from 1 Million Cups events

As it turns out, light is hard to hold on to. As grateful as I am to a small studio for their role in launching my career, the projects to unfold became far subordinate to the relationship I built with the team. I was in for a rough year; in many ways I was living two lives, and very few people saw both of them. Lucky for me, when you work with a small studio, you aren’t just a pair of hands to get the job done. You are a valued creative with talent, vision, hardships, and human emotions. It sounds silly to say in such a manner, but I have found few businesses who take friendship as seriously as a small studio. I mean, when was the last time your boss took you by the hands, looked you straight into your mascara-running eyes, and told you that you as a person are more important than the work you do?

Grid of icons depicting ideal attributes in a team member

At this point in the story, I had just met John at 1MC, got on the organizing team, and was on my way to having struck gold by way of creating a community, and a dream philanthropic project to follow it. Mind you, when I say “struck gold,” I do mean in personal value. Being an organizer was a volunteer position, as was taking on the design role for Cause to Connect. So no money was involved, but in return I was at the focal point of a supportive, and vibrant community. I was being challenged and pushed as a leader, and was spending my creative energy on bringing internet to developing countries. Anyone who is familiar with the philosophy of my studio, you’ll understand why it felt like a gold mine.

Once again, my excitement over the bullet-point achievements was quickly dwarfed by the growth that followed them. While designing the brand for Cause to Connect, I saw the process of identity design through the lens of a small studio. I watched John orchestrate a room, I collaborated with Troy to take my vision to the next level, and I thought more about internet cables than ever before. Every project I have been involved in holds a special meaning to it, and Cause to Connect holds space in my memory as the project that taught me the difference between creating a logo and excavating an identity.

From there, our collaborations continued to grow, both in scope of work and physical geography. As I navigated the woes of being an untraditional freelancer, there was always an underlying purpose that kept me looped in: above all else, we knew we wanted to use what we were good at to help the world as best we could. It was as simple, cheesy, and genuine as that. Over the summer months and into the fall of 2019, our shared purpose drove us to pull late-night Zoom conferences to accommodate international time zones, meeting for coffee at 7:00 am to talk business (but mostly life), and getting jazzed about grids and nerdy design things along the way. We even made it to Madagascar and back, sharing memories of profound take-aways from Identity Architecture workshop, and a very long night of food poisoning. Reflecting back, these types of mile-markers have become somewhat nostalgic, frozen in time in the way that you laugh-cry at yourself when you make a floozie mistake like run into a screen door. As I alluded earlier, it wasn’t a year of all sunshine and rainbows. However, it absolutely was a year of trial, love, and friendship.

Timeline of Kenzie's time working with a small studio

Fast forward to today, and I am a part-time contractor with a small studio, and still running Studio Wild; venturing forward on the same mission I started on. If there’s a single snapshot that captures our current working dynamic, it’s this one: after spending a few weeks mulling over how to incorporate more illustration, writing, and big-picture thinking into my work, I hopped on a morning call with Troy for our weekly sync, and he gave me the assignments of: illustrating postcards in my own style, dreaming up a business I wish existed and designing the interface (or applicable medium) for it, and writing this article. Needless to say, I was stoked, and it was a tangible reminder that I was being called on for my own creativity, not for the agenda of a bottom line. My experience has led me to know that when a small studio says their mission is to “use our gifts to bring peace to peoples’ lives,” they mean it. Every time I start to lose sight of it myself, John, Troy, and the team real me back to focus and push me to grow in the areas I show interest. They see my light and push me to live into it fully.

This has been my experience with a small studio, and though I can’t say for certain where it will go from here, one thing is for sure: this is just the beginning.