Decimal’s Gabrielle Harlid on becoming a partner and their international, collaborative approach
As their namesake would imply, Decimal take great interest in the minutia. The agency – located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, yet operating globally – pride themselves on their meticulous attention to detail and vast technical expertise. Having recently become a Partner, Stockholm-based Gabrielle Harlid reveals more to us about her relationship to the agency and its distinctive ways of working.
PT Hi Gabrielle! How are you?
GH I’m good! I’m excited to get to chat with you!
PT Can you tell us the story behind you joining Decimal as a partner? How did the conversations begin?
GH I have been working with one of the partners, Cherif, for a long time. He took me under his wing when I was just a baby in the industry, and a big part of my work skills I’ve learnt through watching him. I left my full-time agency job in 2020 to start freelancing and this was right around the time Cherif and Guillermo founded Decimal.
When they got their first project signed they asked if I wanted to work on it and I haven’t left them since! We started touching on the partner subject last year when I was juggling freelancing for four different agencies at once, and to be honest, I was already so invested in Decimal that it felt like a natural (but of course also scary) next step.
At Decimal, all partners are still very involved in our client projects.
PT How would you describe your role there? What do you typically do on a daily basis?
GH My background is product management, and when I work on projects I work as a product manager/producer/product lead (there are still too many titles for this job!). In this role, I do a little bit of everything, but mainly I’m responsible for the end product, assuring we’re delivering what the client has expected (and a little more), and that this is being delivered on time. I’m the liaison between the client and our team, making sure requirements are met both from a functional standpoint as well as from a visual standpoint. My days mainly consist of meetings – I meet clients and team members making sure the project is moving along on all fronts.
At Decimal, all partners are still very involved in our client projects so this part of my job hasn’t really changed much. Since becoming a partner, however, a lot of my time also goes to operational work, making sure we have proper processes in place, and that our team members are happy, challenged, educated, and paid of course. I also spend a lot of time finding and acquiring new clients, which is something I had never done in the past.
PT What do you think sets Decimal apart from other agencies?
GH The main thing I’d say is how we work. We’re a small full-time core team with a huge network to pull experts from. The founders of Decimal have worked to build this network since ten years back and this has resulted in a large roster of amazing and talented people to work with. This allows us to build teams catered to our clients’ needs.
When I worked at a traditional (pre-COVID) agency in NYC I could have three projects one day, and five the next. Projects were assigned to the person that had the most time and time was generally something everyone was trying to get more of. With our approach, every team member working on a project has actively said yes to that specific project, and everyone is here for a reason. This makes for small, nimble and high-performing teams, which we think contributes to an overall sense of happiness and achievement. With this approach we’ve also become experts at working across time zones – something I think we all must get more used to in the coming years.
PT During your time so far, which has been a standout project to work on? Why so?
GH I’ll give you two projects. I’ve been working with a satellite company called SkyFi for about a year. They offer satellite imagery to businesses and consumers and they have opened up a world that’s entirely unknown to me. This is the main reason I love working at agencies – I get to learn about such specific subject matters I’d never interact with if it wasn’t for the client teaching me.
The other project is a documentary called ‘Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets,’ directed by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper. The documentary is about the Game Stop shorting of 2021, and we worked with them on graphics for the film. This was extra exciting because I had been following the Game Stop events closely at the time, but also because I got to see the process of film production. The documentary is presented by MSNBC and can be streamed on Peacock. I recommend everyone to watch!
PT We love the new website! What was the development process like?
GH We wanted to refresh our brand identity as well as design our new site. We worked on two parallel tracks: one team focused on the visual elements of the brand while another team tackled the content architecture and the interactive elements. As the visual side was taking shape, we found opportunities to apply it to the new site, for example as we are called Decimal, we thought it would be relevant to develop a custom set of numbers, created in collaboration with type designer Letterjuice. We implemented those figures on a custom loader. It was about finding small delightful branded moments.
The project took longer than it would have, had it been a client project. It’s tricky being your own client since you can always give yourself more time to keep exploring and change the brief as you go. As is often the case for agencies, revisiting your website means revisiting yourself, your values and definition; this process of self-reflection is very healthy but takes a lot of time and consideration. We’re incredibly proud of the end result and feel our personalities shine through a little more through our new website.
We took the time to think through our values and how we speak about ourselves.
PT Why was it time for a refresh?
GH When Decimal was founded in early 2020, we got our first client so fast we had to get something up on the web rather quickly. The intent was always to keep working on the site but client work took priority, and we never got the time we needed to think about how we wanted to present ourselves to the world. The original website was beautiful, but it was lacking depth, both from a visual standpoint but more so from a content standpoint. When we finally decided it was time for a refresh, we took the time to think through our values and how we speak about ourselves – something that had just been going on autopilot until now. We had also grown so much from when we started and had so much work to show to anyone that was interested.
PT How do you navigate your time between Stockholm and NYC?
GH I try to go to NYC every three-four months and spend a couple of months there every time. I still spend the majority of my time in Sweden but I try to avoid the dark winters by extending the fall in NYC. I used to live in NYC full time and having the opportunity to still spend time there, even after moving back home to Sweden, is a luxury that I’m extremely thankful for.
PT Have you noticed any differences in the design culture and approach to work between the two cities?
GH The Swedish and Scandinavian design culture is very trendy at the moment, so in that sense, the design cultures of NYC and Stockholm are moving closer and closer together. This goes for everything from fashion to interior design to web design. That said, there’s a boldness and need for uniqueness in the NYC design expression. This is more paired back in Stockholm where simplicity is key.
In terms of the approach to work, Swedes have a very different view of work-life balance and a much higher respect for their personal life outside of work. In NYC it’s acceptable to devote your life to work and the city is built around a world where you work all hours of the day. In Sweden, you work to live. People still strive to make a career but not to the extent of their social lives. Even if you were to work as much in Sweden as in NYC, people rarely take pride in their work in Sweden as it’s less of your identity and Swedes are very modest in nature.
PT How is the studio’s team spread out at the moment? How much is it remote versus in the studio together?
GH I’d say about 70% of the team is remote. We have an office in Greenpoint where the NYC team can come in and work. In addition to that we have people in Costa Rica, the UK, Spain, Columbia, Switzerland, and me in Sweden. Since all Decimal partners are European there’s a lot of travelling to go see family members back home, so you never really know what part of the world people will call in from!
PT What is it like working across time zones as a team? How do you make it work?
GH Honestly, I’d say I’ve become a bit of a pro at time zones now! Last week a team member called in from Japan while I was in LA which meant a 17-hour time difference between us!
In general, specifically in a post-pandemic world, I think working across time zones is becoming more and more common, and in a way, I appreciate how it forces us to change our view of ‘work hours.’ I strongly believe no one can be effective for eight hours straight and this new way of working forces us to see our work days more as chunks of work when needed, rather than a 9-5 marathon. When not being stuck in conventional working hours, you get a lot more free time when it’s bright out, working earlier mornings or later evenings instead.
From a team perspective, it’s not as tricky as it sounds. There’s a sweet spot for meetings morning time in the US and afternoon time in Europe. This means we all take a lot of meetings in a chunk when our American team members come online, and then plan our work around that time for things we can do independently of our cross-Atlantic team members.
It took me time to get used to, but now I really enjoy working in Europe. It gives me time to work on things without being disturbed, and I also get time to get groceries and work out when the stores and gyms are empty! This obviously comes with the price of working a lot later than most of my friends and family, but I’ve gotten used to it and come to like it a lot. I also think people that work this way are generally very respectful of other people’s time, and the limited time together forces us to prioritise what’s really important versus what can wait until tomorrow.
We have people that can provide consistency and stability across all our projects.
PT What was the thought process behind having a ‘core team’ alongside a team of recurring collaborators?
GH We’re still learning of course, but the idea of a core team came from our belief that there are a few roles we need in order to assure the overall quality of our work. We want everything we do to be delivered in a package that feels ‘Decimal’ and for this, we have people that can provide consistency and stability across all our projects. That said, the core team and the collaborators are not very different from each other since they all come from a pool of people we know and trust and have worked with in the past. The only difference is that the core team is always there and not brought in for specific project needs.
PT Can you tell us about what you’re working on at the moment?
GH We’ve recently started working with bigger tech companies which has been very interesting and a good mix to some of our smaller startup clients. We’re working on a self-initiated project together with Pentagram about Long COVID – a subject matter we all care deeply about. We’ve done similar agency partnerships in the past and we really enjoy working with other agencies that inspire us. It’s really rewarding to work on mission-driven projects and we’ve just initiated a project with a non-profit organisation that focuses on mental health in higher education.
In addition to our client work, we spend a lot of time trying to enhance how we work with our clients through internal projects. In an effort to stay lean, we try to create internal projects wherever we find room for improvement. Since most of our contracts are hourly based, we just rolled out a client portal to offer our clients a place to track burn across their projects with us. This helps provide a sense of consistency and transparency which we believe creates additional trust all around.
PT What are you most looking forward to in the coming months? And what can we expect from Decimal?
GH We have just kicked off a lot of new projects and that phase is always very exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing how these projects develop and getting to know some of our new clients even better.
We’ve grown a lot as an agency this past year, and I look forward to seeing what we can do even better this year with our new size and added team members. We recently brought in a fourth partner, Frederik Delmotte. He is an old friend and long-time collaborator with impressive expertise and creative vision. He’s already leading some interesting work with a fascinating start-up as well as a luxury brand.
As a lot of people are still working from home, we are exploring ways to be social while being remote and inspiring our community. A couple of months ago we launched ‘Friends of Decimal,’ a space where different creative people from our network can share insights about their work and life through casual Zoom sessions. So far we had a colour designer, an art director from The New York Times, and the Co-founder of the Light Phone, a phone designed to be used as little as possible. These sessions are opportunities to expand our network, find collaborators and just have a good time while learning something new.