Jonas Zieher on growth, founding ACRE, and re-evaluating “what a design studio can and should be”
According to Jonas Zieher, ACRE is not just about independence, but about the power of collaboration and the collective creative vision. Having launched the design company after several years at Pentagram and SPIN, the London-based Founder & Creative Director takes us through the valuable lessons he has learned throughout his career, and tells us how they have shaped the blueprint for ACRE. We also delve into the challenges of setting up a studio, the meaning behind the name ACRE, and the studio’s approach to sustainability.
PT Hi Jonas, how are you?
JZ I’m doing well, thanks! Thank you for the fantastic opportunity to talk about ACRE and share my journey.
PT You’re very welcome :) First things first, why did you opt to start your own studio, rather than stay independent under your own name?
JZ Independence definitely has its merits, but the vision for ACRE goes beyond that. I firmly believe in the power of collaboration, and during my previous roles at Pentagram and as Partner at SPIN, working with the wonderful teams, I have experienced first-hand what can be achieved when working collaboratively. Working together, we multiply our creative capabilities and skill sets, can tackle larger projects and can create more value for our clients. Also, it’s simply more enjoyable. I see ACRE as a home for a collective output united by a shared creative vision.
I’ve found that pursuing the things I’m most scared of has been a good compass for personal growth.
PT What have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learned throughout your career to date?
JZ Personally, I’ve found that pursuing the things I’m most scared of has been a good compass for personal growth. Professionally, a few lessons stand out – the most powerful design work often happens when creative experiments are not only allowed, but encouraged. Fostering a culture where a team can ideate and create freely without too many restrictions or fear of failure at the beginning of a project, is a reliable path to fresh, innovative and authentic design. It’s often the ideas that wait in spontaneity, serendipity, and unintentionality that resonate in a way that nothing else can. Two, the best outcomes happen when the relationship between the client and the design studio is built on mutual trust and respect. To me, this means communicating transparently and entering projects with a certain open-mindedness and genuine ambition. And thirdly, understanding the importance of adaptability. The creative world is in constant flux, and being flexible and open to change – whether technologically or culturally – has been a cornerstone of my professional growth. Navigating change is at the core of what design is, and something that our clients typically ask us to help with.
I see ACRE as an opportunity to re-evaluate what a design studio can and should be.
PT How did these lessons shape your vision for ACRE?
JZ All of these lessons continue to find their way into our daily practice and are influencing the culture I want to foster in the studio. In many places the design industry still seems to work based on principles that are decades old, and I see ACRE as an opportunity to re-evaluate what a design studio can and should be, and to do things differently – whether that’s by our approach to working remotely, by using technology, or by taking an active approach to building diversity and sustainability into the company.
PT How did you come up with the name?
JZ As I’m sure most creatives will tell you, coming up with a studio name can be a real nightmare. Design is a crowded market and I didn’t want to compromise on finding a name that’s meaningful, simple and memorable. I was very happy when I finally landed on ACRE and realised the domain acre.studio was available. The word ACRE is derived from ‘æcer,’ Old English for ‘open field.’ Just as an open field nurtures growth and life, ACRE embodies an open, curious, and experimental perspective. To me, ACRE is a space where creativity flourishes; a creative endeavour.
PT What challenges did you encounter when setting up your own studio?
JZ Creating a brand for a design studio felt like an exercise in self-reflection and introspection, both in terms of defining the studio’s profile on a strategic level, but also when finding the right visual tone. We’ve ended up designing a house font for the studio, collaborating with typographer Michel Bütepage, and built some more expressive animated visuals around a sophisticated typographic structure. Writing a business plan, financing the studio and creating an effective organisational structure was challenging too. Luckily the one thing that was surprisingly easy was to build a team, as I was able to reignite contacts with some incredibly talented people I’ve worked with in the past.
PT And what does this new chapter mean for you?
JZ Running a company is quite a different task to being a designer. While I will always love the creative work and plan to stay hands-on as much as possible, I have also come to embrace this new challenge and have (quite unexpectedly to be honest) found joy in the management side of the business too.
PT Do you plan to grow the team, or do you enjoy working in isolation?
JZ While we have a clear ambition to grow, it’s not our main priority. I’m aware that graphic design is quite an unpredictable business, and I would always prefer a smaller team over compromising on the client/studio match or taking on work that doesn’t fit our ambitions, as this is almost a guarantee for a deterioration of the quality of work. As a small company we’re unapologetically personal and driven by a passion to create excellent work.
PT Can you introduce us to ACRE’s creative process?
JZ At ACRE, one of our core strengths lies in our ability to immerse ourselves with the values and ambitions of our clients, whether they’re global corporations, smaller businesses, or cultural institutions. Collaborating closely with our clients, we distil this down into a concise strategic platform which forms the basis for the creation of a compelling and fresh visual language which we then expand to cover all required touchpoints. This approach ensures that we don’t just produce eye candy visuals, but create design that works for our clients, ensuring a certain aesthetic sustainability and tangible results.
Motion is an incredibly effective bridge between brands and their audience.
PT Why is motion so critical for today’s brands?
JZ In the age of social media, motion is an incredibly effective bridge between brands and their audience. Considering motion as an integral part when creating a new identity is one of ACRE’s core strengths. It’s a powerful tool that can bring delight, add excitement, and convey complex narratives succinctly. Motion is no longer an add-on but a vital component in building holistic, immersive brand experiences.
PT How has AI impacted your work? How do you feel about creativity in the age of AI?
JZ AI has been a facilitator, offering limited insights and streamlining tasks. But the heart of ACRE, its creative pulse, is profoundly human. While AI can aid and accelerate, it’s the human touch, the emotion, the intuition that drives true innovation and connects with audiences on a deeper level. In the age of AI, it’s this human-centric creativity that – at least at this current point – remains irreplaceable.
To design without our planet in mind is to create problems rather than solutions.
PT What is your approach to sustainability as a small studio?
JZ With record temperatures all around the world, to design without our planet in mind is to create problems rather than solutions. While our direct environmental impact as a small studio is minimal by nature, we do everything to act sustainably and help our clients to do so too. We consider environmental and social impacts as part of every proposal and production process. Not every design output will be carbon-neutral or fully climate-friendly yet, but every project is an opportunity to make real progress. Our mission statement is to utilise creative excellence to shape the future we are longing for, and have not yet experienced. I believe that our job as designers is to build bridges between today and tomorrow so irresistibly beautiful, that crossing them becomes the only thing that matters.
PT The coming soon ‘Supply’ section on ACRE’s site looks intriguing. Can you give us an insight into that, and anything else we can expect throughout the rest of the year?
JZ As designers we’re in a unique position. We get a lot of insight into a broad range of industries and have a unique skill set when it comes to production. Born out of this thought, we’re working on an exciting conceptual range of products that we are hoping to launch in the next year.