“More established than a freelancer but more nimble than a traditional agency.” Introducing Two Are
Two Are is a creative studio based in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to launching, founders Caleb Van Dyke and Briana Garza had plenty of experience under their belt, guiding their thinking as their studio took shape. Still, they admit, there was plenty more to learn along the way! Here, they tell us more about finding clients, the merits of asking for advice, and why it’s great to stay small.
PT Hi Briana and Caleb! How’s this month going for you so far?
CV Hi! Excited to chat. Things have been great – summer is flying by.
PT What have you been up to?
CV We just launched our new website! We’re coming off a period of spending real time focusing on the studio. We had a pretty big backlog of work we’ve done that we’d never shown and a million different presentation templates so we had to get a handle on that.
Aside from that, we have some branding projects in the works that we’re super excited about and an internal publication we’re working on.
PT For those unfamiliar, can you introduce Two Are? What roles do each of you cover?
CV Two Are is a branding and design studio. We’re based in Brooklyn, New York. We build brands for new ideas. For us ‘new ideas’ could be anything from a company just getting off the ground or a special project for an established brand. Bri and I founded the studio together in our railroad apartment during the pandemic. Since then we’ve grown a bit, moved into a new studio space and had the opportunity to work with people all over the world on a bunch of exciting projects.
BG Both of us have pretty varied backgrounds. We’ve worked in studios and in-house – with lots of freelance mixed in throughout. In addition to branding, I have a background in art and spatial design. I tend to approach projects with the bigger picture in mind, thinking about the overall creative concept. Caleb’s background is in traditional branding. He tends to stay more in the weeds and details of the brand systems. We both love to create and keep our hands in the design. We have stayed intentionally small so we can both be involved in every project.
Running a studio out of your apartment can seep into your whole life.
PT What led to the launch of the studio?
CV The studio happened quite organically. We never set out to start a studio. We’ve always collaborated together in one way or another though, so it was a natural evolution. When the pandemic first started we were both at full-time jobs. We were both feeling like it was time for a change but the pandemic expedited that. Bri left first, then I left. We were both freelancing separately for a while, mostly with existing studios. Gradually, we found ourselves doing more work directly with founders. The worst part about freelancing is the lack of collaboration, so we would always bring each other in on these projects. Eventually, these types of projects became the norm and we decided to commit to it full-time.
At first, we saw a real need for something that was more established than a freelancer but more nimble than a traditional agency. The studio grew naturally out of that mindset.
BG When it came time to name the studio we were still working out of our apartment: Apartment 2R. So we went with that. It’s all very silly. Neither of us wanted a name that felt too serious. Our lease at our current apartment is coming to an end and we seriously considered finding another 2R to keep the joke going, but it felt like a bit too much.
We realised we all have different working styles and there is no one size fits all solution.
PT What were the initial challenges? Were there any pleasant surprises?
BG Neither one of us are great at admin, so we knew we needed help on that end quickly. We were both so focused on the creative process that it was important to have a counterbalance for the less fun things. Pleasantly, those tasks have become really collaborative throughout the studio. Bonus: we’re really good at Keynote now.
Managing schedules was another thing we both found difficult. Left to our own devices we would work until all hours tweaking and pushing everything until the bitter end. We’ve found that there’s a real need for structure, especially when working with other people. Making sure we set formal internal reviews, in addition to client deadlines, has been super beneficial not only to our own sanity but to the work as well.
CV Like everyone, we’ve had challenges figuring out how to navigate working in a post-pandemic time. Running a studio out of your apartment can really start to seep into your whole life. Having impromptu creative reviews during commercial breaks of Succession wasn’t healthy.
We’ve grown deliberately and we’re still a small team that really trusts each other which allows us to work in whatever way is best for each of us individually. We realised we all have different working styles and there is no one size fits all solution. It’s really gratifying to have a team that enjoys working and collaborating together but also can do their own thing.
Also, now that we’re taking most of our Zoom calls together our dog has figured out that it is his time for pure unchecked chaos.
PT How do you typically land new clients?
CV We’ve been super lucky to get a lot of inbounds since we first started. Friends, friends of friends, referrals, some completely random. We’ve sent out some cold emails too. That’s always a bit of a shot in the dark but there’s no harm in letting people know you exist, especially as a new studio.
BG We spent a lot of time working and building up the studio without putting ourselves out there formally so that’s been a big step for us. Our new website has been a big help too. Not being so mysterious online has helped give people a sense of who we are before getting on an intro call. Before that, they’d have to do a lot of snooping around.
CV We also try to keep studio projects in the mix because you never know how that might come back around to land you a job in a space you want to be in. And if it doesn’t, that’s cool too. We just want to keep making stuff in whatever form that takes.
PT What projects are you most proud of as a team?
CV Leath and Flower Water are two that always stand out to me because they were two of the first projects we did formally as a studio. They also embody what the ideal Two Are project is – excited and engaged founders, great new ideas and fun creative.
It’s super exciting to dive headfirst into a world that’s not our everyday.
PT What would you say your strengths are?
CV We both love to learn and have a natural curiosity about a lot of different subjects, which is something that I think resonates with our clients. Some studios do well when they focus on just one niche and really own that, but that’s not how we do our best work. We love connecting with clients in areas we know nothing about or with products that are totally left-field. It’s super exciting to dive headfirst into a world that's not our everyday. I think clients appreciate that and the fresh ideas that it brings. We offer a kind of outside perspective that hopefully leads to something unique and helps them stand out.
BG We had a lot of frank discussions early on about the business feasibility of that approach. Focusing on one area is undeniably a smoother path. But for us, we couldn’t take the big step – and risk – of starting a studio if we weren’t going to do it in a way that excites us. At the end of the day, great design and a trusted process translate.
PT What have you found to be the ups and downs of being based in New York?
BG We’ve had some pretty magical moments like finding out we live a block away from our clients in the middle of a Zoom call with them.
We see New York as a hub, a place where people are connected and there are always opportunities to do something new. That being said, we get inspired by, and really encourage, taking a break from the city, whether that’s out of the country or just upstate. There’s always a benefit to having that time away to recharge and then bringing that energy back to home base.
For me, where you work is tied so closely to having autonomy over your day.
PT Can you tell us a bit about your studio space? What do you prioritise in a working environment?
BG Settling on a studio space has been a process for us. We didn’t hit the nail on the head the first time, but ultimately found a space we really love and more importantly can get work done in. Glass walls in a co-working space were not it.
Our studio now is an open place to work and create. We were really intentional about finding a place that feels conducive to being productive when we need heads-down time but comfortable enough to hang out on a Friday. As the studio grows, and we work with more and more people, we want to have a space that is open for them to use as needed. The space doubles as an art studio on weekends, too.
CV For me, where you work is tied so closely to having autonomy over your day. Being tied down to working in the same place, no matter how great, can get a bit claustrophobic.
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot out of biking to the city, wandering around and finding places to pop in and work. The time spent walking through the city is important to disconnect a bit and recharge.
Also, I love cubicles but I think I may be alone in that.
PT Do you have any advice for designers considering starting their own studio?
BG Reach out for advice. I know it sounds very 101 but it applies at every stage of your career. We’ve been really fortunate to have peers and other studios that have gone through this process and have been open to giving advice. It’s really helped us set up foundational parts of the studio. For us, the transition from individually freelancing to a studio was a challenge. All of a sudden you have to deal with accounts and clients and scopes and proposals – a lot of pressures that you’re shielded from as a freelancer or designer. Having people out there doing the same thing as you is incredibly valuable and we’re fortunate to have those relationships.
CV Work at multiple studios before starting one. The experience of seeing the way a studio runs on a day-to-day basis, how to respond to issues that come up, how to kick off a project, have internal critiques, present to clients and revise based on feedback is invaluable. Having that vocabulary in your back pocket makes the process so much smoother when the responsibility falls to you.
PT How do you see Two Are changing or growing in the future?
CV To be completely honest, we’re not sure, and that’s part of the fun! Ultimately, our aspirations aren’t to grow big. We view our size as an advantage rather than a liability. We have the ability to be agile, take risks, and work on smaller projects that are fun because we don’t have the overhead of a huge full-time team to be responsible for.
BG We’d love to grow by working with more and more designers from around the world. There is such an amazing pool of talented freelancers and I think there’s a mutual benefit to tapping into that and building a team suited to specific projects.
We’re also hoping to put more time into personal projects. We have a few in the works right now (Loser, Place Artwork Here [Note: Links to come]). We’d also love to create a product. We have some ideas we’re excited about.
CV We have a running list of dream jobs everyone is always adding to. We want to continue to work with more clients in the food, hospitality and drinks space. My dream is to do an amaro brand, or an NBA team, either one works.
BG The ultimate goal is half wine shop/half design studio in the Catskills or Hudson Valley.