Ramón Coronado and Marshall Rake reflect on ten years of their LA-based practice Public-Library
Public-Library is the creative practice of Los Angeles-based duo Ramón Coronado and Marshall Rake. We first spoke to them for an interview in 2016 on the back of their five year anniversary, which we then revisited with a follow-up question for our book, The Interviews: Volume One in 2021. Fast forward to now and they’re busy celebrating their ten year anniversary, for which they’ve published a book, a small collection of apparel and a poster. With this in mind, it felt like a good time to catch up again; reflecting on their challenges, learnings and projects that have come from running a design studio for more than a decade.
EM Congrats on 10 years in service! When you first started out, did you have an idea or a plan for what you wanted Public-Library to become?
RC I honestly just wanted to create a space that allowed me to be myself. My ideas aren’t wrong, they are just different. That was my biggest struggle in school and at agencies. I hated the pushback, the search for the path of least resistance. I hated the simple solutions. I hated the easy route. I wanted Public-Library to be an experimental studio that designed solutions based on the clients' needs, not an aesthetic.
MR I just wanted to make things. The point of Public-Library for me is to be a space to be uncomfortable and make things together we could never have done alone.
EM Has running a studio been what you thought it’d be like?
RC Not at all. It’s a lot of business and decks and meetings. It took me a few years to accept and understand this. I was terrible with email etiquette and did not have great presentation skills. Marshall really helped me perfect this.
MR No, but I guess I wasn’t really sure what it was supposed to be like anyway. I still don’t know. There are a lot of things you learn along the way. Design is the easy part. That’s the thing we know how to do. The rest of the stuff you just learn as you go, like anything.
EM When we first did an interview in January 2016, you were based in two different cities – but now it’s just Los Angeles right? Why did you make that change and has it affected the way you work?
RC I moved back to LA after five years in Portland. I missed home and family. The studio still functions exactly the same. We both like some alone design time, but also being in the studio doing real critiques is something you can’t replicate through Zoom.
MR The first few years the studio were run from a desk in my kitchen in LA and a desk from Ramon’s kitchen in Portland. Eventually, we had a studio in each city and every few weeks or months we would pop over to work together, meet with clients, present work, whatever was going on. These last two years have felt a lot like that, to be honest. There really is nothing like being in the studio together though. My favourite two projects of the last year were done solely in the studio together. It’s more fun, but the work is also more fluid and less predictable
We learned to look for partners, not projects.
EM What has changed the most about Public-Library over the past decade?
RC A lot of growing pains. The projects and clients got bigger, but we remained the same size; me and Marshall. So we had to figure out how to navigate that. The hardest part now is trying to make time for more studio initiatives, and just making stuff that we want to make.
MR We definitely have learned a lot. The stuff we get to do now I would never have even dreamed of doing. We learned to look for partners, not projects. Finding great people to make great work with. If you’re having fun, stuff is going to be better.
EM How did you go about getting those ‘bigger’ projects and partners to work with?
RC Snowball effect. Marshall and I believe a strong portfolio really matters. It’s proof of concept. No matter the size or budget of the project, it’s a representation of the studio. Our portfolio is what drives new business for us. When we first started the studio, a lot of our studies or small projects were ending up on the mood boards and in the inspiration folders for larger clients, that’s how they found us.
MR Good work leads to good work.
We do not believe in grind culture or overworking concepts and designs late into the night.
EM What do you think will be the benefit of making more time for studio initiatives? What do you hope to get out of those projects?
RC It’s part of our practice. We work Monday – Thursday 90% of the time. Fridays are free days to explore, do studies, try things, experiment, anything really. We find inspiration in downtime that allows us to experiment or experience. So many of our projects are solved on these off days. Days where we step away from the brief and let our minds take us on a trip. We do not believe in grind culture or overworking concepts and designs late into the night.
EM Back in 2016, I asked you if you had a project you’re most proud of, and you said it was your first spatial design project for Nike. Has that changed?
RC Yes. I would say it’s been the Mac Miller trilogy. It was incredible to be a part of his life and a part of his legacy. The three albums we designed for him are beautiful pieces of art to me. They are very special moments and memories that I hold on to.
MR It’s definitely the Mac project. Our time with him is something I’ll always take with me. We learned a lot about trying to push ourselves by watching Mac work. He never left a stone unturned. He was always investigating, always trying things. If you look at the leap he made from what he was making before Swimming, to Swimming, it’s so sonically different. He was never satisfied because he wanted to make something as good as it deserved to be, and in the way that he wanted it to be.
EM If you could go back and do something differently, would you?
RC Took me forever to answer this. I don’t think I would change anything. We are here because of the road we took to get here. The studio is ever-evolving and changing. That's what keeps the studio interesting.
MR I agree, I think it all sort of worked out. If you changed stuff you’d just get a different set of ups and a different set of downs.
EM Why did you decide to make your book ‘Dog Ears,’ and why is it called that?
MR For our five year anniversary we made a book called ‘Rough Drafts.’ It was made up of rejected works from our first five years. It was like therapy. Since then we knew we wanted to do another one for our ten years. We didn’t want it to just be a collection of work. We wanted it to be something else. We became obsessed with this idea of the middle. Stuff starts the same, and sometimes the ends are inevitable, but the stuff that happens in the middle is really it. You can think about this in design, or in life. We wanted to make a book that reflected our process. Every project we make we start in black and white, and with Helvetica. Then we start exploring. This allows us to explore without distractions. We don’t have to agonise over decisions about typeface or colour, we can just focus on form and content, and find what we are working with.
Our book starts with an introduction by Hanif Abdurraqib. He was gracious enough to write a piece for our book. I fell in love with Hanif’s writing after my cousin lent me his copy of ‘Go Ahead in the Rain; which is Hanif’s love letter to A Tribe Called Quest. Hanif writes about process like nobody else and that’s the idea we wanted to explore. When we spoke with Hanif we just talked about trying shit. Things that happen over and over again, then we told him to write whatever he wanted. In the piece, he talks about Brian Wilson creating ‘Pet Sounds.’ In that section, there is a line where people said Wilson had ‘dog ears’ which essentially meant he heard things nobody else was hearing. We loved that. To us, that’s the goal of the process. If you keep digging, keep trying, keep failing, eventually, you will find something nobody has done before. Then you can start.
EM What can we expect from the next 10 years?
RC Big question mark. This is something we discuss on a weekly basis. Marshall and I are constantly chasing new and uncomfortable creative outlets. We always want tomorrow to be different from today. I hope we morph this thing we created into something even more bizarre.
MR I can’t say this any better.