“The first few years are beautiful chaos.” View Source on the realities of building a design agency
Good synergy is a key ingredient for studio founders bringing their mission to life, and this was exactly what Andrew Rutledge saw in Jen Yuan and Ross Vandenhoeck as they came together to form View Source. Now, with an international team and an enviable client list, we’d say the trio have worked together very well indeed! In our conversation, amongst a deep dive into View Source’s history, Rutledge recalls both the painful realities of growing a small design agency, and the lessons which fuel the team’s exciting future.
PT Hi Andrew, how are you?
AR Feeling gracious. My eyes are wider than they have ever been. I am in Abu Dhabi right now, as I just came back from eight days of hiking the Yemeni island of Socotra. That’s a whole other discussion!
Trust your talent and ensure that they are the right people for the work.
PT With three years behind you as a studio now, what have you learnt and how has View Source evolved in that time?
AR There are two big learnings. First is that while the studio has 14 people as of this interview, my partners and I must always be ready to stay in the trenches. We try to focus on the studio strategy, but it’s important to remember that we are part of the talent; being useful is paramount. It’s easy for founders to get so entrenched in the future. Forgetting that the excitement engendered by actually doing the work is a faux pas. The second learning is that there are hundreds of studios of our size and talent across the globe, each attracting interesting clientele and building the next generation of brands. At the same time, the production of industry-changing tools, trends and technology has never been so rampant. In order to carve out our place in the world for the long haul, we’ve diversified from a digitally-focused creative studio to a more of a full-service agency by focusing more on the book-ends of a brand. We’re now in a place where we’re naming brands, building the verbal as well as visual identity and also producing beautiful photography, video and 3D content in our new Brooklyn-based office. We’re even building a 20-foot cyclone wall! We see the investment already paying dividends as we do more A-to-Z brand strategy and identity work, most recently for a Brooklyn-based running company Bandit.
PT In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently?
AR The short answer is to build a top-heavy team of senior talent first. The first few years are beautiful chaos and require a lot of unspoken trust between everyone in the studio. Shit is flying all over the place, any notion of ‘process’ is a hodgepodge of what everyone did where they respectively worked before, and the work still aims its sights ambitiously. You never have as much time as you planned to have each day, which makes training and feedback a tough task to carry out consistently well. One day we’ll pierce that rarefied atmosphere of proper management and smooth sailing. Until then, trust your talent and ensure that they are the right people for the work.
PT How long have you, Ross and Jen known each other? At what point did you think you’d like to run a studio together?
AR I met Jen while working as Senior Creative Lead at Compass. Ross was Jen’s roommate. This all happened in 2018, and the way it started is that Jen and I realised that we had some crazy synergy working together. We could bridge the gap between a beautiful design, with all its motion intricacies and nuances, in code. That was really difficult to achieve with your average web developer at that time. Ross joined up as well, being a fantastically creative yet analytically driven developer himself, our projects started to stack up through word of mouth. At one point, when a budget larger than our pockets came through with a signature, we decided that it was worth pursuing our own studio full-time. We even were a bit larger before consolidating down to three partners. The Abranowicz brothers, Simon and Zander, were involved too, and though COVID-19 forced us to part ways, we remain close friends to this day.
PT How do your skill sets complement each other?
AR We balance each other in a way that designers and developers often struggle with when collaborating. Beyond that, each of us has a specific knack for other business-related skills that make this partnership more well-rounded.
PT Your studio tagline is ‘Ideas. Aesthetics. Code.’ What is it about this trifecta that makes you stand out in the busy design landscape?
AR It’s really hard to stand out. It’s not luck, however. We are extra critical of our image, and balance on a tightrope between efficient stick-to-the-plan projects vs. messy and boundary-pushing projects. The latter excites clients and the team alike, and while it may make the project harder to sell – and even harder to execute – it also elevates the client’s brand and brings like-minded collaborators to our doorstep.
We try to make our studio space alive with energy and experimentation.
PT Your website is a super fun experience! What’s the thinking behind this way of displaying your projects?
AR The studio portfolio facelift is one of the most painful experiences. We’re all constantly chasing trends and second-guessing how we appear. We decided to look for an aesthetic and mechanic that could serve as contemporary and functionally scale as we ebb and flow as a studio. People lay on their backs at night and stare at the stars, simply wondering. That was the inspiration behind our website. Those little specks from a distance speak to us with no bounds and are expansive beyond our capability to quantify or understand. So our homepage is a universe of stars, making up our projects, team, writing, products, and gatherings, all of them equally inspiring to us.
PT How did you end up with studios in both New York and Taiwan?
AR Jen is from Taiwan. In March 2020, he said he had to swing back there to renew his visa for a couple weeks. We didn’t see him again in real life until 2021, and that’s how we grew our studio in Taiwan.
PT What’s the creative scene like in Brooklyn? Why did you choose to base your NY studio there?
AR It’s like a little village up in Greenpoint where we’re located. When we have a party, the neighbourhood as well as surrounding creatives and studios show up. Our clients actually come to visit us and prefer in-person presentations when possible. A few are actually on our street, notably Bandit and MatchaBar. Fun fact – Bandit actually took over our old studio lease to open its first coffee shop and retail store.
It’s counting how much distance you scroll, and at the bottom there’s a leaderboard!
PT What do you think makes a great working environment? And what are your thoughts on remote working?
AR Meeting rooms to keep things a bit quiet, and a killer sound system to pump music when we’re all in a weird mood. Remote working is great – we embrace it, and everyone on the team has worked a few weeks across different time zones. We try to make our studio space alive with energy and experimentation, something that can’t be replaced by remote work yet.
PT Which projects do you consider to be your best work? And which ones have you enjoyed working on the most?
AR Bandit is a favourite because the strategy and identity system is not only being employed beautifully, but evolving every day of its existence. On the digital front, it’s a workhorse of an e-commerce store with a lot of funky branded interactions throughout. Notice the kilometre counter in the header? It’s counting how much distance you scroll, and at the bottom there’s a leaderboard! Only the crazies stay on it to get a high score. We’re so grateful to have brought the brand to life on banditrunning.com and to continue collaborating with them. Huge shoutout to our Design Director Brendan McAuliffe for creating visionary work across the studio’s projects, most notably Bandit! A second shout out to Annie Chen who drew the B monogram!
Pantone Connect is an app we have redesigned and is slated to launch in 2023. A year’s worth of intense thinking has gone into it, and it’s been tough at times. I believe we’re going to enjoy its launch the most because it’s a tool our team will be using every day, along with millions of designers everywhere!
PT What lessons from 2022 will you take with you into 2023?
AR Invest in crypto.