how-to by The Editors

Designers Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree on their romantic and creative partnership.

reading time 16 minutes

Brooklyn-based Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree are an adorable married couple that just happen to also be one of the most exciting design partnerships working today. Each an accomplished graphic designer/art director in their own right, the two met online a few years ago and didn’t take long to combine their creative talents. Together they have developed a uniquely playful approach to design and art direction, as well as an irresistibly weird photo project dedicated to exploring their relationship. That ongoing process has now culminated in the opening of their own studio. In time for Valentine’s Day, Sobierajski and Jefree sat down with us to explain how they balance their creative and romantic partnership, and manage to keep both fresh and fun.

I occasionally collaborate with my partner and, to be honest, I think she finds it a bit much. This makes me all the more curious: how have you two managed to make your romantic and creative partnership so complimentary?
Wade: We have a couple ground rules. We don’t travel to the studio together and we don’t go to the toilet in front of one another. That last one is more Leta’s thing than mine; I’m happy to leave the door open. [Laughs.]  We also don’t exercise together. Mostly, it’s about asking when the other one needs some space.
Leta: You need a couple of boundaries. The most obvious thing we like to stress is the necessity of just being absolutely honest with one another. You don’t really have much time apart during the day when you’re working together, so if there’s something you need to say, you need to come out and say it. That’s been our policy for making sure that everything is out and on the table. The other person typically appreciates you being honest, no matter how brutal or potentially hurtful — or complementary — it is.

How do you arrange going to work separately?
Leta: We try to leave our apartment at separate times, so that we can commute by ourselves and focus on our own things for a bit. It’s a nice walk from our apartment to the studio, but it’s also a pretty easy trek on the subway or bus. It gives us time to listen to the music that we want to listen to, or read an article that we haven’t had time to read. I’ve been studying Japanese lately, and so the commute has been my study time.
Wade: Even if we’re both going catch the bus or the train, we coordinate our timing so I don’t walk onto the subway platform or the bus stop while she’s in her zone, or visa versa.

Do you bump into each other accidentally sometimes?
Wade: It’s actually happened a couple times and it’s been this awkward kind of exchange. Like, do we keep the headphones on? Obviously, we end up taking them off.
Leta: We’re so comfortable with one another that we’re pretty happy to ride together while doing our own thing.

Complements Project (Swipe Left)

Is there any separation between your professional and your personal personas? Do you have strictly defined roles in the studio?
Leta: No, I wouldn’t say so. We work simultaneously on every component of running a studio and a business and a creative duality. Our desks are back to back from one another, so we have our privacy. We each have our own little personal space.
Wade: And we don’t talk too much during the day, to be honest. It’s more on gchat, where we are just sort of going back and forth with quips and thoughts.
Leta: We start projects individually and each take our time to summarize our thoughts and create something cohesive that we feel strongly about before we come together and compare notes and then choose a direction to move forward. It’s about understanding what our different strengths are, and who’s going to be better at handling a specific project.

How did your work interests factor into your meeting in the first place?
Leta: Wade and I met on OK Cupid. We were both really preoccupied with work at the time. Wade had a full-time job and I had just gone freelance. OK Cupid matches you according to an algorithm. My profile said, “you should message me if you know who Joseph Müller-Brockmann is.” It also said, “I’m really good at Bézier curves.” So, I tried to make it really design-focused. And then I chose five different cheeses as the five things I can’t live without. Wade messaged me, and he was very upfront and honest. He said, “it seems like we have a lot in common. Do you want to meet up sometime soon? Oh also, I’m vegan, so I can’t really relate to those cheeses. I also don’t really like using this platform so here’s my number.” Okay, great — direct — let’s do it. It was the most nervous I’d ever been on a first date. We talked for I think two hours before we even got up to get a drink. We ended up spending the whole evening together. Since that day, I think we knew it was a good fit.

How compatible did the algorithm find you guys? Do you remember the number it put on your compatibility?
Leta: It was like 73% or something.
Wade: Yeah, something like that. I found her by typing in the keywords Brooklyn graphic design.

So it wasn’t all algorithm. What made you want to date someone in the same field as you?
Wade: I think we just have passions towards creating and making stuff and we understood that the work we were doing was one of the most important things to us. We truly believe that work and life are intertwined. If we’re happy at work, we’re happy at life, and visa versa. We think it’s one beast, not two separate entities. And I think we understood that from day one.

Art Direction & Design for D.S. & Durga (Swipe Left)

How long did it take for you to start collaborating?
Leta: In the first three months of being together, we were enjoying each other’s company so much that we wanted to find ways of taking this intimacy, this growing relationship, and find a way of exploring it creatively. That became the project Compliments, a portrait series that we did for 2 or 3 years, that ending up being about 56 portraits. These were just different vignettes that we’d shoot on our spare time that we thought really helped encapsulate our relationship. We can be silly people but also extremely serious at times, so one image can be maybe making fun of something and the other can be extremely emotional and serious. This was a way for us to share emotions with each other but also show the world that relationships are strange. No matter what kind of relationship you’re in, it’s going to be extremely different every time and there is no judgment on how you can love another person.
Wade: We concluded the Complements series two years ago with our wedding photo.

Did you start your studio together when you got married or did that come after?
Leta: We were already working together. At this point, we still haven’t fully made it public that we work together in every instance. It’s all been pretty organic. We haven’t managed to launch the website of our combined studio yet.
Wade: We don’t really get to that stuff because we’re busy actually sitting on the computer making stuff or shooting stuff or you know prepping for a shoot or whatever it is.

Do you have any kind of delineation between your work and home life? Do you guys keep strict hours?
Wade: We don’t have set times or anything. It’s more like, if we’re cooking dinner and the other person can’t be bothered talking about work, we’ll just say, let’s talk about this tomorrow. That’s the mindset.
Leta: I think Wade has taught me to shut off a bit more. I’m still not that good at shutting off, but at least he’s taught me to turn the notifications off on my phone, so at least it’s not this constant buzz.
Wade: We don’t have a traditional 9-to-5 thing. We’ll come in to the studio in the morning, but we don’t force ourselves to be behind the desks for a long time. And if we’re just not feeling like being in the studio after 3pm, we’ll move on from there. That’s also how we handle projects. If one person’s making something that’s more interesting and going in the right direction, they can hand off their other mundane responsibilities to the other person. That constant dialogue means that we are keeping our minds in check but also making sure we’re not overwhelmed.

How has working together changed your respective processes and what you what you actually do at work?
Wade: We combined our two aesthetics very naturally. We’ve been doing a lot of costuming and photo work, which definitely comes from Leta’s background. I bring my own experience of running a more traditional design studio. We have combined two sorts of backgrounds to make something new and interesting. We keep learning and evolving with each other as we’re going through different processes with different clients.

Art Direction and Design for Adobe (Swipe Left)

There’s a playful and experimental component to both your work, a performance quality. Where did that come from? Was that something you guys were both brought to the table?
Leta: We’ve been playing with these terms design as performance and pursposeful eclecticism as essential elements of the work that we do. Purposeful eclecticism applies more to branding projects, where we try to put a twist on traditional thinking and see how we can turn a project on its head, and create something unconventional from a conventional standing. Design as performance is giving us more of an opportunity to involve our bodies in the work that we do. As designers, you tend to sit so much that you get back problems. We like use to our bodies as a canvas or as props. It adds an additional bit of organicness that you might not be able to achieve otherwise. So instead of using strings or using a stand, we’ll use our own arm or leg. It helps break the rigidity in the sets that we’re building.
Wade: Design as performance and purposeful eclecticism are both really rooted in our interests in Anime and Manga, which we’ve been fans of for the longest time. We’re definitely just obsessed with these exterior worlds that can tell these big crazy stories. It’s our way of injecting our respective backgrounds in a way that both makes us feel good, and staying true to what we’ve loved our whole lives.

Your philosophy of not separating work and your private life could sound really rough , but your work seems so fun, you seem to enjoy it so much — there’s something humane about it. And that makes your approach seem humane and fun too.
Wade: Yeah, we just make sure that we enjoy the work that we’re doing. It’s that holistic work-life approach. We’re making work that makes us happy. It feeds into our conversations outside of the studio. I’ll be cooking dinner and I’ll say, “what would happens if we put 20 eggs on a costume, and take a shot of it?” I feel comfortable knowing that maybe someone will overhear that and think ‘what the fuck are they talking about?’ That’s how we energize ourselves.

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