Over the past six years, Violaine Orsoni and Jérémy Schneider have very intentionally built up their self-titled design studio in Paris and a reputation for exquisite work. While other star design studios pursue big clients and make work in accordance with the corporate briefs they receive, Violaine & Jérémy have developed a highly individual aesthetic and only seem to design for companies they really appreciate. They have an artisanal approach to their craft. Their portfolio is a consistent body of work, and consistently beautiful, smart and funny. Here Violaine and Jérémy discuss leaving advertising together, the difficulty (and adventure) of starting a company from scratch, working together as a couple, and why they intend to keep their company small.
The two of you met at advertising agency [Les Gros Mots], and decided to leave together and start your own design studio. That sounds very inspiring to me. Would you mind reprising that story?
Violaine: Of course, we love that story. I am older than Jérémy, three years older, and had already been working for a five years in advertising when the agency hired him as an intern and illustrator. At that point, I was head of production and had learned what I needed to learn. I had also learned that advertising was not very stimulating to me. Jérémy quickly became Art Director at the company, and then also quickly realized that it wasn’t what he wanted to do. We are not made to work for an advertising agency, because we don’t really care about selling products. It’s not our thing. We wanted to do something that was really about design, typography and illustration — a balanced global, design aesthetic.
Was it a struggle starting your own business?
Violaine: We can’t say it wasn’t hard. It’s always hard when you begin and you’re on your own and you don’t have a network. But it was an adventure being on our own.
Jérémy: And we didn’t care about the money. We just wanted to do beautiful projects and develop a good portfolio. At the beginning, we worked for next to nothing, or sometimes just for friends. So yes, it was hard on the money side, but the projects were interesting.
Violaine: We are very lucky in France to have unemployment [benefits] for up to 15 months. That was exactly how much time we needed to launch the studio. It gave us enough time to do a good job and only focus on creating a quality portfolio. We are not from wealthy families, so we couldn’t ask them for anything. Launching a studio and making your own name takes time.
Have your roles within your company been the same from the beginning?
Violaine: Yes, Jérémy is the artist of the team and I’m the creative director. We conceptualize every project together, decide where want to go with it. He does the illustration, the design, the typography. And I coordinate everything, and follow-up with our team and the clients.
By what criteria do you select your clients?
Violaine: Very simple: we want to make sure that we’re proud enough to showcase everything we produce. If we feel like we’ll do something shitty because the client isn’t ready to follow our way, we don’t take the job. Our work has its own personality, its own DNA, and people come to us because they like it, because they can appreciate the sensitivity of the work. They don’t come to us to ask for something that’s totally different from our portfolio.
That’s one thing that really stands out about your studio: you create work for a lot of companies, but you don’t pander to anyone’s corporate identity. Your portfolio is a very consistent body of work, with a coherent aesthetic, a very established visual identity.
Violaine: Yes, because we design everything in-house. We have so few people working for us. We don’t want to become big. It’s important to us that we can identify with all the work we do. It’s not really possible for anyone else to do that work. It needs to be someone on the team who is really close to us, or who we are working with closely. We have a very small team and we don’t want to change that.
There’s something wonderfully analogue — I don’t want to say old-fashioned — about your work.
Violaine: That’s not surprising. Jérémy does all the illustrations by hand, for example.
Jérémy: We really love print. We like books. We like posters. And we love editorial design. We really like it.
I was looking at the designs you did for [artisanal Hamburger chain] Big Fernand and was just struck by how comprehensive it was, how many ideas went into that. How long did that take?
Violaine: We worked on it from September to May. But not all the time — bit by bit. They wanted something — I don’t like this term — authentic. We redesigned their logo, their typeset, then the menu. The founders are funny guys, the brand is funny, so we created a small newspaper, with jokes that relate to their brand.
Jérémy: We proposed creating Panini cards, a tray with a map on it, and lots of drawings. They wanted something rich. Lots of graphic design. Lots of drawings.
Aside from that one, what project of yours are you most fond of?
Violaine: Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, a very special theatre in Paris. We’ve been working for them for three years now.
Jérémy: Every year they completely change their identity, so we create a new poster, a new typography, a new logo. And it’s very interesting. We are very free on this project.
Violaine: It’s actually inside a building, so if you don’t know the place you wouldn’t think there was a theater inside. It’s a huge hall with ancient walls. The stage is on the same level as the audience. It’s a private theatre but functions a lot like a public theatre —pure creativity, not commercial, very contemporary.
Jérémy: They’re very nice. They invite us all the time.
With all the companies you work for, you guys could live very well off a barter system.
Violaine & Jérémy: [Both laugh, then whisper to each other in French.]
Finally, it’s come to my attention that, aside from being collaborators, you are also a couple. I know a lot of creative couples that navigate their collaboration and relationship with, shall we say, mixed results. How is it for you?
Violaine: It’s very easy. [Both laugh.] I think it helps that we don’t have the same job. Our roles are clearly delineated. There is no ego fight between us. We know we need each other — for what he knows and what I know. It’s all about measure. It’s important not to be too extreme in your positions, and try to understand each other’s point of view. [Both laugh.] No, really, it’s important.
This interview has been edited and condensed for readability. Violaine & Jérémy’s photo: ©LucieHugary.