Se­ri­ous Stu­dio on find­ing joy in their cre­ative process

This mil­len­nial-run de­sign and brand­ing com­pany is spread­ing the joy of good de­sign

Northern Living - - CONTENTS - TEXT ALYOSHA J. RO­BIL­LOS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY REDGE HAWANG AND EDRIC DELA ROSA

The nar­row hall­way leads us to a frosted glass door with an out­line of the hu­man eye plas­tered on it. We see lit­tle move­ment from the out­side, no chat­ter or flurry of ac­tiv­ity, but the faint click-clack­ing of com­puter equip­ment sug­gests peo­ple in­side are busy at work.

“We’re called Se­ri­ous Stu­dio be­cause when we were start­ing out, no one took us se­ri­ously,” quips Lester Cruz, who, in 2012, founded a de­sign and brand so­lu­tions com­pany with his then-girl­friend Deane Miguel-Cruz.

They were fresh out of col­lege and had no idea they were plung­ing head­first into their big break as the coun­try’s new breed of cre­atives. “Clients al­ways got thrown off by how young we looked, to the point that we ac­tu­ally made an ef­fort to power dress for meet­ings.”

Fast for­ward to 2017, the cou­ple—now mar­ried in their mid-20s—runs Se­ri­ous Stu­dio, a brand­ing and de­sign bou­tique turn­ing heads here and abroad, with busi­ness part­ner Kookie San­tos, who is even younger than the Cruzes. The rest of the team are mil­len­ni­als, too; their hum­ble tworoom of­fice in Or­ti­gas looks as if it’s a space as­signed to in­terns.

For those who need an in­tro­duc­tion, Se­ri­ous Stu­dio is the com­pany be­hind the iden­ti­ties of good-look­ing brands such as the bar Yes Please, auc­tion house Casa de Me­mo­ria, adult toy shop Ilya, restaurants 12/10 and The Girl and The Bull, life­style store Satchmi, and 375°, a loaded fries shop in Hell Square, New York.

“We just churned out work and peo­ple re­ally liked it, and they told their friends. It was re­ally just as or­ganic as that. As long you put good work out there and you’re sin­cere about it, the right peo­ple will find you some­how,” Deane says.

Although the pair knew the ven­ture would be a huge risk, it was some­thing they knew they had to try. Be­ing young wasn’t a set­back. Rather, it gave them drive: should the busi­ness fail, they’d have time for dam­age con­trol. As Deane puts it, “It was a good time to make mis­takes.”

But the busi­ness didn’t fail. And Se­ri­ous Stu­dio would later prove that it was no mis­take at all. In fact, they’re trans­fer­ring to a big­ger of­fice to ac­com­mo­date their grow­ing team. Of course the House of Se­ri­ous, as they fondly call it, also came across a few speed bumps on the road to es­tab­lish­ing their brand.

Years back, they were com­mis­sioned by a big com­pany and af­ter weeks of un­lim­ited re­vi­sions and push­ing pix­els, it was fi­nally

time to reap the fruits of their la­bor. “When they saw what they had to pay for our ser­vices, one of them told us, ‘I don’t get why you guys are charg­ing that much. It’s not like what you do re­quires tech­ni­cal skill,’” Deane says, ev­i­dently more amused than an­noyed. They learned their les­son and laid out some new ground rules. And they never worked with the same com­pany again.

But there were also mo­ments when feed­back proved they were on the right track. “We’ve made clients tear up out of joy. One client was so happy with our work, he wanted to fly us to New York.”

Mil­len­nial ap­peal

But to dis­cover the se­cret be­hind Se­ri­ous Stu­dio’s suc­cess, one must first un­der­stand that de­sign isn’t just a dec­o­ra­tive no­tion. “The end re­sult of ev­ery project is to make peo­ple feel,” Lester ex­plains.

There’s also the mat­ter of gain­ing a client’s trust, on which the suc­cess or fail­ure of the project de­pends. “[I]f a client doesn’t trust you, they’ll mi­cro­man­age you to death and they’ll want you to com­pletely fol­low their taste for de­sign. It can be a good thing or a bad thing,” he says.

To clients, it’s clear from the start that hir­ing Se­ri­ous Stu­dio means col­lab­o­ra­tion and not just one per­son de­cid­ing for the en­tire team— quite un­like older de­sign stu­dios and agen­cies. This prac­tice is in line with one of Se­ri­ous Stu­dio’s goals: to build a cre­ative econ­omy and ecosys­tem of like-minded in­di­vid­u­als who value good, gen­uine, mean­ing­ful de­sign. Af­ter all, their trade­marked mantra is “Make sense and look good.”

“I un­der­stand that they have their own lives. Se­ri­ous Stu­dio isn’t their life and I com­pletely re­spect that.”

There’s another se­cret to the stu­dio’s suc­cess: the dis­tinct heart and grit of mil­len­ni­als. “In the first place, Deane and Lester start­ing this fresh from col­lege de­spite what peo­ple said was a very mil­len­nial thing to do. It was all about tak­ing that leap,” Kookie muses, ex­plain­ing that their gen­er­a­tion’s need to con­struc­tively voice opin­ions helps a lot in the Se­ri­ous way of do­ing things.

That and an im­pec­ca­ble work ethic are what make Se­ri­ous Stu­dio a well-oiled ma­chine. A typ­i­cal day in the stu­dio starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. for most of its em­ploy­ees. The rea­son for the early start is sim­ple: If you be­gin ear­lier, then you can leave ear­lier, which means you can still have a life out­side of work.

“I un­der­stand that they have their own lives. Se­ri­ous Stu­dio isn’t their life and I com­pletely re­spect that,” says Deane, who also men­tioned that they are now look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing re­motely. “Our be­ing mil­len­ni­als and run­ning a mil­len­nial work­place al­low us to un­der­stand what they need. We ad­just to find the com­mon ground in ev­ery­thing.”

The mil­len­nial way of think­ing has also helped them foster a quirky, laid-back of­fice cul­ture. For Hal­loween this year, they held a“mak­ing” con­test, and the win­ner had their de­sign made into an ac­tual grave­stone. One par­tic­u­lar Valen­tine’s Day, the team spruced up some con­doms by de­sign­ing them. And on another ran­dom oc­ca­sion, they an­nounced on so­cial me­dia that they were giv­ing away a rock for free. Now, they’re in the mid­dle of pro­duc­ing Se­ri­ous Stu­dio mer­chan­dise, which is their way of fur­ther­ing the spread of good de­sign. And what bet­ter time to do so than the sea­son to ‘deck the halls’ and ‘be jolly’?

But how does one ex­actly have a merry mil­len­nial Christ­mas at the House of Se­ri­ous? For starters, the stu­dio im­ple­ments an ex­tended hol­i­day shut­down and a men­tal health break. There’s also Christ­mas­time team build­ing, just be­cause they’re a clingy bunch that’s “al­ways com­ing up with rea­sons to hang out.” All those pro­vi­sions were made to ad­dress Se­ri­ous Stu­dio’s ad­mirable ob­ses­sion with proper work-life bal­ance that’s not just an on-pa­per memo.

“It re­ally started out as just the two of us do­ing what we wanted to do,” Deane con­cludes. “I would have never imag­ined this: an of­fice with lots of peo­ple in it, me sign­ing checks. That wasn’t ex­actly our pic­ture of what was go­ing to hap­pen, but I’m thank­ful that now, it is.”

The trio be­hind Se­ri­ous Stu­dio: Deane MiguelCruz, Kookie San­tos, and Lester Cruz

This Christ­mas spread de­signed by Se­ri­ous Stu­dio fea­tures an out­line of the hu­man eye, a sym­bol that re­minds mem­bers of the de­sign stu­dio to keep their eyes wide open for op­por­tu­ni­ties that will push the bound­aries of con­ven­tional de­sign.

Cover de­sign by Se­ri­ous Stu­dio

Kookie and Deane in their new space, which is still un­der ren­o­va­tion and is just a floor be­low their cur­rent of­fice. “We’re lucky we didn’t have to look far and this time, we have big­ger, wider win­dows.”

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