Interview with Party of One Studio

Party of One Studio Founders

Party of One is a New York-based studio founded by Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht. Their work spans art direction, papercraft, set design, prop design and installation for brands and products that is “infused with love, weirdness and good vibes.” Some of the notable names they’ve worked with include Airbnb Magazine, Apple Music, Eater, Etsy, Ladies Get Paid, Ladies Wine Design, Nike, The New York Times and Otherland.

Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht recently visited the Shillington New York campus and we caught up with them afterwards to hear more about their story, advice to students embarking on a career as a graphic designer and some insight into the process behind an exquisite corpse style project creating funky beer cans. Read on to find out more!

Originally you met each other 7 years ago when you were in-house designers at Etsy. After collaborating for two years, you decided to form the Party of One studio. What do you love about running your own studio? What challenges have you encountered?

After both working in a large in-house environment, running our own studio has been a wonderful way to get back in touch with our personal methods of inspiration, creativity, and process. Each project presents an opportunity to explore new materials or environments of making while expanding on our individual strengths and curiosities. On a more granular level, it’s amazing to have the power to say no (and YES) to things, work with a friend every day, watch bad tv while making repetitive papercraft work, and make our own schedules (which, spoiler alert, are pretty much the same as normal hours).

The challenges we’ve come across are similar to most small business—creating steady workflow throughout the year, developing systems to decrease our administrative duties so we can focus on our craft, and helping each other not be so hard on ourselves when something goes wrong.

Beyonce and Jay Z album cover

You’ve worked on some impressive projects for big names like Airbnb Magazine, Ladies Wine Design, Nike, The New York Times and Time Out NY and The Washington Post. Could you tell us about one or two projects you enjoyed the most?

We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such great publications and companies! Washington Post was a recent standout thanks to the beautifully illustrated history of the Spring Cleaning series and challenge of coming up with a new and fresh approach. Typically with editorial projects, we come up with three sketched concepts and work with an art director to refine and align on a direction. This followed that same trajectory, but we truly enjoyed some freedoms we had regarding what would be included in the staged mess and the spots.

Spring Cleaning series for Washington Post

What was your process and execution for the colorful exquisite corpse project, Summer Empties? Do you think side projects are important outside of client work?

We approached this project as an exercise in observing how each of us works independently, with the other’s influence, and fully collaboratively.

Melissa began by taking the can form literally into account, crafting a design that read like a Party of One beer can label. Nicole began very loosely playing with mark-making and working across several cans at once. The technique shifted as specific imagery and themes emerged and after we both began to adopt a similar method of applying (literally—we wound up making little tissue paper transfer sheets) graphic details. As we learned from one another’s work, we created two final vases in tandem, like an exquisite corpse of illustrative techniques and learnings.

The benefits of creating this side project were really just to re-learn one another’s tendencies and influences outside of the realm of commissioned work with a specific brief.

Personal work and side projects have a way of illuminating things you are often nervous to explore in the context of a paid project and provide a safe space to explore.

Summer Empties personal project

What helps you when you’re creatively stuck?

Getting stuck really only applies to personal projects, I think? With client work, we have an ingrained approach and work side by side when concepting—so if one feels a little less inspired, the other can spark ideas or carry the thread. Getting stuck with personal projects (independent or collaborative) is more common for both of us. We tend to begin by keeping things loose and focused on new materials or methods that we’d like to try, but the possibilities can quickly become overwhelming. It’s helpful in these moments to not watch the clock and allow ourselves to work through missteps or mishaps with a bit of levity.

What creatives are you loving at the moment?

We both gravitate to different references based on our art and design backgrounds, but often find ourselves checking back in with a few people we love on the Internet to see what they are up to!

Paul Windle, Chyrum Lambert, Hrafnhildur Arnardottir (Shoplifter), Nathaniel Russel, Aleia Murawski, Alex Wallbaum, Mika Rottenberg, Paul Wackers, Eric Mistretta, Yuky Hwang, Fredericks & Mae, Hudson Christie, Nadia Lee Cohen and so many more!

Do you have any interesting projects coming up this year?

At the moment we were asked to create a variation of our “Summer Empties” cans for an article about weed beer on The Verge. The result was a trippy, melted psychedelic assortment of plastered aluminum cans, created from a bag filled with leftover recycling remnants that have been stashed in our closet for over a year. It’s fun to see what people remember from our work and ask us to reflect on new projects—especially when the reference is old personal work.

What advice can you offer to a designer just starting out?

Melissa: Pay attention to the things you find yourself revisiting in your work and hone those instincts. If you enjoy making things by hand, are drawn to coding and UI, or love retail and understand how to sell products, don’t fight the feeling. Practice and build a portfolio that reflects those interests. With that, you’ll be in great shape to find a job that won’t make you hate Mondays, or start your own freelance career/business with a really strong voice.

Nicole: I feel most comfortable straddling art, illustration, and design this has made my career threadless linear. For a young aspiring designer, my advice would be to not worry so much about your path or title, you most likely will change course several times over the next few years, working in mediums and with technology you could not have predicted. I am all for goals but also an advocate for being open to unexpected opportunities. Ultimately, there’s no real concrete finish line to race towards.

Anything else you’d like to share?

We loved visiting Shillington!

Big thanks to Party of One for coming in to the Shillington New York campus to share their story with the students and for talking to us afterwards. You can keep up to date with their projects by following them on Instagram and their website.

Want to hear from other creatives and design studios? Check out more interviews from guest lecturers.

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