• Interview Excerpt: Kim Karlsrud, Co-Founder, COMMONstudio, Los Angeles

    Check out some great work from Kim Karlsrud.

    AH: Your fairly young studio focuses a lot on ecology and social enterprise. Can you speak more about this path and why you have chosen this career direction, fresh out of school?

    KK: Our work is extremely collaborative. My partner and I started working together right out of school. Danny’s background is in architecture and landscape, and I have a degree in product design, so right off the bat we are coming from different perspectives. We are very interested in melding our disciplines together and seeing what happens. We have shared interests in urban ecology, sustainable design, and lately social design, which is trying to understand what design’s role is on a local, community level. We feel that the work we’re doing is at the intersection of all of these points, trying to experiment with how all of them can fit and work together in an interesting new way.

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    AH: What are some of the challenges you guys are facing as you’re launching a new design studio?

    KK: All of our projects stem from our mutual interests we talked about earlier. What is really difficult is figuring out what to do once we’ve completed a project. We’ve been struggling with various different paths where we can take our work. Should we just share it and talk about it? Turn it into a business or a non-profit? Each one of these has its own issues and responsibilities and non-design problems that we have to contend with.

    For example with Greenaid, since we’re not coming from a business background we had to do some quick on-the-job learning. At the same time it is really exciting and we’ve had a lot of support from people who have been willing to fill in the gaps for us. It’s been stressful, but good.

    AH: Can you tell me a bit more about the decision to pursue your own studio as opposed to going the typical route of getting a job at a consultancy or an in-house design studio?

    KK: It happened organically. When I graduated it was the year before the recession really started to affect designers. I was working in a more traditional job but personally felt very frustrated. My idealistic bubble burst when I graduated with all of these sustainable projects and couldn’t find a creative job in that realm. All I knew is that I didn’t want to design corporate showrooms, which is what I was doing. My partner felt similarly and we just started doing the work we wanted to be doing, on the weekends and after work. For the Buckminster Fuller competition, which was our first collaborative project, we had to submit our entry as a studio.

    So it was kind of a joke, us as a studio, something we had to do. Once Greenaid took off we, maybe naively, made a decision to jump right in and said let’s see what it means to get this product into production, to turn it into a social enterprise. That actually ended up launching our studio. It was both unexpected and surprising.

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    AH: Can you talk about how you land projects and clients and what works and what doesn’t?

    KK: We’ve always ended up doing the opposite of what we were taught to do. For our studio work, we usually start a project based on some selfish interest or need. Lately it’s been shifting a bit as clients have started to approach us for specific projects. These projects are very collaborative, and have been supporting and balancing out our personal work.

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    AH: What advice would you give to a young designer who may wish to start their own studio right after school? Do you recommend it?

    KK: Yes, certainly. More than anything I would recommend pursuing projects that are personally interesting. Definitely try and find a partner who can round you out a bit. Work is always better when it’s with more than one person. Don’t be afraid or wait too long. There’s a balance between slowly perfecting a strategy and having to just dive right in and throw something out into the world. Being too cautious can really come back to bite you.

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    Kim Karlsrud with Daniel Phillips of COMMONstudio

    Kim Karlsrud with Daniel Phillips of COMMONstudio. Photo by Bjorn Borstelmann.

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