Much of a creative project’s success lies on eliminating the superfluous and focusing on the essential. Same goes for business and life. Celina and Grant, the Los Angeles based duo behind design studio OSSO, share their thoughts on essentialism and how it can help creatives and entrepreneurs achieve their goals in their work and life.
To start, how did you meet ?
Celina : We actually met on instagram/tumblr
Grant : I have a theory that if your Tumblr is similar to someone else’s you will get along with that person. Celina Tumblr and mine were extremely similar and complementary and that translates to our taste and design sensibilities. We really finish each other’s sentences when we design. We have a very collaborative process. It’s like musical chairs. We work on several projects simultaneously and toss them back and forth between each other.
Together, you are Osso Design. How did the idea of starting a design studio together come about and why did you choose this name ?
Celina : When we were coming up with the name for our company, we wanted the name to represent who we are and our style. We also wanted the name to be very well designed. Osso is phonetic, it is a four letter word with only two different letters.
Grant : Celina is Brazilian and we both speak multiple languages and have lived in different countries, our influences are very multi-cultural. Osso means bone in Italian and Portuguese. We describe our design style as essentialist, barebones, skeletal, only what is necessary. So Osso checked off all boxes. Finding the right name is extremely important and exciting at the same time. We both knew Osso was the right name when we stumbled onto it and we both fell in love with it immediately.
What inspires and motivates you ?
Celina : All forms of art and design inspire me, especially the forms we often ignore in our day-to-day, like the lines and color scheme at a counter of a divey, neighborhood ice cream shop, old posters for jazz, rock n’ roll, and folk music, subway maps, taxidermy animals. Leonardo Da Vinci, Basquiat. Inspiration comes from everywhere. I am motivated by clients who are excited about creating designs that are timeless and will eventually be used as inspiration for other designers. Don’t we all just want to be put something out in the world that inspires someone?
Grant : Other good work inspires me. Possibility inspires me. When creating a new brand, starting a new project or looking at a blank piece of paper the infinite possibilities that lay ahead are inspiring – slightly daunting but inspiring. Enthralling in the idea that anything is possible, that your only impediment is your own ability to invent, that is a terrifying and exciting concept.
We strive to be endlessly inventive. We like design to delight. We like playfulness, honesty, and effortlessness. This is what we strive for. This is what we call good design. Bad design is everything else.
What is your personal definition of good and bad graphic design ?
We have a very specific definition of good design. We love a lot of mid-century and Nordic design but we don’t subscribe to minimalism nor the idea that ‘less is more’. Our aesthetic philosophy is Essentialism. We believe in nothing more and nothing less than what is absolutely necessary to solve the problem and convey the concept. Everything must be done for a reason, it must be timeless, and it must be full of life. We strive to be endlessly inventive. We like design to delight. We like playfulness, honesty, and effortlessness. This is what we strive for. This is what we call good design. Bad design is everything else.
Our aesthetic philosophy is Essentialism. We believe in nothing more and nothing less than what is absolutely necessary to solve the problem and convey the concept. Everything must be done for a reason, it must be timeless, and it must be full of life.
Can you give us some examples of how do you include essentialism in your work ?
Celina : We focus on getting the message across, without unnecessary garnish that might serve as a distraction. Once we know what we want to communicate, we go about turning these ideas into colors, shapes, and forms.
Grant : It’s a lot like sculpture. Michelangelo said that the statue is already in the block of marble, and his job was just to keep removing layers of the rock until the figure appears. That’s what we strive to do with design.
Michelangelo said that the statue is already in the block of marble, and his job was just to keep removing layers of the rock until the figure appears. That’s what we strive to do with design.
We try to include essentialism in both our life and work. It is the philosophy that leads us to focus on the positive, on what really matters, and to eliminate the rest. Aesthetically this is how we approach design problems. Whether it’s inventing a new packaging solution, designing a logo, or designing a retail interior, we start by articulating the abstract values of the company.
What other designers or artists who follow the essentialism philosophy have influenced you ?
Celina : The designers that most prominently stick out in our minds as “essentialist” designers were the Eames’ and the Vignellis. They designed as a solution to a problem, with little importance given to decorative flourishes. The Vignellis believed that we should and could use only four to five fonts for the rest of our lives – Helvetica and Bodoni being the top favorites. Massimo Vignelli said “I don’t think that type should be expressive at all. I can write the word ‘dog’ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people that think that when they write ‘dog’ it should bark.”
Grant : We think that most designers that practice minimalism are actually practicing essentialism. True minimalism tends be waifish, disappearing and just lacking. But a lot of mid-century designers fit our definition of Essentialism. Also artists of the Renaissance particularly in how rich and full of life the work of Benvenuto Cellini is. We love the classic forms and standard of beauty: chiaroscuro, the serpentine line.
How can we apply essentialism outside the design field? What are some practical advice for designers and creatives in general that would like to follow essentialism in their work and business ?
Celina : I think when you are beginning any design, you must first establish what the goal is. Are you designing a map so people can understand the Los Angeles grid? Are you designing a website for people to purchase potter?
Each aspect of your design should be serving a function that guides the audience to your achieving your goal. The map should be so easy to understand that it prevents people from getting lost. The website should be so user-friendly and intuitive that the experience of buying pottery is fun, seamless, and simple. I see essentialism as a lit pathway, not one riddled with distractions.
Grant : This philosophy can be applied to all aesthetic fields as well as to life in general. The important thing with creating good work and inherent in this philosophy, is that you need patience. If we are cutting away at the marble to reveal the statue, you need to be patient. The same goes for your life. It is so easy to accumulate things and people in your life that bring nothing but negativity and pain. The hard part is stripping away to discover only what matters. Celina and I both hold that your greatest work of art should be your own life. Make your life a masterpiece.
It is so easy to accumulate things and people in your life that bring nothing but negativity and pain. The hard part is stripping away to discover only what matters. Celina and I both hold that your greatest work of art should be your own life. Make your life a masterpiece.
What is your creative process? How do you organize and share work between the two of you ?
Grant : Our creative process is like musical chairs. Celina and I have very complementary skill sets. We start off each project with a brainstorming session. We throw out a million ideas that don’t work until we find a few worth exploring. We make sure to pinpoint the needs of the client, and to create a solution that fits their brand. As the project develops we divide the work along our natural abilities.
Celina : We both wear several hats, but it is important to know what you are good at. Grant and I talk all the time about what we are good at and what we are bad at. Focus is extremely important. So is admitting your weaknesses and not being afraid to fail or having bad ideas. We have an extremely positive creative environment where we invite grand failures and mistakes and accidents, all in pursuit and hope of finding one kernel of a good idea.
How do you keep up with competition in such a crowded market like Los Angeles ? How difficult is it to make a space for yourself?
Celina : We just focus on doing good work. The hardest thing is to get started. Getting your first client is the hardest. Making your first pitch is the most terrifying but if you can make it through that, it all gets easier and more fun. You learn to own your style, your values, your taste, and you collaborate with people who line up with those things. Good work is the best advertising you can do. It speaks for itself, it finds new clients. If you can get someone else to sing your song, your voice will be twice as loud.
If you can get someone else to sing your song, your voice will be twice as loud.
Are you a couple also in life ? If yes how do you separate work from your personal life?
We are good friends but we are only business partners. That being said we believe that the qualities that make for a good and healthy relationship are the same that make a strong business partnership. We have to make sure to always be communicating with each other, to really listen to the other person when they speak, and to voice any and all concerns to be able to build a positive environment filled with solutions and not a negative one riddled with aggression and anxiety.
Do you have a daily routine?
Celina : I start with greek yogurt, coffee, and getting dressed. Most days I’m in the studio, or around town, or at home. Every day, I end up using crayons and markers at some point, cutting up paper and drawing on the chalkboard, a lot of arts and crafts go on in the evening.
Grant : Our days are always scattered but I start most days at a café. And then end up running around to the city of Industry or downtown and spend a lot to time doing phone calls.
How do you motivate yourself ?
Grant : We are motivated by what lies ahead. We also have a long list of our own projects we want to do. We dangle these projects in front of us like a carrot on a stick.
Celina : And not in a morbid way, but we always think about how life is over very soon. We try hard not to take anything for granted. Above our door at Osso it says: ‘Live while you can.’ We try to remember to seize the day everyday. That makes our friends and families proud. And it affirms the importance of being a good, kind, and decent human being, and it comes through in the work we do.
What’s the best and worst part about making a living from your passion?
Celina : You get to work every day doing things you love. This is such a big advantage in business because we work 7 days a week and don’t get tired. What we do for fun is what we do for a living.
Grant : The only downside, which I don’t even think of as a downside, is that it was absolutely terrifying to begin. To quit our jobs, to open a bank account, to try to learn about tax entities and accounting, all of the nitty-gritty, which is neither of our strong points, was the scary part. But we are both better for having bitten the bullet. Bet on yourself. A few days of scariness for a lifetime of fun and relying on your own mind and creativity is totally worth the trade.
What are your short and long-terms plans ?
Our goal in the short term is to continue growing our client-base doing a myriad of different service work. We love doing packaging design, branding, and art direction. Right now we are doing interior design for a retail space in New York, and packaging for a start-up in the Bay Area. We love solving problems with creative solutions. We also plan on developing, designing, and releasing our first Osso product in the next year.
What is the best business advice you ever got ?
Grant : I think the best business advice comes from Charles Darwin. Most people think he said it was survival of the fittest. But that is wrong. What he actually said is: It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the one that is most adaptive to change. This is true for business as well. Be lean, move fast, listen, improve continuously.
I think the best business advice comes from Charles Darwin. Most people think he said it was survival of the fittest. But that is wrong. What he actually said is: It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the one that is most adaptive to change.This is true for business as well. Be lean, move fast, listen, improve continuously.
There are a few other quotes I always think about: 99% of success is showing up. Be a yardstick of quality. Do things that don’t scale. If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. Momento mori.
Celina : I always think about how Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” I firmly believe that if you do what you love, if you believe in yourself and your style, there will be SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, that likes what you like. So trust yourself.
What are the three apps and sites you use/visit daily ?
We use Tumblr for refining our taste.
We use Pinterest to organize our ideas and inspiration for projects.
And we use Waze because we live in LA and drive everywhere
And we use What’s App to talk to our foreign friends fo’ free.
Who is the person that inspires you the most ?
Celina : My mom and dad both inspire me endlessly. Grant is an ongoing source of inspiration. Sophia Amoruso, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Rachel Antonoff, Audrey Gelman…I think these are just #badasswomen right now who really own who they are and what they want.
Grant : My mom inspires me. Celina inspires me. I am a huge fan of the designer Lotta Nieminen. Basically just a lot of strong women inspire me.
Where do you hang out most of your free time ? What are your favorite places in Los Angeles ?
Grant : Our studio is the best. It’s on a hidden street just outside of downtown LA. We also try to go on regular field trips for inspiration, the Zoo or the shipyards or the countryside, just to see things from a different perspective. I also love Zinc Cafe. My favorite restaurant is Bestia- that’s where we went to celebrate our first client. Alchemy is a stunning boutique in the Arts district.
Celina : The Melrose Trading Post is an awesome, vast but not overwhelming, flea market every Sunday. The Library Alehouse in Santa Monica for their turkey burgers, The Kettle in Manhattan Beach for their breakfast, and UCB and Griffith Observatory in Hollywood for a good laugh and a beautiful view.
Grant : We also heard there’s a bar where Jeff Goldblum plays piano. So obviously that place.
Five Fun Facts About you?
- We started a monthly event in LA called Drink’n’draw
- We are hosting an art show Jan 31 for the LA painter Liz Walworth
- Celina drinks whiskey
- Grant likes jazz
- Someday our goal is to re-enact this scene.
If you could have dinner with three people who would it be ?
Leonardo Da Vinci
Anything you would like to add?
Never never never never never never surrender.