We spoke to Sinan Imre of Studio Simpatico about the activities of the New York-based design studio and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sinan Imre: Thank you for asking, and I hope you, too, are doing well. My wife and I recently moved just outside of New York City, where I’ve spent the past 12 years of my life. Handling everything that comes with COVID-19 has been easier since then, as we’re now in a less densely populated area and much closer to nature. I worry about my family in Turkey, where I am originally from, but I also realize that I am still in a more fortunate situation than others. I try not to take that for granted.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Studio Simpatico.
Sinan Imre: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” A friend once said that during a job interview. I’m borrowing it now because I’ve seen it manifest throughout my career. My first opportunity to design a full brand identity from the ground-up was with Harmless Harvest, which came about after designing a photography exhibition, unknowingly for their founder’s wife. In a similar vein, one of Simpatico’s current clients is someone I met eight years ago when we were both surviving one incubator after another as freelancers.
Studio Simpatico was founded similarly. My co-founder, Tamara Olson, and I had been partnering on freelance projects for almost two years when she floated the idea of growing it into a studio. It felt like a logical progression — our skills, work styles, and personalities were already simpatico with each other. Perhaps our sense of fashion too, as we once showed up to a meeting dressed exactly the same.
Studio Simpatico grew out of our shared philosophy. We’ve always felt that we owe our clients attention, respect, and humility. We revel in their passion for their businesses and share the excitement of their successes. Simpatico is now a team of six, and these qualities remain at the heart of who we collectively are. Our main motivation is to delight our clients with our work, to be on their side, ready and eager to face creative challenges with them. That is why we value adaptivity — if a certain process isn’t working for a client, we iterate on a new one.
How does Studio Simpatico innovate?
Sinan Imre: I think our most innovative quality is how we run our studio. We are an intentionally small team of six: a collective of problem-solvers as opposed to a tiered team with task-specific roles. Sure, we each have areas of specialty, but all of us are creative thinkers and have a solid understanding of each other’s unique skills. Everyone is aware of every project, and everyone is encouraged to join creative brainstorms.
What this means to our clients is real transparency. The team they work with during our Discovery phase is the same team they’ll work with during UX, Wireframing, Design, Development, or any other phase a project might require. We’ve always loved sharing a Slack channel with our clients for quick and easy communication (especially now that we’re all working remotely), and I think our size is one of the few things that allow us to be collaborative and transparent, not just with each other but with our clients as well.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Sinan Imre: Studio Simpatico’s success relies on the success of our clients. If their businesses are hurting, then so is ours, and COVID-19 has undeniably been extremely tough on all businesses. We are also our clients’ cheerleaders — our collaborations begin with professional empathy but often end up as a personal connection and understanding. It has been tough to see people we’ve loved working with struggling, especially those whose business relies on in-person interaction. On the other hand, I can imagine why clients like Ten to One Rum might see an increase in demand… many of us could use a drink right about now.
We try to keep in touch with all of our past clients and have been happy to support their creative needs as much as we can during this time.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Sinan Imre: Being in the same open room together was integral to our dynamic and fluid way of working, but it also came with a 30+ minute subway commute for most of us. It was a difficult decision to forego our office, albeit a necessary one for everyone’s health and safety.
I’ve also found that we truly thrive on the excitement of our clients. If our client loses their passion for the project, it can lead to project fatigue on our end. That can be more likely without in-person meetings, so we’ve naturally become that much more accessible online. We now have more shared Slack channels with our clients than ever, and we opt for a video call whenever we can.
I’m generally glad to see that our work style remains unchanged, and the daily banter, questions, gut-checks, brainstorms — all of the things at the core of who we are — still happen, just on Slack. We realized we didn’t have to change what we did, just how we did it.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Studio Simpatico in the future?
Sinan Imre: Creative work can be therapeutic for a team like ours. We each find fulfillment in working through creative challenges, and doing that as a close-knit team helps us focus on a collective goal. As another benefit of being a small team, we’ve tried to be mindful of everyone’s personal coping mechanisms, whether those be taking more frequent breaks, regular check-in meetings, or sharing pet photos. Accommodating the small differences in the ways we individually deal with the pandemic has done a lot for our collective health and morale.
As the world changes, so do the challenges it presents. Solving them requires the rapid sort of creative thinking that is already ingrained in Simpatico. We’ve seen B2B businesses pivot to make a D2C play in record time. It’s perseverance through innovation, and it’s happening all around us. The local coffee shop by my old house partnered with a local farm and quickly launched a website to sell produce with curb-side pickup. Tamara and I recently met at a socially-distanced outdoor concert in what used to be a seldom-used parking lot. This sort of adaptation is motivating.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Sinan Imre: We are often pitted against larger agencies, and size and fluidity remain our main differentiators. Most of us have worked at one at some point. We’ve all been in that meeting that could have been an email. For agency creatives, dogmatic processes, bureaucratic titles, and siloed teams can stand in the way of producing good work. For clients, it means less of their budget goes to the work and more of it to the agency’s overhead. It can also make the agency inaccessible to the client; the core team working on their project will often be veiled by a project manager.
We try to stay as lean and accessible as possible at Studio Simpatico. No one on our team is non-essential. We are all internal and client-facing simultaneously — project managers of our own work. When a client gives creative feedback, they give to the person who will implement it. If they have a question about development, they get an immediate answer because they can ask the developer directly. This kind of collaborative, consultative approach makes it easier for clients to see what they are spending their budget on and makes for a more honest, empathetic partnership.
Your final thoughts?
Sinan Imre: This is a weird time. The line between work and life has naturally blurred, and we’ve all been away — at least physically — from friends and family who may have been our support system. So I consider myself lucky to be able to tell my teammates if I’m having a bad day or just need to step away for 15 minutes. The changes that come about as a result of something like COVID-19 may be forced, but evolving and adapting as a business as best as we can is up to us.