We had the good fortune of connecting with Danielle Harris and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Danielle, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Starting my own business, in this case a small design studio, was never my plan so it’s hard to reply directly but I can share with you how I got here. My career started working for big brands where I worked with teams of creatives to imagine lucrative and beautiful campaigns for fashion and beauty and where I would meet some of my most important mentors who taught me the ins and outs of fostering creativity, defending creativity and applying it strategically to prove concept. These skills helped me to advance quickly in my field and by year 4-5 I took a leap and went to work at my first startup. It was a “results only” work environment and for the first time I was working from home, remotely with a team across the country, and now as a creative team of one – me. In many ways it was pure bliss but I would find that startups work very differently than in-house teams and the stakes for everything we produced were really high because we relied on funding. I was already known for being a workaholic but this brought out a worker I’d never seen in myself and after several years of burnout I had to call it quits. That was 2017 and it was then I decided I really needed to think hard about my next move. Truths I had discovered were that I was done commuting 45mins a day, remote work was how I performed best and it was time to make that consistent. I’d designed my life around the ability to travel and it was time I had a version of my job where I could work remotely from afar. Last, I was intrigued by working on several brands at once, it was challenging and fun, always knowing a new brand would be coming down the road. Not only did I want to become an expert at branding through branding multiple businesses a year, I wanted to share what I’d learned about business with good folks working with smaller budgets who often had never run a business before. As the work kept pouring in it became clear I was where I needed to be – not quite a freelancer – but for sure a small studio catering to startups who could benefit from my special blend of services and experience. In 2017 I filed for an S-Corp and Trademark and Look Look Studio was born.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Today I am the most proud of the types of clients I work with while getting to be my genuine self. The types of clients I get these days have great taste and have a really solid vision for why they’re starting a business. They care not just about money but about culture, quality and other people. They respect the creative process and are excited to see where it takes us.
How I differ from traditional agencies, and why I keep it small, is that I approach the clients I work with as new creative partners vs the hyper professional client/designer relationship. The later brings a certain amount of nervousness and fear into a project and I’m interested in working in safe spaces were we’re able to iterate when it’s practical, learn from each other, tell stories, laugh, and share brutal truths, all for the sake of producing the best possible brand. One that inspires affection and was born from shared brilliance.
Another way in which my studio differs from traditional studios is that it’s scalable model that allows me to create larger or smaller teams depending on the project I take on. At times I have worked with a team as big as 5 to produce a brand while other times it’s been only me. It all depends on how soon a client needs the work, how many phases there are, and what those phases are. For example, for brands that require naming I always bring in a top professional who leads that phase. Or if we need verbal strategy and lot of copy writing, there’s a handful of insanely talented writers I call on for that. This allows me to not to be limited to very large or very small budgets. I get to choose based on the people and the vision while supporting the mega-talented freelancer community I’ve curated over the past 15 years.
Last, biggest advice for those who are considering going freelance: every single person you work in-house with could one day be a client. Every person you meet at a party, a dinner or even a family gathering could also be a client. Don’t be shy about what you do. When people ask about your work, share that you are passionate about what you do and light up. That’s what people remember when they start to think of a designer to hire — who do I want to spend the next 4-8 months with who also is good at what they do. It’s the number one thing people have said to me. “I love how excited you get, it makes it so much fun…oh and we think you are very talented. Glad we met you when we did!”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh man, this is my favorite question.
Food; we’d need to for sure hit these spots before they leave: Greekman’s, Pine & Crane, Guisados or Playita (owned by Guisados), Sqirl, Lolo Wine Bar (for food and drinks), Bacetti, DeSano Pizza, Taco Zone, Botanica, Gra. The cake from Quarter Sheets Pizza is next level too.
Coffee: Dayglow Coffee, Go Get Em’ Tiger, Woodcat Coffee, Maru
Booze: Semi Tropic, Bar Stella, Prado. Or even better, grab a natural wine from Vinovore or Tilda and head out to a park to watch an LA sunset and gaze at the beautiful flora here.
Events: I’m a big fan of ambient music listening events like Growing, Ambient Church or In Sheep’s Clothing. Those aren’t nearly as common elsewhere so I’d want them to experience one of those. We’d definitely need to check out a day dance party like the ones @earryhall throws. I’d hope we could catch a show at Lodgeroom or Zebulon. Watching movies in LA is a very different experience, so hopefully Los Feliz 3 would be showing something cool and we could get a drink at Pinkies after. We’d check out one of the secret beaches in Malibu and go on a hike near the Hollywood Sign to get a view of the whole city and some quality time with some iconic letters. Last, I still have a soft spot for drinking on the ACE hotel roof and walking around DTLA, so, perhaps that as well.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Scott Richards – hands down. He may have already done one of these so I will list a couple of others too. https://slightlychoppy.com/
Scott was my first creative director and he moved me to LA when I was 27 to work with him on the Alternative Apparel rebrand. His background was in surfing and sewing and he worked at Quicksilver for a very long time. He’s a true artisan and process was everything to him. He taught me to slow down and enjoy it and never forget that I was trying to tell a story visually.
Petecia Le Fawnhawk, now a famous artist, she was the first art director I worked with. We didn’t work together long but to see a woman so self possessed, with such vivid creative visions, was a huge inspiration to me.
Amber Canterbury for image of Illustrated card. Portrait: Narae Kim Everything else is a 3D render