We had the good fortune of connecting with Simon Renggli and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Simon, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I had always dreamed of starting my own business. I craved the creative freedom and flexibility that being your own boss allows. I wanted space to make my own art, but I knew I needed to acquire life experiences — to be humbled and to find my own voice and style — before I struck out on my own.
In my 20s, I worked at a few different creative agencies that didn’t afford me any extra time or energy for my own projects. Starting my own business allowed me to structure my day in a more balanced way — carving space to explore my own practice while making a living at the same time.
My first full time job was at Studio Achermann — a Zurich-based graphic design studio that works predominantly in art, culture and fashion. We designed artist books and design catalogs and directed photo shoots for image campaigns. Though we made really strong work, the creative agency model was insanely stressful. I was young and pretty anxious and often didn’t feel confident defending my ideas. Looking back now, it was a growth experience. I learned so much there, not just about what I wanted for my work and life, but about the things I didn’t want, too.
After Studio Achermann I decided I was ready for a new start and moved to Los Angeles. It was a challenge starting from scratch and building a community and network from the ground-up.
In LA, I got a job as the Senior Designer at Atelier Ace, the creative studio behind Ace Hotels. Coming from a print background, it was a whole new multi-dimensional world designing for hospitality projects, working on everything that goes into a hotel, from wayfinding signage and packaging, to merchandise, product and web design, social media campaigns and marketing, event posters, restaurant menus and even in-room art. The graphics department there has a lot of influence on how the interior design and architecture comes to life, which was so inspiring.
Working there was a learning experience, for sure. I learned restraint — that graphic design doesn’t have to be overwrought. You can trust the intelligence in materials. There’s power in simplicity and ease, as long as the elements are high-quality and the production is well-executed and deeply considered. This method of design feels more humble in that it gives people room to interact with and animate it in their own way.
In school you learn how to come up with a concept and evolve your personal style. But no one ever teaches you the business aspect of creating your own studio. I think by working at agencies I was hoping to learn more about the process behind a project, how to relate with clients, how to bill properly and how to structure time.
After Atelier Ace, I finally came to a point where I was like, “This is it. I’m ready to go our on my own.” So I compiled all my work from the past few years, redesigned my website and started sharing it with friends and other people in the industry.
I realized it’s okay to be proud of your work. That there’s no shame in sharing what I do, even on social media — something I resisted until I moved to Los Angeles. There’s something about the spirit here that’s refreshing. People are ambitious and less afraid to fuck up. So I tried that, too, even though it goes against my Swiss instincts.
Starting your own business is kind of like creating the world you want to live in. I knew I wanted to build real, meaningful relationships with the people I worked with. Sometimes in agencies, client relations are strained and awkward, with the bottom line driving the conversation. I like getting to know my clients — their aesthetic, their background, their motivations, even their sense of humor. Design is all about emotions. It’s equal parts technical skill and intuition, so if you don’t understand your clients’ feelings and desires, what’s the point?
For so long, I compared myself with other people who started their own studio earlier, but I realize that the experiences I had along the way allowed for a more specific point of view on what I wanted to create. Those experiences take time, and building confidence comes with knowing what you’re worth.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am an LA-based artist and graphic designer specializing in visual communication. My solo studio focuses on print and digital design for cultural and commercial clients.
In my own work – mainly sculptural masks and faces – I explore expressions at the fringe of human experience, exaggerated human conditions ranging from fear to love to power to sexuality. Masks and making them are deeply rooted in my biography. The small Swiss town I grew up in – Lucerne – has an ancient tradition in making masks and costumes for the annual carnival the Luzerner Fasnacht. Learning the traditional techniques behind sculpting masks from scratch, it quickly became an important and inspirational part of my life and continues to be integral today.
The plaster molds I’ve been working with create a lot of plaster waste. Lately, I’ve been collecting the refuse to create an archive of plaster objects and a record of sorts of my practice. They remind me of archeological fossils and crystallized sugar baking elements. I combine those to create a more abstract version of my masks that function as sculptures, rather than masks you wear. I work out of my garage and everything dries really fast in the LA heat. Right now, I’m working on a series of new masks where I experiment with color in new ways.
I also work as a graphic designer and creative director. I mostly do visual identities in the art, interior design and hospitality sectors. An ongoing project has been Tiwa Select – a platform showcasing functional artworks for the home, curated by Alex Tieghi-Walker. Alex is the founder of Tiwa Select and I have been helping him with the creative direction. The initial idea of the logo started with a small event selling folk objects.
My background in material arts took the branding experience away from being purely graphic, and made it something that felt simple and playful. I created a modular system of shapes and letters that simultaneously unite all the visual elements, but allowed room for them to flex and evolve.
The rigid (yet faint) black grid creates a guide that can be respected—or disrupted—by other elements. Sometimes, letters break from their boundaries and stretch in unexpected ways, like the W in “TIWA.” The red block letters are cut out and represent handicrafts, organic materials, and forms. They were created by hand but have been translated for digital use, while also remaining in the physical world as actual stamps. The logo at the top of gift receipts, invoices, and postcards are hand-created during the stamping process; letters and shapes are freed from the grid, and each one is custom and imperfect — a notion that mirrors the objects in Tiwa Select’s collection. I’m excited to continue working on this since there are so many possibilities to go further with this identity. Currently we’re working on a book!
Other work includes my time at Atelier Ace, the creative agency behind the Ace Hotel. My big project back then was creating the identity for Sister City, a new hotel concept on Bowery in New York City. I was able to work on a wide range of design collateral – from the brand identity to signage, website, merchandise and in room products.
When I was developing the creative direction for the marketing campaign, the buildings and rooms were under construction, so we had to get resourceful. The building has a beautiful view over Manhattan so we had an idea to create some messaging and allow the space to speak for itself. Emily Bernstein, the copywriter at the time, came up with ‘See Sister City’, a reference to the ubiquitous ‘See Rock City’ barn paintings she saw on her road trips through the American South as a youth.
We had a tiny budget, so we had to get scrappy. I iron printed the message on fabric and went to New York with my friend and photographer Matt Allen. I held the flag pole, and he took the photos. It was simple but effective! I think what fascinates me a lot in design is that we don’t always have to create a big production to create a strong marketing campaign. If we just find a simple way to create a strong visual message, the campaign will sing. The end product was the photo of the flag on top of the building. The background looks fake but it was actually real!
My favorite projects are those that require a bit of playfulness and resourceful energy. What I want the world to know is that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to get a little wild and to let the client temper you. Add some humor to projects and don’t be too serious. Take risks, speak out loud, plant a flag on top of a building and wave it!!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would probably first start in my neighborhood in Silverlake and rent an e-bike. My boyfriend and I got some e-bikes (used ones are so much cheaper!) during the pandemic and it really changed my LA life. I got to explore so many different neighborhoods and see all the beautiful architecture that I didn’t appreciate while driving. LA is not all about cars. Just be careful and take the side streets.
Also, there are so many hidden staircases on the East side where you can explore the architecture and landscape design. Sometimes it reminds me of being in Italy. There’s so much flora and fauna, with the smell of orange blossoms and jasmine, I love it! I once even found morels in my neighborhood!
Since we’re talking about flowers – Huntington Library! It’s the most beautiful botanical garden and I love taking Europeans thereafter they spend hours in a car exploring the city.
And, of course, nature. I like to show people that LA has such an amazing variety of wildness inside it. You can sunbathe at a remote beach in Malibu, walk through a stone maze in Joshua Tree, go on a hike along a lush river at Angeles National forest, and get to touch some snow at Lake Arrowhead (reminds me of the Swiss Alps!).
On the weekend, I would invite them over for dinner. I prefer cooking for people rather than going out. I cook like 4 times a week for friends. Luckily we have a garden and I was able to continue my passion with social distance dinners during the pandemic.
I think that LA is very misinterpreted when it comes to its people, at least its reputation in New York and Europe. The beauty about LA is that you go to people’s homes. Whether it’s a house party or just a mellow dinner, you spend hours talking, dining or dancing in their home and garden. It’s very intimate. You really get to spend quality time with people and see how they live and what they love.
So my recommendation: invite them to your place with a bunch of other peeps, cook together, enjoy some wine and a cig and dance to Lucio Battisti.
Generally, I would stick to my neighborhood on the East Side. Nothing is more annoying than driving around for hours and showing all the hotspots. Find the ones in your neighborhood! There is so much to see. Otherwise:
Download SeeSaw – the BEST app for all current exhibitions and galleries. Pick your spots, figure out the best route for all of them so you don’t spend all day driving around.
A hidden gem – The Norton Simon Museum!
McManus and Morgan – best paper store in McArthur Park
Aardvark Letterpress – best letterpress next door.
The Abbey – Just kidding!
The Gamble House – Pasadena. A masterpiece in craftsmanship. Each bedroom has its own terrace so they could move the beds outside and sleep under the stars.
Baller Hardware – Because hardware stuff is sexy and they know everything.
Flowers Market in Downtown – Probably the best open wholesale flower market in the country?
Rose Lane Farms – Hand-grown roses in North Hollywood without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Make a reservation and go pick your own roses!
Red Lion – It’s great for brunch. They now have a nice beer garden with good-quality sausages.
Zebulon – I miss the old days of going to an incredible concert followed by some beers in the outdoor area.
Echo Park Trash Club – Help the community by keeping the streets clean!
Pho Cafe – because it has the best pho soup (at least in my neighborhood).
Lamill – because it’s just down the street and I always run into someone while ordering my 7$ coffee!
Continental Gourmet Sausage – The best sausage place in town! Plus they have all sorts of german products, from spicy mustard to schnaps!
Birdseye Dentistry – Because people always need recommendations! They are amazing and fun! Please refer to my name so I get a 50$ credit.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people in my life that deserve a shoutout! I’m grateful for every friend, coworker, mentor and teacher who have helped me in my career and inspired me to further push my dreams. I think overall I’m thankful to have a variety of friends from different fields, whether they are creative or not. And I’m particularly grateful for my boyfriend, who always supports me and makes me laugh in times where I feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Feature photo by Justin Chung Other photos: Justin Chung, Reto Schmid