an 11 year collaboration

May 9, 2012 |  Category:   art + design life me

I know I don’t talk about my design work very often (ask my family; I think it drives them nuts that I don’t like to talk about the projects I’m working on). I often reference that I’m “busy with deadlines” or “I’m slammed with work”, but have never specifically talked about any of the client projects that keep me busy. The truth is, my freelance work takes up so much of my day – sometimes 15 hours a day if I’m double or triple booked on projects – that it’s the last thing I want to write or talk about, especially if it’s stressful, and often times it is. I’ve managed to keep it fairly separate from my personal life and I guess I decided long ago that I didn’t want my job to be the one thing that defines me. Being that design, however, really is how I spend most of my waking time, I wanted to introduce a new website that we launched recently for one of my oldest clients, Cabengo. In it’s 4th iteration, the site documents 11 years worth of our work.

I met my friend and colleague, Hillary a few months after I graduated from grad school in 2000. I had spent the summer working for another start up venture (what is it with me and all these start ups?), but I was also interviewing at big interactive advertising agencies, not as a designer interestingly enough, but for information architect positions. I sometimes think about the path my career would have taken, had I accepted any of those jobs. Maybe I would have worked up to a Creative Director position at one of the big agencies like so many of my friends and peers, but I guess even back then the lure of climbing some corporate ladder for a big job title was never that attractive to me. Instead, I decided to join up with Hillary when she started Cabengo.
Back then it was just the 3 of us in the office, a shared space that we rented from an architecture firm, with designy Herman Miller office furniture. It was the first office job that I had in 3 years and the last office job that I would hold to date (this is the place where my coffee addiction began, ironically enough. I could probably count on one hand the number of cups of coffee that I had the entire time I lived in the caffeine capital of the US, the Pacific Northwest, but it took a regular office job to get me addicted to the stuff). Even though the company was new, Hillary had a few high profile jobs lined up from her museum contacts from being an artist in a prior life. As it turns out, joining a small boutique startup would prove to be a good decision because the tech bubble would soon burst and so many of my friends lost their jobs the next year; I was able to employ many of them during a big, year long project that we had done for an early client.
After two and a half years, Hillary and I decided that it would be best if we move into a freelance relationship. We gave up the fancy office and started working from home. She had just given birth to her first child and I was sort of thinking about having babies too. It was during this time when I lost a steady paycheck and my health insurance, that I decided, well…why not? I might not have had any financial security, but I had the time and flexibility to start a family. This is when my freelance career started. I never looked back.
I think in a time when job longevity is not as common as in generations past and most people expect you to bop around from job to job every couple of years or so, long-time collaborations are maybe harder to find. But just as I keep saying about so many things in my life lately, “Has it really been 11 years?” (maybe that is just what old people say), sometimes I do marvel that we’ve been able to work together for so many years on so many projects. I’ve juggled many other clients and projects alongside my work with Cabengo during my 9 year freelance career, but none that have endured this long. During those years we’ve had 4 babies between us, first-time home purchases, marriages, illnesses and 40th birthday celebrations. We also share what might perhaps be the most unique bond of all – we were both stranded together during a business trip in Venezuela trying to get back home during 9/11 .
I think many of you can agree that it’s not the job that makes a job enjoyable; it’s who you work with. When you find a colleague that you mesh with so well, where you share similar aesthetic sensibilities and you can finish each other’s sentences, or sometimes not even need to say anything at all, it is a rare find and one worth holding onto.

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  • wendy May 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    i completely agree! its so nice that you’ve found your work ‘soul mate” 🙂

  • Anne-Marie May 10, 2012 at 3:44 am

    Now I know why my boyfriend (also a designer) never talks about work!
    Really liked your post the other day wondering if you were a good mother. You are so courageous to be honest, and say what the rest of think/have done, but are afraid to write down. You can only be a great mother if you are so honest!

  • rachel May 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    i hope i can someday get into just freelancing and have a baby. right now i work for a small ad agency that i love, but freelancing, even with its uncertain paychecks and stress, seems like a better option for me and my personality.

  • Sandra May 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    There is something about collaborating that makes the work sweeter. And better too – that synergy is amazing when it works.

    What a thing to appreciate – how lucky to have had someone to collaborate with for such a long time. And especially, as you note, at a time when paid work situations are so transient.

  • Selkie May 10, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Lucky you’s, both of you!

  • Wendy May 10, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    I can totally relate on the last sentences. So true 🙂

  • Pink Ronnie May 11, 2012 at 7:12 am

    That is just awesome to have had a 11 year working relationship. Definitely rare.
    I also just had a look at the Cabengo website. Gosh, you guys have down an amazing portfolio of work and wow, those awards! Loved reading your ‘professional’ bio too.
    Ronnie xo

  • Cynthia May 11, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Jenna, thank you for sharing what you do in your professional life and how you got to where you are today. You are very inspiring and it’s nice to know that even with all the talent in the world, it has also has been your many years of hard work and the creative relationships in your field that have helped you be a successful designer. Your girls have a great role model.

  • R May 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    That is very inspiring. I’ve just graduated from design school doing graphic design. I’m interested to know how did you start off getting freelance jobs and what made you choose design? It is always nice to hear about such things. Thank you 🙂

  • Alicia May 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    It was really nice to flip through the Cabengo website, thanks for sharing it! Also inspired by your relationship with Hillary, that’s quite amazing, too.

  • anna May 23, 2012 at 10:23 am

    sooo soooo very true. I found my creative partner thru our last job and went off on our own (funny, our studio was just down the block from our old job). we had our ups & downs but we did it together for over 12yrs until she decided to pursue another creative medium. we still keep in touch and we still are there for each other if need be. 🙂

  • Jenna May 24, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    @R – sorry this response is so late. I didn’t study design in school. I studied fine art and music.I guess i just fell into it after I graduated college because I needed a job. When I moved back to NY I took it a little more seriously and took a job in the beauty industry where I found a mentor. I learned much of what I know about type there. I’ve talked about design before on the blog, and my struggles with it! As far as freelance jobs go, I had this one steady client, but many of my job initially came through grad school contacts. Good luck!