Joris Rigerl on leaving freelance to find a new home at Work & Co

The journey from a small town in Austria to one of New York’s hottest agencies

Crew
Crew
Jun 16, 2016 · 10 min read

If I asked you to name the top 10 hottest design cities around the world, Graz, Austria most likely wouldn’t be on your list. To be honest, you probably wouldn’t even mention it at all.

Hear the full interview with Joris and more by checking out The Studio— a new podcast where we explore the future of design and those who are leading the way.

But the pedigree of designers that have emerged from this university town over the past few years is nothing short of staggering.

Tobias van Schneider, who most recently led design at Spotify, calls Graz home. And more than that, it was where he first made his foray into professional design with his interdisciplinary studio Les Avignons.

Joris Rigerl

For those who don’t know, Les Avignons started as a collective, but evolved into a sort of loose agency, where everyone who worked out of the space was an individual contractor but would regularly collaborate on projects for clients.

Think of it like a coworking space with benefits.

And among the habitants of Les Avignons was fellow Graz’ian, Joris Rigerl — a designer whose career path has seen him move from the mountains of Austria to the streets of Brooklyn and a position at one of the city’s hottest new agencies.

We caught up with Joris to talk about the move, changing from freelance to agency, and why the future of design might be more optimistic that we imagine.

On growing up in Austria and meeting Tobias van Schneider

Joris is one of those designers who seemed to almost have a manifest destiny.

His father was a high school arts teacher and so from an early age he was surround by art and design — pens, pencils, artistic materials, and regular visits to local exhibitions. But it wouldn’t be until he was a teenager that the spark would finally ignite, and catch:

“An art teacher I had when I was around 14 showed me digital art and computer drawn art and the likes of Julian Opie and all of a sudden these two worlds that seemed so separate for me clicked and I figured out that ‘hey this is something’ you could actually do. You could spend your time on your computer making shit and through design generate value or just make art with it. And that got me hooked.”

At the time, a 17-year-old Joris, met a 17-year-old Tobias, and eventually joined him at their shared space, an experience that would shape the way he approaches design and collaboration:

“It was sort of a weird model and there’s not too many shops that do that these days. So, the model was everybody in the collective was a freelancer. Everybody had their own business set up and was doing their own stuff.”

“Everybody had that freedom that they were there on their own terms and they were only there because they wanted to make good stuff and that really helped us to produce work on that level that we managed to do.”

“But eventually, just because there as a wide variety of people in that collective — photographers, designers, and copywriters, and creative directors — we’d just get together on a per-project basis and say ‘hey, there’s this client that needs a website, but I also need photos for that and I need some copywriting and some help concepting it and development help’. And so we’d just get together in these teams from like 3–5 people and start making these projects happen.”

“And the cool thing about the collective having its own name and branding made it possible for us to almost represent ourselves the way an agency would. So we had our office. We could get clients to come to a real office with, well sort of a real conference room. It allowed us to operate as a business almost.”

“Everybody had that freedom that they were there on their own terms and they were only there because they wanted to make good stuff and that really helped us to produce work on that level that we managed to do.”

Les Avignons did more than just act as an agency. Over the 6 years they were active they worked with hundreds of clients. When it came time to move on to his next adventure, Joris started looking beyond the borders of his hometown.

On making the move to Brooklyn. And the move from freelance to agency.

In the fall of 2014, Joris started sending out his portfolio to a number of agencies, tech companies, and product shops, looking for a place that would fit his style and work. The one that ended up sticking, was Work and Co.

“I felt like I was very much a jack of all trades as a freelancer, and not that that’s bad… To me, it just feels really rewarding to be able to dive deep and be able to go 110% into the design process.”

“So, for those people that don’t know, and I guess it’s still a lot of people because we’re fairly young, Work and Co is a digital product design shop based in Brooklyn and its founded by a couple of people who used to work at Huge. Doing a lot of very very interesting projects. For example, some of the people who were responsible for HBO GO and all the great Target work and that kind of stuff.

“They left Huge to build this small-ish product shop in NY that focused on building very good, holistic products for companies that care about that kind of stuff.”

But for anyone moving from the freelance lifestyle into a company or agency, the question is always why move? What is it that’s missing from the freelance lifestyle that an agency can change?

“You know, I was already working in a team and I was already working very collaboratively with clients and co-workers, but what was missing to me was having that environment where I could on the one hand work on stuff that was on a much, much bigger scale, and had a very big reach that just impacts a ton of people.

“And then on the other hand have that whole environment around me that is just so much more supportive than any freelance environment can be, where you have people starting from product managers who really understand the design process and help with the communication with the client, to other designers that have so much more experience and can really mentor you, which is something you don’t get at all when you’re freelancing, to a whole suite of developers who are just on top of their game.”

“It really taught me about how restricted my process was when I was doing freelance. Just because you’re so focused around deadlines and making everything work that you start to forget how there is this whole diverge and converge process where you really explore everything and don’t leave anything out and just iterate, iterate, iterate.”

“So it’s really just a crazy experience to be here and be a part of something that feels that complete. I felt like I was very much a jack of all trades as a freelancer, and not that that’s bad. It’s also enjoyable when you get to have your hands in everything and I guess that’s part of the startup mentality. It’s just touching a lot of stuff. To me, it just feels really rewarding to be able to dive deep and be able to go 110% into the design process.”

Just having that opportunity to focus in on the one thing that makes his work standout has had a profound effect on Joris’ work. And not just in the output, but in his approach to a new project:

“I’ve never been in an environment with people that have 20 years of experience launching products. And so there’s just a ton of stuff I learned and it starts with very simple things, like how you communicate your ideas to a client and how you go about exploring your ideas and concepting and developing them. How to go about solving stuff.”

“It really taught me about how restricted my process was when I was doing freelance. Just because you’re so focused around deadlines and making everything work and the client and whatever else is going on in your life that you start to forget how there is this whole diverge and converge process where you explore everything and don’t leave anything out and just iterate, iterate, iterate.

“In the relationship I have at Work & Co, where I’m an employee, it really helps doing that, because I don’t have to worry too much about how much time I’m spending, because if the project is scoped well enough, which it usually is, we have that time to just keep exploring and I don’t have to worry about making the cut myself.”

On the current state of design

Around this same time, Joris was asked to sit on the panel for the Awwwards — basically acting as a gatekeeper for new designs of websites, scouring through submissions, checking for responsiveness and general design, and ultimately judging them on their uniqueness.

“I think the biggest takeaway is just that it’s really, really hard to make something unique nowadays. A lot of the stuff you look at you feel like ‘I’ve seen this 100 million times before’.”

“At the very start of when I started judging I was super into it. I went to every website and looked at them on a couple different devices. Made sure everything was responsive. Checked out every section of the website.”

“And nowadays often I see things come up and I go to it and after maybe a minute or so, I know how the rest of the website is, because it’s just the same building blocks. Everybody just copies each other and tries to do these tiny little refinements, but in the end I just feel like I’m looking at the same website over and over.”

So are we in a design slump where everything is starting to look the same? Same templates, same fonts, same layout? Or is this just the future of design where speed is the number one concern?

“I don’t necessarily think we’re in a slump. I think there’s just way more design than there has ever been. There’s way easier access to design and design tools than there’s ever been and there’s way more people getting into design and tech than there’s ever been just because it’s exploding as a field.

“So what we’re seeing right now is just that everybody’s learning to get a grasp on this new world and starting to understand and dive deep into this tech and design world. And for the people who have been in there longer it feels like this flooding of mediocre stuff, but in reality it’s just going to evolve and people who don’t stick with it are going to fall away eventually.”

“I think it’s always a positive if there’s more people getting into something. Because it means that everybody challenges each other and it elevates the field as a whole and eventually we’re going to see that the things that do stand out and that are unique, I would like to say, are so much better than what we thought was special a couple years ago.”

To keep up with Joris and the work he’s doing at Work and Co. follow him on Twitter or check out his portfolio. Or if you’re in Dumbo, you can catch him at Burrow coffee grabbing one of the city’s best pastries. Just don’t tell him we told you.


This post was transcribed from an episode of The Studio — a new podcast series from Crew exploring the future of design and the people taking us there. Listen to all episodes here.


Published inThe Agency- curated byCrew. Check us out to get started working with the best designers and developers on the web.

Over 10 million people have used products made on Crew. And over 3 million people have read our blog. Join them here.

The Agency

Case studies, advice and knowledge from the creative/digital/advertising agency world. Providing a platform to spread the best ideas in an industry that thrives on constant innovation. If you think you can inspire or share value, email us. We may add more great writers soon.

Crew

Written by

Crew

Work with handpicked designers and developers https://crew.co | Overbooked? Refer work: https://crew.co/referrals

The Agency

Case studies, advice and knowledge from the creative/digital/advertising agency world. Providing a platform to spread the best ideas in an industry that thrives on constant innovation. If you think you can inspire or share value, email us. We may add more great writers soon.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade