Ken Carbone BFA '73/Leslie Smolan BFA '75 (Graphic Design)
How do two talented, creative, ambitious people partner together professionally day in and day out for 35 exceptionally successful years and live to tell the tale?
"Trust and aligned ambition, shared values and life focus."
That's the recipe, according to Ken Carbone BFA '73 (Graphic Design) and Leslie Smolan BFA '75 (Graphic Design), are partners in the leading international design and branding firm Carbone Smolan Agency.
And it's worked: their client list includes such international brands and cultural icons as the Louvre Museum, Christie’s, W Hotels, Sesame Workshop, Herman Miller, San Francisco International Airport and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They've won just about every major design and branding award there is to win. And how they’ve done all of that is the subject of their new book Dialog: What Makes a Great Design Partnership (Pointed Leaf Press).
The book pays tribute to their partnership and provides a fascinating catalog of their huge branding portfolio—35 of the agency's most celebrated design projects are highlighted, illustrating the power of their collaborative process. "Our partnership is based on our mutual love of art and design, combined with our trust in each other’s diverse perspectives," says Smolan.
Carbone describes Smolan as "all about nuance and detail; she's deliberate and deep, while I'm about fast—I'm not patient, I like the momentum of moving ahead quickly. The combination minimizes redundancies."
"And again, trust is key," adds Smolan. "The creative friction gives us the opportunity to argue out different ideas and perspectives; we egg each other on and play off each other. Eventually one of us takes the ball and runs with it, because if we both run with it, we’ll run into each other. We call our model 'being in violent agreement.'"
Dialog is divided into four sections—Fame, Fortune, Fun and Freedom—each with samples of their work and commentary about each project and how they collaborated to accomplish it. Fame and fortune they have certainly found, and fun as well, according to Smolan, pointing to graphic design work they did for the iconic glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre.
"Standing where the pyramid would be with (architect) I.M. Pei's staff, I thought, 'There's nothing here now, but eventually millions of people will be here.' And I've been flown by helicopter onto exotic, deserted islands where new hotels would stand. We’ve gotten to work for the White House and for the Dalai Lama."
Smolan says when she was at UArts, she thought she'd be a fine artist or illustrator, but someone suggested graphic design would best fulfill the promise of her talent. In hindsight, that shift could be termed—with considerable understatement—a good decision.
"After 35 years, we have the freedom to choose what we want to do," says Carbone. "And if the day comes when it doesn't work for us, we can shut it down, say we accomplished something and declare victory."