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Mistakes & Lessons Starting a Design Studio

An interview with
Jan Wilker


Just over 20 years ago, Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker teamed up to start their own design studio. They had no clients and no work to show, but hired an office in New York and called the studio, KarlssonWilker. The first 24 months of their journey was full of struggles and mistakes, but they made things work regardless, as told in their book, tellmewhy.

Ian interviews Jan Wilker, a guest recommended by Stefan Sagmeister, to unravel the story where that book left off. We discover more about those early mistakes and lessons starting a design studio, find out what would be done differently if starting from scratch today, and discuss the studios design approach, best described as 'playful exploration'.

Jan Wilker Interview Transcription

Ian Paget: Normally what I do for interviews is actually right down like a list of questions so I've got some kind of structure but in this case, I just wrote down a whole load of notes of stuff that we could potentially go through. So we could talk for hours I feel. But I want to ask you about one thing, I don't know if you've ever been asked about this and I think it could be a fun, little icebreaker.

So in your book and I don't know if this is true. So for listeners prior to doing this interview, Jan kindly recommended the book Tell Me Why? Which was written like 20 years ago and it's really cool to be able to speak to you after reading that book knowing that we're 20 years on from that. But there's a short story in there about side agency thing called parasite where you would break into agencies and use their stuff out of ours. Is that real? Is that actually a thing? Or are you just playing? Or are just having some fun with the book?

Jan Wilker: Yeah.

Ian Paget: Have you been asked about this before?

Jan Wilker: No.

Ian Paget: No? Really? In 20 years nobody has asked?

Jan Wilker: Yeah. I was always hoping someone would ask and it's funny that I had to wait that long, so I'm a little bit surprised.