A/D/O by MINI | Jessica Walsh goes solo

Jessica Walsh goes solo

The former Sagmeister & Walsh principal’s new studio, &Walsh, will focus on helping brands to “find their weird” and elevating women designers.

After seven years as a co-principal of creative firm Sagmeister & Walsh, designer Jessica Walsh has formed her own creative agency, called simply &Walsh. Announced on Instagram in late July 2019, the development forms the next step for the leading design partnership that oversaw branding, campaigns, and typographical work for everyone from The Rolling Stones to Apple. &Walsh will keep its office in the same location where Sagmeister & Walsh was based and has hired the entire creative team from the old company, but this is more than just a rebranding exercise. “We have a new vision for this chapter,” Walsh told The Journal.

After graduating from RISD in 2008, Walsh took a job at Pentagram and worked on various illustration projects until 2010, when she was hired by Stephen Sagmeister. Two years later, Sagmeister became Sagmeister & Walsh, and the partnership was incredibly fruitful. “We had an amazing decade working together,” said Walsh. But with Sagmeister moving away from client-based work, she decided it was time to fulfil a lifelong dream and lead her own creative studio. 

Walsh also runs an international non-profit initiative called Ladies, Wine and Design. It’s a sort of meet up group for women and non-binary people in design who are looking for networking, mentorship, and solidarity among those who are typically under represented in the industry. As Walsh is quick to point out, less than 0.1% of creative agencies are founded by women. Now, as the founder of one herself, she hopes to use her position to elevate other women. “Providing mentorship and a forum to discuss the lack of representation in leadership, and the pay gap for women and non-binary people, has been a personal focus of mine, but I also want to implement these principles within our studio,” she said.

Walsh envisions a much closer relationship between her firm and its clients than is standard in the industry. &Walsh will be tied not only to single campaigns, projects, or rebranding efforts, but play a driving role in brands’ strategy and identity. “In this new phase, we will push beyond design and art direction into deeper strategy and brand development work,” said Walsh. “We work with brands in early stages, advising on products, identifying audiences and helping to shape the brand from the ground up.”

Her new firm has already worked on its brand identity, creating a lively interactive website, and typographical language for itself, in which the ampersand takes center stage as a symbol, object of beauty, and site for graphic experimentation. An animation on the &Walsh homepage depicts a liquid mercury ampersand drawn over Walsh’s face while she moves her head with an expression of curiosity, as if tracing the ampersand’s figure with her eyes. “The ampersand is one of the most beautiful typographic characters,” said Walsh, “and we want to challenge our team to continually reinvent its form.” 

For Walsh and her team, the ampersand is more than an image to fool around with or a way to continue the association with Sagmeister & Walsh. The blank space before the symbol represents an eagerness to partner with clients, collaborators, projects, and ideas. 

As a part of the firm’s new strategy, clients – such high-profile brands as Apple and Beats by Dre – will undergo workshops that Walsh refers to as “brand therapy” to help each discover who they are and develop the design work around a core identity. “Our goal is to help brands find their weird,” Walsh said. “We think that what is weird or unique about a brand is their most valuable asset.”

Though Sagmeister & Walsh was known for its offbeat, edgy, and sometimes freaky designs – like nude photos of themselves and their team, covering themselves in mud and cockroaches, and more – Walsh recognizes that that isn’t what every brand is looking for. “Sure, we’ve created some brands with pooping rainbow unicorns and flying alien dogs with spider legs,” she said“but that was for brands who wanted to appear bizarre or irreverent.” Rather, she hopes &Walsh will be able to meet a wide range of aesthetic needs, for clients of all types. 

It’s Walsh’s passion and continued interest in corporate projects that facilitated the creation of a new enterprise separate from Sagmeister & Walsh. Her creative partner of over a decade started taking a less active role in client work over the past four years, and has announced that he will no longer be working on corporate projects. Instead, he will devote his time and energy to non-commercial work.

Walsh, for her part, is eager to continue to take on both commercial and non-commercial work. “I find that the work we do for non-commercial projects strengthens our commercial work as it allows us to think about new ways to find solutions to clients challenges,” she said. “Similarly when we tackle an exhibition or noncommercial piece the strategic experience from our client work applies.”

She will continue to work with Sagmeister on non-commercial projects, including the book and exhibition on beauty under the Sagmeister & Walsh name. But this move offers her the opportunity to grow and develop her visual style, to help elevate her peers, and to continue the collaborations the studio has always thrived on.

Text by Ethan Tucker.

Images courtesy &Walsh.