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How to run a new-age studio
Sho Shibuya is a Japanese graphic designer based in Brooklyn and the founder of the Placeholder studio. His work is widely distributed on social platforms.
However, there is almost zero information about his studio out there. How could you work with great clients and see your projects become viral while your studio is only a name?
Sit tight. I’m going to unbundle what I call a new-age creative studio. The characteristics of Sho Shibuya’s studio and his work can help us to understand the concept.
A one-person show
Some of the most successful media companies, internet shows, and design studios of our time are simply a one-man show behind a name. I wrote about Pablo Rochat's studio last year. You can also look up Jack Butcher and his innovative media brand, Visualize Value.
Technology and the acceptance of remote work made it possible for all of us to run a creative studio from wherever we are, and work with clients that we dream about without having a physical office or even living in a major trendy city. Now, we have access to tools that only big guys used to have in their expensive labs. Although money and connections still can boost your career, the fundamental features of a successful internet brand or a digital studio do not depend on them anymore.
Working with meaningful clients
For modern-age creative studios, scaling is not a value proposition. Most of the time, growth involves aggressively going after projects that you don’t want to work on. When your operation is lean and agile, it helps you to pick the clients that you admire and seek. In this new style of working, instead of growing your studio or agency (which means more overhead) you will have the freedom and luxury of thinking about your impact.
I hope I can continue to create meaningful work.
Also, when you are small and not limited to pleasing any one type of client, you can tie your own personal projects and your own specific style to your commercial works. That’s what makes you stand out and get away from the competition.
Here’s the formula:
Stay small ⟶ create unique projects for a few quality clients ⟶ charge for your originality, not by the hour or the project.
However, you can’t achieve this in one night. There’s going to be a process of transition for most artists and creators.
Personal projects as a marketing tool
Sho’s studio is a great balance between his artistic projects and commercial works. Two of his projects became wildly viral on the net, which helped him to build great PR for the studio and led to collaboration with big names.
One of his projects was an idea with a zero-dollar budget: To pass the time during the pandemic, he painted sunrise views from his apartment using the front page of the NY Times as a canvas and posting them to Instagram. Later the project turned to more social and political statements like this recent one on the Ukraine war:
The project was picked by luxury fashion house Saint Laurent for an exhibition in Miami.
Creating a sense of community
Successful creators build a community around what they love. Sho Shibuya did this both online and offline.
To him, NYC and its diversity became a powerful drive behind his second viral project.
When he arrived in New York in 2011, he started collecting plastic bags that were all over the city.
He loved their everyday designs and was concerned about the way that stores and customers would use them:
The core idea is “Mottainai,” a Japanese concept that I was taught by my family and culture, which is basically the avoidance of waste, that every object has purpose and meaning.
Over seven years, this simple project of passion led to publishing his first book, which grabbed the attention of many New Yorkers who had the same concerns.
Direct marketing is one of the biggest revolutions of our time. Most internet businesses use social media to market their products to their own customers. That’s what new-gen video and design agencies, and also content studios, are adopting.
Sho’s book was the first product of his studio and it grew organically into another creative project and product: the BIODEGRADABLE BAMBOO BAG.
His obsession with sustainability, social movements, and design all combined in this project. He designed a bag from renewable bamboo fiber to help reduce global plastic pollution.
I’m motivated by the idea that design can help solve these problems, and I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together.
Although he is donating the profits to an environmental NGO, the idea is the same: use your craft and passion to build your own product and market it online.
It’s a wrap!
Here is a quick recap of formulas to run a successful digital studio:
Start small and stay small
ART / COMMERCE: don’t distinguish
To stand out, stand for something
Go and make your own things and amaze the world. And please don’t forget to share this post with other great creatives! Simply forward this email to your friends. My goal is to encourage more creatives to quit freelancing or working for others, and show them how to build a profitable digital brand based on their real values.
I’ll talk to you next week,
P.S: I’m looking to collaborate with 2D and 3D motion artists. Since last month I have helped some charities that are supporting Ukrainian hospitals and now I want to create some short social media videos for them to raise awareness. Please let me know if you or someone who you might know wants to be part of this. You can simply reply to this email to connect with me.
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