When we set out to interview How&How studio, we were faced with a daunting challenge - the city of Lisbon was under red alert due to heavy rain and flooding that had caused widespread chaos. With most roads and transportation blocked, it seemed like our visit would have to be postponed. But as true design enthusiasts, we persevered and finally arrived at the stunning co-working space a few days later.
What greeted us was a former Glasshouse, now transformed into a veritable oasis, filled with lush plants and greenery. The founders of How&How studio, Cat & Rog, were just as captivating as theira tranquil and inspiring workspace, and their passion for design shone through during our photoshoot. We could not have been more impressed by their story and impressive work the studio has pulled of, given the fact How&How launched only in 2020 during the covid pandemic. Join us as we dive into this unforgettable interview with How&How studio.
Could you describe a day in your life as a founder at How&How?
I never eat breakfast, but I start the day with a rooibos tea and oat milk, then my husband makes me a kiwi smoothie which I take into work and drink throughout the day. I live off smoothies! Probably not very good for my teeth. But anyway. When we get to work, we always start the day with ‘stand-up’ (a collective team meeting) led by Romy our Production Director, where the design team chime in with what they’re all working on that day. After that we peel off into meetings for the rest of the day, some in-person some online. It depends. I might work into decks, brief designers or share thoughts on design work that’s flowing through the studio. It’s very varied. I never stop for lunch either (it’s bad, I know, but I don’t have enough hours in the day), so I’ll often have a quick soup at my desk and rattle through work until I need to drop everything and run to get our kids from school. We work in the middle of Lisbon, but live by the beach, so we have a fair commute. But it’s so good to be alongside the team in the studio – I wouldn't change it for the world. At home if we don’t head to the sea, I’ll try and get a swim in or head to the gym – then once the kids are in bed, we ‘pretend’ to watch something worthy on Netflix while actually just working on our laptops again. That’s life.
Tell us your story of how you started out and how you grew your team.
How&How was founded in May 2020. So slap bang in the depths of the pandemic. A good time? A bad time? Well there’s never a good time or a bad time to set up something you love – so it just was what it was and we just had to take it from there 🙂 Rog and I set it up off the back of a coworking business that we ran in England (we collaborated with a designer on the brand and it took off from there). We’ve worked together on different businesses for almost 15 years and always knew we wanted to set up an agency, so when the time arose we just went for it.
We initially launched in Lisbon (where we live currently) then at the same time gradually grew our team in London, and have just opened our nascent office in LA. That is the big project for 2023 and we’ll be moving out there too ourselves in 2024. In terms of growing the team, it certainly has been tricky during Covid, but we just try to hire good, honest, highly-talented people who give a shit; then try and create a community that makes people want to stay. It’s actually one of the hardest parts to the job – I’m always worrying about the happiness of the team at 3am in the morning, they are as much my family as my own children are!
We really love your Lisbon office, quite different from other studios we have seen…
Yes, Second Home is the beautiful co-working where we have our own ‘office’ in a plant-filled pod at the back. We’re surrounded by over 2,000 plants. Dreamy.
How does the Lisbon & LA office fit into the overall design process and workflow at How&How? How does the team collaborate and share ideas between the three offices?
The LA office, because of the timezone, is very much its own entity which works on more self-contained projects. But because the timezone is the same between London and Lisbon we do share some projects and skills, although we’re trying to carve them out into more self-contained entities over the coming year also. We’re only 2.5 years old, so we’ve been open to growing the team on a skills-based level as opposed to ‘location’ based. So if someone wants to work in London or Lisbon, we give them the choice (and help with the Vias too). As a result, roles have grown more organically in each location – but moving forward we’re applying more strategic hierarchy to the roles in each location to build out the teams.
How do you look after your employees? Is there anything that sets you apart from other studios?
Yes! I think so 🙂 Firstly we pay everyone to have every other Friday off – so a paid day of rest and relaxation, on us. People still get the same salary, they just have more R&R as well as 28 days holiday (which works out at over 50 days off a year!). We also are on the road to B-Corp (almost there) and have an open, transparent tiered salary structure in the agency to mitigate the gender pay gap – I don’t think I know of any other agency doing this right now. More should! We also have a buddy system for all employees where we give a pair €20 every month to spend hanging out with that other person; and have €1000 skills training budget as well as €1000 towards flights and accommodation between Lisbon and London for the team to mix. We also have bonus opportunities every quarter, paid social events, team retreats… the list is quite extensive 🙂
Is there any particular project you are excited or proud of and why? What’s the story behind?
I think we all collectively in the studio love the Freetree project. It was so fun and expressive and spun up so quickly in the studio. It was created with real passion, alongside the lovely CEO of Ecosia (Freetree is a sister company of Ecosia – a search engine who plant trees) who lives in Lisbon and has subsequently become a dear friend. We loved the fresh strategy and quirky tree-cursor icon we created as well as the fact that we waived our payment for the project and asked Ecosia to plant 60,000 trees instead on our behalf! We still paid our designers and everyone who worked on the project though (we just took the hit on the agency side, it was our way of contributing our bit through design). I feel like we definitely owned the originality of this wonderful project, and were true pioneers in how we approached this with a fresh perspective to anyone else. We were also the first studio to ever be asked to be paid in trees for client work, which I’m incredibly proud of 🙂
What's a project you are most proud of and why?
Our self-initiated project, Furthering. It's a weekly project that each person within the studio contributes toward. The goal is an opportunity for complete freedom of exploration and creativity each week. It's also currently being produced into a quarterly magazine, with the pilot already available to order.
How do you or the team stay current with design trends and technology advancements in your field?
We read and we look 🙂 We don’t just read design books, or instagram feeds – I encourage all the team to read The Economist (I make sure we have a subscription to the studio) because I think it’s so important in design to be aware of trends and socio-economic factors happening outside of our little creative bubble. Everything is linked. It also helps immensely with positioning and design thinking, if you know a bit of wider context about the sector your client is coming from. With such a diverse team of talented people though, we lean heavily on each other for sources of inspiration – and have several slack channels dedicated to sharing trends and bits of interesting content that we’ve picked up. No man is an island.
Thank you for your time and for answering all of our questions. It was a pleasure to talk to you in your Lisbon office. You will find How&How online at https://how.studio/; they are also active on Instagram.