Happy Together.

On working with your spouse.

Wendy and I have worked together pretty steadily for over 27 years.

It’s all I know. We met when Grunge and the internet were still new and beautiful. She was a young designer just out of SCAD transplanted to grey old Seattle. I was a ne’er-do-well long haired punk working a graveyard shift at a Kinko’s1 Desktop Publishing Computer Center.

She was a valued returning customer, who had a day job in retail (it was a recession after all), that came in after midnight for her freelance work to get the hefty discount rates of 50% off computer time and cheaper laser prints. After about her third visit I began chatting her up a little about the Seattle music scene. I was very smooth. And eventually we ended up on a date. With my roommate Norm. Who I had to tell half way through to go take a powder.

Anyway. Demand in the Desktop Publishing Center grew from just people wanting a resume to people actually doing complex full-on design. The influx of designers coming into the computer center steadily increased. I eventually hired Wendy to help me. A brazen sort of nepotism. But she was an experienced customer service person and was exceptionally skilled at design software.

By today’s standards we did everything wrong. I dated a customer and I hired a customer. While frankly it was the best decision of my life, I question my worthiness to report on the subject.

As time went on, I split off and worked for one ad agency or another. As did Wendy. Eventually she helped me get a great gig at Hunt Marketing Group with her. I managed the production studio there. She was a freelance production designer. Then she went off and started her own business full-time. After the 2003 bubble crash, I got laid off and she picked me up to help her out. And we’ve kept our working relationship going ever since.

How does it work?

Know your roles. Wendy is strategic. I am tactical.

Wendy is undeniably my boss. That’s the first thing. She is better than me at the most important role in a company: Getting new clients, keeping them happy, anticipating their needs, and creating strategies to make a project happen.

I fill the more technical roles and get unleashed on creatively anarchistic projects. I do production, web design, and until recently all the IT. And a great deal of the free-form copywriting.

Creatively we are very different. She comes from a trained fine art background. And I like robots and monsters. But these two approaches tend to complement each other (even though, objectively, we do not do nearly enough projects with robots and monsters).

Have each other’s back.

We harmonize most strongly on a recognized desire for quality outcomes, and solid systems for production and organization. This I feel has kept us moving forward though three recessions, several wars, terrorist attacks and a pandemic. While so many studios went extinct, we survived. Knock on wood.

There are rare times when working with a spouse, you may react to something more emotionally than you would otherwise, as if they had not done dishes or something. That comes with the territory. When that happens it’s mostly the embarrassment one feels of being unprofessional in front of co-workers. And being circumspect and sincere usually re-instills confidence with the team. Most importantly we have a solid loyalty to each other as people and professionals.

And when all that fails we have invented an imaginary employee we all call “Julie” that we blame for everything else.

“Damn it, Julie! You left out the Xacto blades again!”

Photos by Darryl Bernstein.

1 Digression for the young people: See there was a time before PC and laptops were ubiquitous. Laser printers cost thousands of dollars. Color laser prints? HAH! Good luck. Software even more incompatible and hard to use than now. The internet was not really a thing yet. You had to go to a Kinko’s Copy Shop and rent a computer and pray someone working there could troubleshoot this new world of software. Back then I was your man. Me, and maybe twenty other desktop publishing people in Seattle who understood design software. We were the Angels of Design and we taught probably a thousand designers how all that mess worked. And we did it for just over minimum wage—plus a not too shabby profit share.