Designer & Photographer at Anton & Irene
Anton
Repponen

Anton is an Estonian designer and photographer who co-runs his design studio, Anton & Irene, in Brooklyn.

New York, USA • December 30, 2020

What led you into design?

A series of fortunate events. After graduating high school, I did not know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew it had to be something that is related to visual or design. I ended up studying architecture back at home in Tallinn, Estonia. I quite liked it and at some point, I really thought that I would have become an architect. It seemed as if it took forever to make something happen in the architecture realm.

During one of my long term internships in Delhi, India, I realized that I was not super excited about getting into the technical/engineering part of the architecture. I ended up doing a lot of “graphic design” work for them instead of what I was supposed to do. Things like creating large print spreads with all the structures and details, photoshopping trees and people around the building render to make it look cool and creating physical models.

I started getting into design and digital, discovering filters in Photoshop and timeline animations in Flash. What fascinated me back then about this new thing called “web design” was the fast turnaround. Unlike architecture, you can design something and put it up live for people to interact with in a matter of days, and immediately see their reaction. I was mostly learning things myself with the help of everything I could find online. I remember that it would be a big day for me if I came across some helpful tutorial or a good blog post back then (I am talking early 2000s, no YouTube mind you). Remembering how sharing useful information was important for me back then influenced me a lot. I try to share my knowledge when I can online, and now I teach at Harbour Space University in Spain regularly.

What does a typical day look like?

Having your own design studio eliminates “typical” days. It usually starts with the 4th alarm and pull-down-to-refresh mail app. The number in the little red circle next to the icon corresponds to how crazy my day will be.

There are times when we work on the conceptual parts of a project, designing and thinking about how everything should work and work for days at a time, starting in the morning until 6PM. There are times when we spend weeks planning, scheduling and talking to the clients. There are also more mundane times when the project is nearly finished and it is all about wrapping stuff up, testing, filling content, making final touches and getting ready for launch. There are crazy times a few weeks before the launch of the project. There are times when we travel for weeks and work with clients on-site or talk at various conferences. There are also times, like now, when several of the phases mentioned above overlap working on multiple projects at a time.

We also both teach separate classes at Harbour.Space, the university in Barcelona. I live there for around 2-3 months during the year, and I teach every day from 9AM till after lunch, and then I work on client projects and spend time taking calls till late at night because of the time difference.

The important part is, I like it.

What’s your workstation setup?

Company office:

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Anton & Irene - One Shared Studio at Pencil Factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

At work I use:
iMac 27”
Apple Cinema Display 24”
Wacom L

Home:

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At home I use:
MacBook Pro 15”
Apple Cinema Display 27”
Wacom M
MacBook Pro 17” (super old)

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Where do you go to get inspired?

I go outside. It may sound cliché, but I get inspired by everyday things that don’t work well or by the things that surround you. Disconnecting from work and just paying attention to what is happening around. Traveling is a big inspiration for me as well. Reading books too (non design ones).

A lot of times, the inspiration comes from learning new tools. Once I started getting into After Effects years ago, I needed a “project” to push me to learn the tool on a daily basis. So I thought I would design one animated poster a day and simply type words “Monday”, “Tuesday”, “Wednesday”, etc. That turned into a fun little project “Moving Posters Week”. With skills I learned doing this, I now apply to my client work.

Same with 3D. After a few failed attempts in the past, I finally started spending more time getting into Cinema 4D. Same here, I can’t do anything without a “project”. I looked under my desk and saw a mess of cables, adapters and power units all plugged into a cheap and ugly power strip. So I thought I would learn 3D by designing my own version, something that I would love to have myself. Something that I wouldn’t want to hide under my desk.

EMA Power Sockets concept work

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What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

There are very few companies that really think of great user experience. If we talk about recent times, I’d say the Nintendo Switch. It’s rare when both hardware and software meet all your expectations, executed super well, and work flawlessly in tandem. It’s usually one or the other or both are poor.

Look, I am not a gamer. I didn’t play computer games while I was growing up, so I am looking at this fresh, without any nostalgia. What Nintendo did was create a beautifully designed and super durable handheld console which is quite versatile, and allows you to interact with it in many different ways. On top of that, they invested in super interesting and fun games which made their product amazing.

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Another example is Teenage Engineering - a company from Sweden that produces many different beautiful objects, but mostly synthesizers. I had their OP-1 for a while and recently got an OP-Z portable synth. It’s a great example of exceptional design and interactivity. Their devices are super fun to use. It’s interesting that the synths are not super intuitive (to a certain degree), but it is designed in a way that you want to spend time to explore, play and experiment with it. That type of complexity adds value. Once you figure something out, once your tune sounds nice or interesting, you essentially want to spend more time interacting with it.

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Lastly, though it’s not specifically a “product” but rather an experience, is a “Skyspace” by James Turrell in Lech, Austria. Though Skyspace is an art installation, it still required a great deal of design, lighting engineering and architects to make it work as expected, and it became this impressive experience that everyone should visit at least once.

All the way at the top of the mountain in a town called Lech, there’s this construction that houses an oval-shaped room with a dome ceiling. The ceiling opens up to reveal the sky in an oval-shaped hole, while the rest of the walls are being lit up by slowly changing color lights. The juxtaposition of the color of the sky and the color of the room starts playing mind tricks where for a moment, the entire sky would look green, turquoise or yellow. You can go at the sunrise or sunset (when the color of the sky changes drastically), sit quietly inside this room and look up for an hour or two, completely mesmerized by what is happening.

Images by Florian Holzherr, courtesy of James Turrell, source Designboom

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What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I am not necessarily proud of any particular project, but rather of a variety of types of projects that we manage to do. On one side of the spectrum the work that we did for tech brands such as Spotify, Google, and Netflix, to large manufacturers like Zumtobel or TheMet museum in New York with a focus on product, hi-end user experience and extending the brand language into digital space.

At the same time, we would work with unique artists and designers like the brand and digital work we did for artist Shantell Martin and designer Karim Rashid.

On the other side of the spectrum are self-initiated projects and exploring new ideas in design such as One Shared House- an interactive documentary, Misplaced Series - a photography project or even an industrial design piece such as the NU:RO watch. Sometimes personal experiments lead back to the client work, like One Shared House 2030, a research project we did in collaboration with Space10. I love that intermix of projects and especially skills and talent they require in order to do a good quality and interesting work.

I was always a fan of Italian designers for their “From spoon to the city” design approach. Vignelli once said, “If you can design one thing, you can design everything." You’re not going to be awesome at everything, but not trying is a “design crime” in my opinion :)

Shantell Martin (brand and website) - https://shantellmartin.art

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One Shared House - an interactive documentary onesharedhouse.com

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NU:RO Watch - http://nuro.co

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One Shared House 2030 - a playful research on how people will live by the year 2030 http://onesharedhouse2030.com

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Misplaced Series - Eleven New York City landmarks have been misplaced, their current location unknown - http://misplaced.design

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What design challenges do you face at your company?

When we started our studio, we set out a rule that we will work 60% of our time on client projects, and 40% on personal projects. The reason for that was because we wanted to try out completely new things that were uncomfortable and sometimes personal. An area where we can learn, fail and experiment as much as we want without any supervision. It was also a way to gradually fill our portfolio with things that we really wanted to do. Although we’ve been more or less successful with this scheme and worked on at least one personal project a year, it’s still quite challenging to really keep this tricky balance working.

Anton & Irene - www.antonandirene.com

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What music do you listen to whilst designing?

I think that one of the best things that happened online in the past few years is Spotify Discover Weekly. Every Monday, I start with the generated playlist and see where it takes me.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1wPJvIQTUVP7SYfgckScYq?si=Dnjqzlb-Q9umGay8HvHp_A

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Anything you want to promote or plug?

We have this awesome space in Brooklyn that we set up where we work and we are looking for studio mates, so if you need a space and a cool company, check out onesharedstudio.com

Also, the watch. I personally sign each one of them and go to the post office to send them. nuro.co