Get to know the folks behind the Manila-based design studio through a slam book entry
Whenever art-related hashtags like #artph resurface, there are two things that we’ve seen come to focus: one is that amid the buffet of distressing trending topics, Filipino talent can so easily become a source of hope. The second is that art, now more than ever, is one instrument Filipinos know how to use well––to educate, to advocate for causes and to even express dissent.
This is something independent design studio And A Half knows full well: art not merely as a means of expression but a way to effect change in society. “Of course, there’s value in aesthetic, but we always say that design is more than just a logo or a pretty color palette. Arts and design can be a tool to challenge how you think and behave,” shared the team with Wonder. “So far, we’re trying to push the boundaries of aesthetic and function, while grounding ourselves in empathy, context, and our understanding of human needs and emotions.”
It’s a refreshing take––especially in a field growing increasingly tech-savvy by the minute. Instead of fully leaning into design and technology working hand-in-hand, the democracy of design is instead a topic where And A Half stops to consider questions like: “What more can we do with design that machines can’t?” and “What makes design human-centered?”
It’s this human-centeredness that makes And A Half an interesting group of artists to follow. Not only does it operate with the idea of “design grounded in empathy,” but it sees that there is a critical need to do more with it––from acknowledging that social problems are design problems to creating campaigns to disseminate potentially life-saving information––all while dealing with the pandemic themselves, working apart but together.
With a whirlwind 2020 behind them, the members of And A Half show no signs of hitting the brakes. “As a business, we strive for holistic growth: financial sustainability, creative growth, value for design, and social impact,” they expounded. “We’ve planted the seeds in 2020 and this year we’re excited to keep nurturing them as we grow into our new roles, expand our initiatives, and thrive as a studio.”
Read the rest of our one-on-one with the And A Half team and check out the group’s slam book ahead:
Wonder: Let’s talk about origin stories. Where did the idea for And A Half come from and how did the design studio come together?
And A Half: And A Half started in 2012 as a team of three. Michael Parker, a design professor at Ateneo at the time, worked with Corinne Serrano on freelance projects. A year later, they brought on Benjamin Abesamis so they could work on more projects together. The rest was history.
W: Also, why “And A Half”?
AAH: As a studio, we’ve always tried to do more with our work. When we work on new projects, we label it as _________ And A Half. So, for example, it would be “Wonder And A Half.” We like working closely, collaboratively, with whoever it is we partner with. Ultimately, we want to add value to all of our projects, be it branding or otherwise.
W: How did the involvement with social issues come about for your team?
AAH: Our team structure kind of allows us all to pursue projects we feel strongly about every now and then. It really does help that everyone is passionate about something. And in our quest to push design or see how we can “do more” with it, we end up landing on projects which often have to do with solving problems for a community.
We’ve always had this desire to start these self-initiated projects, with the hope of building deeper value for design in the Philippines. But 2020 really forced us to do things differently and to do them quickly. We teamed up with some really great people for two initiatives, namely Help From Home and KontraCOVID Campaign last year as a response to what was going on during the lockdown.
W: If your team had the power to change anything related to art and design in Philippine society, what would it be?
AAH: Definitely the value for design, as well as an expanded view of what design can do. You’ve got graphic designers, interior designers, but you also have architects, developers, urban planners, and even policymakers who all in some way or another use design to solve problems. For instance, what if we designed our cities around pedestrians instead of cars? We’d love to encourage design as a mindset across different disciplines and ultimately build a community around it.
W: On the push-and-pull of creatives and clients: what advice would you give budding artists about relationship management?
AAH: Be realistic about your revisions (meaning, no unli-revisions), don’t short change yourself (price your work accordingly, with dignity), but also listen to what your client has to say. They know the industry and it’s important to know what your expertise is as a designer. Strive for a partnership, instead of a supplier-client relationship. Tough at times, but our most successful projects were always with clients who saw eye-to-eye with us and our approach as designers.
W: Difficulties aside, what would you say are some of your 2020 milestones?
AAH: We’re very proud to relaunch our studio’s website, be able to have a digital event with 500+ guests, and successfully launch multiple initiatives despite the pandemic.
Personal milestones: One of our members, Mark Andres, became a daddy! So now there’s an And A Half baby who pops up on Zoom every now and then. Another one was successfully raising enough funds for Kay Aranzanso’s COVID bills.
W: What are you most excited about in 2021?
AAH: We’ve just spent the last weeks planning for the year, and aligning our goals as a studio. 2020 had us go through a lot of growing pains and adjusting to the changes in context, but this year we want to grow what we have and to design with focus and intention. We are still a business, but we’re fortunate enough to have a creative environment and a company whose focus is the wellness and growth of the team.
Art & Collage And A Half
Final Art Matthew Ian Fetalver