Designer duo Winneke de Groot and Felix van Dam, otherwise known as We Are Out of Office, design dreamy packaging straight out of an acid pop corner shop, amongst other things. Based in Utrecht, the couple live and work in an old cherry orchard – now an artist community – in an idyllic studio with a view over the cherry trees. But the road that led them there wasn’t clear-cut – instead it was more zigzag.
After meeting as youngsters on a small island in the Netherlands, Winneke and Felix parted ways and didn’t reunite until studying Graphic Design at School of the Arts Utrecht. They eventually became a couple, but wanted to be independent designers. “We never planned on working together, there are so many bad stories about couples that work together,” the pair tells It’s Nice That.
It wasn’t until a holiday in Thailand where they had “the best curry ever” that they decided to collaborate – wanting to commemorate the restaurant with a screen-printed poster. Realising they were onto something, they turned Felix’s student room in Utrecht into a screen-printing studio and began creating and selling prints in their spare time, saying: “we figured we could go travelling, get inspired, make prints, sell prints and then go travelling again.”
With this in mind, they headed over to the big apple to live, getting around US working restrictions by designing posters in exchange for goods and services. “We went to delis, coffee shops, laundrettes, thrift stores and so on, asking if we could design and print posters for them in exchange for something they sold”. Then voilà! Design studio We Are Out of Office was born.
The work Winneke and Delix create is fun and playful, which is also how it’s made. “We like to work fast and make choices quickly, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” The process begins by cutting shapes and moving them around, then mixing the boldest, brightest colours to see what works. But DIY designing doesn’t mean that it’s not considered, “we still love to look at nice typography and design, that’s why we started making packaging prints”. But it was this bold way of working that led the studio to scale its work up in size, moving from designing imaginary objects, to making them. Starting small with pins, then onto scarves, ceramics and rugs, the pair’s aim became to “try to make each project a little bigger than the last”.
On their inspiration, Felix and Winneke love the weird and the wonderful from their travels, such as Chinese kids toys and foreign supermarkets. Designing work in such a fast way means trying a lot of things out, “we always think in a series, so when we see something that we find interesting, we try to think of at least ten things that we could do with it.” Even now, when thinking and designing bigger – such as large sculptures and murals – We Are Out of Office still keeps hold of its original design ethos. The future looks bright, and the studio aims to continue experimenting and travelling, “to be honest, we have no idea what will be next, but we do know it will be fun!”