At first, Chris Papasadero and Ben Pieratt—the
design team known as Fwis, a randomly picked name from an algorithm of
all possible four-letter words—come across as just another pair
of talented artists who have put together a lively portfolio of book
jackets, album covers, and identity work. Spend an hour with them,
though, and you’ll be convinced that soon, they may run the world.

“We both have the same end goal in mind,” says Pieratt.
“To do the best design that’s ever been seen,”
continues Papasadero. Adds Pieratt, “We have these harebrained
ideas, and if we don’t do them ourselves, or if we expect someone
to pay us for them, they’ll never get done.”

improvisational philosophy, which guides a big chunk of their work, has
led to significant paying commissions. Their series of Readymech toys
brought them to the attention of Corbis, for whom they’ve designed
an ad campaign built around DIY pinhole cameras.Their Covers blog
(covers.fwis.com), in which they critique and discuss contemporary book
design, led to a meeting with John Gall, vice president and art director
at Vintage and Anchor Books, who subsequently asked them to design the
cover for the paperback edition of Damon Linker’s The
. Fwis has also extended their cover-art criticism to a
regular column for Publishers Weekly, which appears in the
magazine and online. “They’re adept at generating their own
content,” says Gall, “which puts them in another

This creativity is fueled by a healthy
competitiveness. “We want to stay innovative and push each other
to try different things,” says Pieratt. They devise challenges for
each other—say, to design a typeface involving Vikings and science
fiction, with the winner collecting a $200 kitty. When it comes to work,
Pieratt admits, “we argue all the time. But I think we wind up at
the same spot.” It’s easy to mistake them for brothers,
clearly close but with different temperaments, alternately praising and
contradicting each other.

The pair met in 2002 when Pieratt
contributed to Papasadero’s online zine, FwisZine
(temporarily on hiatus). Pieratt was doing graduate work at
Massachusetts College of Art; Papasadero lived in Portland, Oregon.
“I actually had a vivid dream one night about having a firm in
which Ben and I were partners,” says Papasadero. “I told him
this, and he said, ‘Sure, why not?’” Pieratt moved to
Portland to join Papasadero; last year, they relocated their studio to
Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood (along with a third semi-member
of Fwis, Eric Jacobsen, who handles the group’s web development).

The pair’s long-term goal, Pieratt says, is “to use
design to help people who are doing things that are more important than
what we’re doing.” Papasadero imagines the duo starting
their own publishing company, and describes a project that would allow
individuals to produce their own power. “I think that’s
probably the reason we’re working for ourselves,” says
Pieratt. “We’re still naive enough to not know that we
can’t do it.” It’s that spirit, combined with their
combination of independence and idealism, that’s won them fans.
“I predict global domination,” says Gall. “Or at least
a move out of Bushwick.”

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