2011 NVA Winners: Rich Watts and Louise Ma

By the Print staff

Title/Type of Work: Graphic Designers
From: Barryville, NY (Watts), Cupertino, CA (Ma)
Live in: Brooklyn, NY
Age: 24 (Watts), 25 (Ma)
Education: Cooper Union School of Art, 08 (Watts), 07 (Ma)

“We print, cut, build, fold, draw, and code the things we design.” Such is the straightforward and comprehensive description of the design practice of Rich Watts and Louise Ma. To remain sharp (and satisfied), Watts and Ma say they often work with friends and “try to collaborate with people smarter than us on everything we do. We like to work with people, not for them. We’re involved in the production of everything we design, or produce it ourselves. This goes for not only print work, but also projects we do online.” As for what distinguishes their work from others, they claim, “Less fuss. We’re not fussy, but we are obsessive. We are involved in more projects that are not clearly design and some of our biggest projects are our own.”

OURGOODS, an online barter network for the creative community.

One such project was Trade School, which is based on the idea of “barter for instruction,” that they developed and executed as a group with Caroline Woolard and Saul Melman. Over the course of 35 days, more than 800 people participated in 76 single-session classes, ranging from Scrabble strategy to composting, grant writing to ghost hunting. In exchange for instruction, teachers received everything from running shoes to mix CDs. This wildly successful project evolved out of another ongoing project of theirs, Our Goods, a similarly intentioned barter network. Moving forward, Watts and Ma say they will “continue producing work outside of graphic design and work with more creative and interesting people.” Their mission, they say, is to “discover how to engage people in unexpected ways and to find areas where people think design isn’t important and show how it is.”

Trade School class in session.

Beyond their “work,” what gets them each excited? The unexpected, of course. Watts: “Toys, tools, instruction manuals, TV (How It’s Made, Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters, etc.).” Ma: “Friends, movies, music (old and new), comics, literature. People in general.”

Their mission, they say, is to “discover how to engage people in unexpected ways and to find areas where people think design isn’t important and show how it is.”

Click here to see more of Rich’s work and here to see more of Louise’s.

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