Ludlow Kingsley sounds like the name of an esteemed older gentleman. He would wear a sharp, tailored dark grey suit and have a full head of big organized but unkempt white hair, which would be punctuated by a bright red and baby blue bow tie on a white shirt. He’d be a trim guy with great style and would have a warm command to his voice.
This man, this Ludlow Kingsley, is a figment of our imagination, the imaginary boss of the boutique Silver Lake design house ran by Roxanne Daner and Clark Stiles. The two’s work lives up to the name of this dapper imaginary man, them responsible for the bright, positive designs for such brands and projects like Milton Glaser, CicLAvia, and Media Temple. The two sit at the front table of their office, overlooking a busy Sunset Boulevard, which is where we meet them.
Roxanne Daner, the illustrative mind of the operation, has the name of what you’d imagine would belong to an international supermodel. When you meet her, this very well may be the case as she’s very tall with kind, sophisticated, but approachable features. She’s in a baby doll dress with her hair down and is extremely nice. “I grew up in New York and went to the Waldorf School, which definitely plays a part in who I am today,” she begins. “It was a very alternative education in this very private school. It affected my childhood because you weren’t allowed to watch TV or movies. We had computers then but there was no media, no pop culture, no nothing in my life until I was fourteen or fifteen. That was a big deal–especially juxtaposed to my life now, where I am staring at a screen every day.”
“I didn’t really know what graphic design was,” she says, noting that her mother and grandmother were both creatives and that world seemed right to her. “I dropped out of high school and moved to Europe. I was modeling when I was pretty young and, since my parents were hippies, I pretty much did whatever I wanted,” she says with a laugh, us mirroring with a slight nod and smile. “I got sick of it really quickly though and hated it. Around when my class was graduating, I decided I was done with what I was doing and that I wanted to find something else to do–and I found design by way of the Internet. I thought it sounded interesting and, even though I didn’t exactly know what it was, I decided on a whim to go to school for it because it felt right.”
She attended The Corcoran in DC, finding her and design to be a perfect fit. “I was using all these things I was good at but didn’t know how to apply, like doodling and those types of things. Suddenly, everything fit together,” she said. She eventually returned to Manhattan for two years only to move across the country to Los Angeles with an ex-boyfriend in 2006.
She turns to look at Clark, who she met six months after relocating. Clark Stiles is a very calm figure and who you’d assume would be the heir to the Kingsley estate, if Ludlow Kingsley was in fact a real person. He has an unruffled air to him, a mask for many intricate and quickly turning gears in his head.
“I didn’t really have a lot of friends so I did a lot of things on my own growing up,” he explained, detailing that his family moved around a lot growing up, eventually settling in Portland. “One of those things were computers, which I was really obsessed with. I had a TRS80 computer class in 1977, as a 7th or 6th grader and I went to a computer camp. I think it gives me a little bit of credibility in that I am a computer geek, which is where a lot of this stems from: from my attraction to the screen and what can happen in this box and what it can do if you play with it. Going through grade school, I hated it and I was more interested in music and computers.”
“Music and computers had a nice merger in the eighties with New Wave music, synthesizers, and pop music,” he said. “1982 was a great time. I was really obsessed with music and computers. I got my first Macintosh in 1984, the 512K Mac, the very first one that they made. It had Mac Paint on it, which introduced the idea of graphic design to me at an early age. I liked that I could make covers for my band’s cassette demo tapes. I guess that was my first foray into graphic design–but I wasn’t attracted to the graphic design as much as I was attracted to the idea that you could do all this stuff on a computer. The computer became this set of tools used to accomplish so many different things.”
Clark went on to become a songwriter and producer for ten, fifteen years while concurrently keeping an eye on design and technology. “I always did either album art and, eventually, websites in the late nineties for the bands I was producing. I’d did it for fun. We’d be in the studio working on a record and I’d say, ‘You guys need a website…let me do it for you!’ It was a hobby. Around 2001, the music industry tanked and the web industry was booming. So, I found my first web job and it was such a logical transition. I did that for a few years until I met Roxanne. For a long time I was this rogue Flash guy because it was the cool platform since HTML at that point was like Microsoft Excel for the web.”
“We met at a party,” Roxanne detailed. “He was like, ‘I’m a web designer!’ and I told him, ‘Well, I’m a web designer!’ but I was really struggling with the programming aspect of it, especially in the Flash days. I thought it would be nice to focus on design and he was kind of doing the same thing–but the other way around. We tried a couple of jobs together and it was working. Now, here we are.”
Clark turns to Roxanne, continuing. “I had a couple of experiences doing freelance for ad agencies so I had a good glimpse of that model. I was in business legitimately as a record producer and had owned a recording studio and dealt with labels and I understood the business transaction that comes with owning your own business. I really wanted us to create our own business to where we could operate as a business and thrive as individuals, have freedom, and hopefully grow something that would work.”
“When we got together, one of our second or third websites won an FWA, which was a big deal at the time,” Roxanne said. “We were looking for a response to gauge if it was working or if it was not working–and, we were getting good feedback right away from our work.”
“We needed to come up with a name,” Clark said. “We wanted one that would stand up next to Wieden Kennedy. That’s just such a good brand name. It sounds like it will be around forever and it sounds like it would be a big brick building, which it is. It also has this design sound to it, too. We wanted to come up with something that sounded like that.”
“It was a matter of putting things together,” Roxanne said, the two of them mentioning they tapped friends at a dinner party for help. Clark carried on: “We were trying to come up with two substantial words that, together, would almost sound like a person or this institution. We wanted it to sound…”
“Official,” Roxanne finished for him. She smiles, “Ludlow is the name of my dog–and he was my dog before the name of the business.”
“That was thrown into the mix,” Clark says. “We were obsessed with The Life Aquatic at the time, too. It was a big design inspiration for us, from the awesome animations to the magical nature of the movie. There was a scene that was really funny where Bill Murray’s character, Steve Zissou, is visited by his son, who he’s never really met.”
Roxanne takes the reigns: “When he’s with his son, whose name is Ned and who he doesn’t really know, he says that if he had been there when he was born, he would have named him Kingsley. We were thinking, ‘Hmmm: what if we put Ludlow and Kingsley together…’”
And, the rest is history: they named their joint design pursuit Ludlow Kingsley. Clark explained the significance of the name. “It was funny because Bill Murray’s character in the movie became our idea of Ludlow Kingsley. We stick with the idea that he is our boss, sort of our Charlie of Charlie’s Angels.”
The two have found great success in their work and in Los Angeles, a city they both actually hated for a while. Roxanne found the city to be alien when she switched coasts in 2006 while Clark found it to be a land of melancholia, namely as a result of his work in the music industry being particularly unkind and uninspiring in Los Angeles.
“Things were really going bad,” Clark said of the industry. “Napster really turned the music industry upside down, the recordable CD became a dollar to buy–the writing was on the wall. I moved back down here in 2001 to see if I could resurrect something and, if it wasn’t working out, jump ship.”
“LA is a closed door, too,” he says, speaking of his experiences in and out of the city, having moved here, moved away, and moved back: he’s seen many Los Angeleses. “When you come here, you have to meet people: who you meet determines your experience.”
“Thats the beauty of Los Angeles: there are soooo many Los Angeleses–it’s just whichever one you find,” Roxanne says. “It can be the most depressing place in the world or the most amazing: it’s whatever you make of it and whatever you find.”
“I think it’s a really closed city as far as getting to know people,” Clark says. Roxanne chimes in: “But, once you find your little world, it’s such a great place. It was meeting Clark at a party and all the people there that changed things for me. That was sort of my six month point, when I stopped crying every night.”
She laughs. “Los Angeles started to become fun. I had the opportunity to explore the city, finally. I came from the Lower East Side with my now ex-boyfriend, where everyone I knew was so close by, to this wooden house where no one was around me and I didn’t know anyone except for my ex-boyfriend who was working at night. I was alone.”
Things have drastically changed for Roxanne in terms of how she views the city. “I had to go back to New York for six months last year,” she mentioned. “The idea of leaving Los Angeles, a place where I feel like I found my identity in my work, I couldn’t imagine how to draw from shared space. Every inch of New York is taken. Every inch has been seen from every angle. Here, it feels like there’s something fresh to discover. There’s so much nature and so much space and it’s so vast: there is so much to find. Nature combined with the ‘suburban sprawl’ is definitely something I draw from.”
“LA is an international city, one of two in the country,” Clark says. “I love New York and I would live there in a second. I spent a ton of time there–but it’s much more livable here. It’s easier to survive. The weather is amazing. I’ll be a leather faced seventy year old man and happy about it: I just love the sun. I love the beach and that I’m closer to Portland. I like blue skies. It makes me feel good in January when you have that fluke ninety degree day. That motivation plays a big part in the work you do.”
“I’m a programmer. I love the jigsaw puzzle of code on a sunny day. They go hand in hand,” Clark says, noting his wife’s love for the beach and how he has a special chair and equipment for working remotely at the beach. “I have like a wet suit my computer goes in and a bag. I’m careful. Also, it’s just a computer. If it dies at the beach, then great: it’ll be a happy death. There are always people who are like, ‘Who’s that asshole working at the beach?’ No: I’d be at work if I weren’t here. So, I’m not that asshole working at the beach–I’m that awesome guy who isn’t at work and at the beach.”
“I’d be so freaked out,” Roxanne says laughing at the thought. They both point out an interesting Los Angeles beach secret: Echo Park is only twenty minutes from the beach, as hopping on the 110 to the 105 will have you at Manhattan Beach in a snap.
In relationship to the design community, the two don’t feel there is a community in Los Angeles–yet. “I think we’re all starting to notice each other,” Roxanne says. “CreativeMornings is the only thing tying everyone together at this point. Jon Setzen does a great job.”
“I wish there was some way we could get to know each other better,” she says. “In New York, when I was there, I was in Dumbo, where everyone’s offices are. I got to meet everyone I knew from Twitter that I don’t know in person: the community’s much better, much stronger, and people have conferences and know what’s going on.”
Roxanne gives an example: “There’s another design studio up the street, on top of the American Apparel, who are kind of a big music design company. We’ve never met them.”
“We’re doing our part, working in a glass box on Sunset with our name on it, which is like saying, ‘Hello! We’re here!’ to the community,” Clark says. “When I mention our location, people always say they’ve seen the space. We’re a little more comparable at this point with a boutique shop. LA is just so vast, though. There’s the Culver City boom of real agency work, which is what it is. And, the Eastside is just so vibrant now.”
“I really wish there was something,” Roxanne says. “CreativeMornings really is the only place where people can actually go and meet other people. I’m starting to get a sense of whose around. But, I was wondering if there’s a way to do something–but what is that?”
The two sum up the Los Angeles design community in a word. “Growing,” Roxanne says, “I mean, I hope it is!”
“Scattered,” Clark says, without hesitation.
“Twitter right now is the only place that keeps us together. I’m taped into what’s going on just because of Twitter,” Roxanne says.
Los Angeles to both of them is incredibly unexpected. “I literally was saying something to Clark this morning that I never thought I’d be in Los Angeles,” she notes, furthering it’s nearly the geographic opposite of New York, a city already full of opportunity and life.
“When I left here in 1994, I swore I was never going to live here again,” Clark says. “I left and just hated this place. Then, I think you realize you can have a great experience here: you don’t have to have a bad experience. There’s a lot of amazing things here.”
The two see Ludlow Kingsley expanding, too. “We have an intern coming in this summer and, actually, we just hired a project manager,” Roxanne says. “We’ve been thinking about what that means to us: where do we see ourselves? We need to grow a little bit but I think we’re pretty happy here. We’d like to have something with a little more character in terms of the space, though…”
“But, we’ll be here for a while,” Clark says, pointing toward them eventually owning an old, esteemed brick building deserved of Mr. Kingsley. “We have a brick wall in the parking lot but it’d be cool to have an entirely brick building. I don’t know why. But, we did name it Ludlow Kingsley so it should have its brick building.”
“Maybe we’ll hire an old man from off the street to be Ludlow Kingsley, too. He could sit at this table and lick stamps for us,” Clark’s says. The two laugh as they stand to resume the day’s work, the sound of an imagined whip being snapped by Mr. Kingsley heard, the push from their fictitious boss who may or may not be the spirit of Los Angeles creativity.
For more on Ludlow Kingsley, be sure to check out their website, give them a follow on Twitter, and a Like on Facebook. You can also check out Roxanne’s website and follow her on Twitter as well as Clark’s webite and Clark’s Twitter.