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4 min read

For Leta Sobierajski, design is performance

The graphic designer, art director and co-founder of studio Wade and Leta, talks about her work, life and inspiration.

A photo of matryoshka dolls, a jar of pickles, decorative eggs and oranges surrounding a D.S. & Durga perfume bottle, by Wade and Leta

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Graphic designer and art director Leta Sobierajski isn’t afraid to step out of the conventional. She fuses different inspirations and practices to create something uniquely hers. Based in New York City, Leta often works together with her husband and collaborator Wade Jeffree, whom she started the studio Wade and Leta with in 2016.

Leta weaves an array of materials and mediums into her work, incorporating everything from wigs to googly eyes to Wade and herself into the final design. “I’ve always been attracted to sculpture, landscapes and architecture,” Leta tells Shaping Design, “so I naturally gravitated towards exploring the physicality of design.”

Her practice is grounded in a hands-on, physical way of working, celebrating the playfulness of moving around in the studio and having fun. She refers to this philosophy as “design as performance.” “Wade and I both grew up playing sports and being active, so using our bodies to conquer our conceptual challenges felt like a natural evolution of our skillset as designers,” Leta says. “Finishing a day off at the studio with sore muscles is an ultimate reward for us because we feel like we’ve truly done something with our day. What’s the fun of running a studio if we're tethered to our desks 24/7?”

Three photos of Wade and Leta next to colorful sculptures at South Street Seaport
Seaport District Sea Sculptures for Howard Hughes by Wade and Leta

"Work and life are intertwined for us. Our work represents who we are and what we stand for, so there really is no separation between our projects and our lives."

Embracing a work-life synergy

Sharing a married life with her studio partner and biggest collaborator, Leta has long given up on maintaining a work-life balance. “Work and life are intertwined for us. Our work represents who we are and what we stand for, so there really is no separation between our projects and our lives,” she says. “I know that this is not ideal for some people, but for us it truly feels like there is no other way.”

This line between work and creator — or creators — is just as repeatedly blurred in the duo’s projects, where they often insert themselves into their designs in ingenuous and evocative ways. That can be anything from quirky couple’s portraits, as seen in their Complements series, to glimpses of their hands, feet, or eyes like their work for fragrance house D.S. & Durga.

Leta explains that they incorporate their own image into the work not out of vanity, but for more practical reasons like saving on their modeling budget. “We understand how the other moves, acts, and receives direction. In crunch times, we’ve replaced hand models on our client sets with ourselves simply because they couldn’t achieve our direction in the short time we had with them,” she says. “Not only does it bring Wade and me closer together, but it also creates a bond with our clients and collaborators because they get a glimpse into the true way in which we work.”

Playing a visible role in their own work also lends their projects a “grounding, human presence,” says Leta. They strive to make their work relatable, approachable, and, crucially, vulnerable, whether they’re draped in funky bodysuits, limbs akimbo, or using their heads as a standin for the main course of a candlelit dinner.

Four photographs of perfume bottles in surprising settings
Vignettes for D.S. & Durga by Wade and Leta

Celebrating materials and color

The materials Leta and Wade garner for their projects are equally accessible. “We’re scrappy, and sometimes it’s the budget that truly defines our material possibilities,” she says. Leta explains that while they can’t always afford sourcing eco-friendly materials, they always make sure to repurpose their arsenal of objects. “We’ll reuse the materials from our sets and break them down further for personal projects. We want to maintain a level of sustainability with the work we create.”

For Leta, the objects and colors they choose to work with are at the very core of their designs. “Material is an essential part of the expression of a project’s sentiment,” says Leta, “in a similar way, we also handle color and its precious impact on a project.” says Leta. One such recent project that encapsulates Leta and Wade’s approach to both materials and color is Chromatic Joy, a campaign for Australian paint supplier Taubmans which they did in collaboration with design and development studio Sons and Co.

In telling the story of Taubmans’ colors of the year for 2021, Leta and Wade steered away from the traditional display of fabricated paint samples. Instead, they created a tangible, modular branding system that consists of a multi-layered logo, glyphs, wall reliefs and a sculptural, architecture-inspired set design, all handmade and hand painted by the couple. They spell out the name of the project using animated, geometric color blocks that shift around across a checkered background. This same sense of play is extended into their wall reliefs that create comic-like citiescapes highlighted by blobs and star-shaped explosion bubbles.

“We had a lot of fun determining this modular approach as it gave us infinite opportunities to showcase Taubman’s color pairing possibilities with our material approach,” Leta says. When Wade and Leta eventually photographed their analog creations and Sons and Co. compiled them into an online report, they focused on seamlessly blending together the physical and digital aspects of the project. The result was a miraculous hybrid.

Images from the Chromatic Joy project by Wade and Leta
Chromatic Joy for Taubmans, showing the colors of the year for 2021, by Wade and Leta

A class with Leta on Editor X

The physical and digital often go hand in hand in Leta and Wade’s work. “While we aren’t the most fluent with digital tools, we’re constantly reading, watching and learning how we can exercise technology to inspire us while building our newest world,” she says, and stresses the importance of a strong online presence. “Having a succinct place to showcase our work, info and achievements is essential for any creative working within the digital landscape.”

Leta recently partnered with Editor X for a Class with Leta Sobierajski, in which she explores some of the advanced design capabilities of the platform, including sticky position and header scrolls.

As Leta continues to push forward in the digital space, she and Wade keep evolving professionally, too. When design is performance, and creative influences can take on any artistic form — it might come as no surprise that the duo are branching out into new creative territories. “We consider ourselves less as graphic designers and more, dare I say it, ‘artists’ now. While design is forever at the root of what we do, we’re now crossing into unknown territory — and it feels exhilarating.”

Two photos of the Gucci Bloom perfume on a table full of plastic flowers
Art direction and photography for Gucci Bloom by Wade and Leta

Two ornate photo sets with plastic flowers by Wade and Leta
Art direction and photography for Brizo Invari by Wade and Leta

Set design, web design and product design from the Herman Miller x Wade and Leta Holiday Campaign 2019
Herman Miller x Wade and Leta Holiday Campaign 2019