While in Germany in 2010 on a typography fellowship and over beers in a biergarten, designers and husband-and-wife Jason and Lindsay Mannix contemplated their future. What would they do work-wise once they returned to the States? It wasn’t until their friend and fellow designer Gavin Wade, who happened to be visiting at the time that things started clicking together. “We always had this crazy idea to start our own studio,” says Jason. “And we basically sprung the idea on him as soon as he landed.” Polygraph was born.
Deciding on Washington, D.C. as their new home came just as easily, too. After living in New York for six years, Lindsay and Jason were ready for a change. Since they were both originally from Virginia and Wade was already based in the area, the move felt even more natural. But more importantly, they believed their work could make a real difference. “We felt that D.C. didn’t have a huge design scene, but there was a lot of design need,” says Lindsay. “So we wanted to come in and make an impact.” Wade agrees, adding, “The scene was ripe for it. We wanted to be a part of growing the local design scene, instead of riding the wave.”
For the first four years, Polygraph worked in a shared space called Headquarters. “It was cool when it was just three of us. It was fun making connections and getting outside perspectives under one roof,” says Wade. But last year in 2015, Polygraph decided to strike out on their own. Finding a new location was as simple as walking down a street and seeing a sign—literally. “At first we didn’t want to be on such a public street,” says Lindsay, of their second-floor studio on a bustling street in Southeast. But once they took a closer look, they fell for the open, airy, sun-drenched space.
Because the team’s expertise is so varied—Lindsay studied industrial design, Jason’s roots are in graphic design, and Wade’s expertise is video and digital design—they “can approach work differently from other studios, since we don’t have one specialty,” says Jason. And it’s this multi-disciplinary approach that enables Polygraph to create surprising, unconventional, yet highly successful solutions for their clients, which range from The Outlook Lodge, a boutique hotel near Colorado Springs, to the U.S. Green Building Council, which Lindsay says “always takes the most adventurous option, and impresses us every time.”
Despite the obvious, superficial differences in their clients, they do have some key things in common. They are, says Lindsay, “generally smaller and more locally-based. And we tend to align ourselves with people who are really interested in and respectful of design.”
The design process, more often than not, requires “getting out of the computer,” says Wade. When Polygraph was approached by Paper and Packaging Board, an organization that supports and advocates the use of paper, to design its 2014 annual report, it seemed like a fairly straightforward project at first. But the final concept didn’t come quickly to the Polygraph team. In fact, it took several challenging presentations and bouts of self-questioning before they decided on handwriting the entire report. “We had these other ideas percolating, and had another meeting that day,” says Lindsay. “But then we really thought about the expressive nature of paper. Writing the report would be a huge nod to the process and what paper is all about: personal expression.”
Other than black and white, there’s no printed color in the report. Instead, color is showcased through the various papers used in the report. While modern-day printers have the capability to capture even the finest lines and marks, Polygraph decided to run everything on a comp printer, essentially a photocopier, which “gave a more accurate quality of the hand than the big printers,” says Wade. Another unforeseen benefit? Reduced printing costs. Though the turnaround was short—they had ten days to complete the entire project, including printing—the report is undeniably striking in its simplicity, and clearly illustrates what the Paper and Packaging Board is all about: the power of pen and ink on paper. It also speaks to how Polygraph got named in the first place. “Poly means multi,” explains Jason, “while Polygraph represents how we stand for truth in our work and honesty in design.”