How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been a partner at Pentagram for two years. Before that I was Creative Executive Director of Wolff Olins in London. Pentagram is a lovely, amazing agency. I’m the first female partner here, which is quite a change for the culture here, I think. I happen to have twin boys as well, who are now seven, so it is quite a crazy combination because it’s a very tough job. Design generally is quite a male-dominated world. In any case you always have to be in a world where you have to push things around a bit, but you don’t necessarily want to do it in a masculine way. Life is always busy but I love my job and the combination of things, and I always try to give my children as much as I can. I rush to be there at bedtime and do a lot of creative stuff with them, which I think is very important. Even then if you have to work later, you find crazy ways to make it work. It is a crazy life, my husband works a lot as well so we both find ourselves sometimes thinking ‘what the hell is going on? What day of the week or year are we in?’ We laugh a lot about the amount of chaos that we are surrounded by.

The Serpentine Galleries brand identity created by Marina Willer in collaboration with Brian Boylan

How do you divide your work and home life?
I work full-time and it is really full-time, and also I take work home. But the work that we do is creative stuff: it’s writing, it’s having ideas, it’s looking and reading. I can do that when we are together as a family. I feel that it’s great when parents have an interesting life and have things to share with their children; I’m not one of those people who thinks that parents should be at home all the time. Children feel inspired by what their parents do and the fact that you have stories to tell them at the end of the day. I don’t think you need to be with each other all the time but when you are together you have to make the most of it, and be fully dedicated in that moment – that’s the most important thing. As designers, I think my husband and I are inspired by that madness of life because life is not predictable and square. In a way having so many responsibilities also makes you stronger professionally, because you have to create things quicker and focus, and you are able to get inspiration from the world around you and the children; the way they think life and how they fit into your world. I always think every minute is so precious so I’m always trying to do wonderful things with the time I’ve got with them.

How do you spend your time with the boys?
I’m quite active. We’re alway making things. We make monsters, we recycle things all the time. I give lots of workshops in schools so we’ve got into the habit of making lots of thing, creative suff. We also just love playing and going to the park and doing the simple things that anyone loves doing: jumping on the bed, writing stories, painting, drawing, just being together and the simplest things. I hate TV and screens, it really annoys me because it takes away any conversation and gets a bit boring. It’s hard to switch off, that’s one thing. You do try to do your yoga and things but I think switching off is one of the hardest things because there’s always stuff in your head. But I do try to fully engage especially with the kids when I’m with them. I think it’s so disrespectful to do other stuff; that’s the easiest mistake – that you soon start doing emails and things, but obviously no-one’s perfect.

The Tate identity produced by Willer's group at Wolff Olins (with Brian Boylan) in 1999

Where are you from?
I’m from Brazil. It was an amazing place to grow up – a lot of space, a lot of nature. Wherever you are always you are very close to nature. The weather tends to allow you to spend a lot of time outdoors. I came to London to do my masters at Royal College. I’ve now been here for 15 years. My husband is English and also a designer. He loves Brazil too so at some point we will do something there – the world is small, isn’t it? I really love being in a city. I grew up in the South of Brazil, now we have a place in Rio so that’s where we go most of the time. The rest of the time we live in Dalston in East London.

What’s your daily routine?
We get up at 7/7.30am with the boys, get them ready, then I cycle to work in West London along the canal. It takes an hour so by the time I get to work I’ve cleared my head. In the evening I try to leave between 6pm and 7pm so I can see the boys and tell the stories before they go to sleep. Also my husband and I still have a life, we go out a bit. We have a nanny who lives with us. We’re lucky but we’ve got twins so without that we couldn’t manage; we both work and travel a lot. Practical life is already so hard as it is: the job here is immense plus home and the commute. Everything together feels like quite a lot.

Marina Willer and Brian Boylan led the Wolff Olins team behind the Southbank Centre identity, 2007

What does your working day look like?
At work, each team is led by a partner so it’s like being part of a start-up: you have total autonomy, it’s really creative and liberating; you practically have to win your own work, employ your own people. I have a team of seven people whom I adore. With two children, by the time you get to work you’ve already dealt with so much. It’s just constant. When we get to the weekend my husband and I are both so exhausted, and then we finish the weekend we are so tired: the house is upside down, both boys are so physical but so sweet and loving and creative. I think twins is the best thing in the world – really I couldn’t ask for anything better – but it does take every bit of energy you have. So sometimes I think ‘how can I possibly wake up tomorrow to go to work?’ and then you do it and get to the other side. At Pentagram we don’t have a huge amount of support like in a place like Wolff Olins but it is much more about what suits you at the stage you are at in your life. That’s what I’m looking for now – to do things in my own way and feel more creative, and look for clients I feel more aligned with; in terms of the the way they see the world and their point of view.


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