DAAP couple finds love post-graduation in the City by the Bay

Joe and Leslie shadows

Joe Stitzlein and Leslie (Loftus) Stitzlein

Boy meets girl at UC, they fall in love pulling all-nighters in the DAAP studio, and the rest is history, right? Well, kind of.

For alumni Joe Stitzlein, BSDE ’95, and Leslie (Loftus) Stitzlein, BSDE ’92, it's a longer story.

“I knew Leslie when I was in college at DAAP, but she was so much cooler than me I didn’t get to talk to her that much. She was a senior, I was a sophomore,” Joe says, laughing. Leslie says she remembers noticing him but since it was her senior year, she was focused on other things — like graduating, landing a job and figuring out “what’s next.”

“She worked at this breakfast stand in Tangeman and I would go and buy two 50-cent muffins, which was a lot of money at the time for me, so I could see her," Joe recalls. "I don’t even think I would talk to her — I would just buy muffins.”

Their “official” meet-cute happened a few years later in the fall of 1995 while they were both living in San Francisco, introduced by a mutual DAAP friend. From there, their love story took off: Dating, marriage, a quick stint back in Cincinnati, kids and some seriously cool design work.

How it started

Joe and Leslie standing in DAAP

Joe Stitzlein and Leslie (Loftus) Stitzlein

For the Cincinnati natives, having a design school in their own backyard created the perfect opportunity for both of them in different ways. Leslie, who hails from the Cincinnati neighborhood of Delhi Township, actually thought she wanted to go away for college but after seeing the DAAP co-op program she thought, “How can you beat that?” For Joe, from a small northern suburb, Cincinnati may as well have been Manhattan. “The campus makes you feel like you’re in the city and with that comes all this excitement,” he says.

And with that excitement came the cycle of co-ops for both. From New York to L.A. and Boston to San Francisco, the two racked up invaluable job experience while seeing the world and figuring out where they may want to lay their roots one day.

“The benefit of DAAP was not only did we get to try out these cities, but when we were ready to move to a new place after graduating, it really wasn’t that scary," they say. "There was a whole DAAP community out there that we were already connected with.”

After a few years in Cincinnati post-graduation, Leslie ended up jumping on an opportunity to move to San Francisco to work with a fellow DAAP graduate running his own design firm. And with open job prospects, one suitcase and a can-do attitude, Joe also hit the West Coast. He says, “San Francisco felt more open to young people climbing the ladder. There was a freshness to the design there that I was attracted to.”

Once the universe did its thing and brought these two together, they were married back in the Queen City and have since spent almost two decades together raising a family, designing their hearts out and enjoying that West Coast sunshine.

How it's going

Joe headshot

Joe Stitzlein

After many years of each working at various agencies, Leslie and Joe decided it was time to join forces. For the past five years they’ve operated as Stitzlein Studio and have some serious design work under their belts.

Their story on their website sums it up best: "We worked with Steve Jobs to define Apple’s photography and packaging standards, with Michelle Obama to launch her Let’s Move program for healthy schools, designed iconic identities for Netflix, Nike Flyknit, dwell magazine and Mac OS X, built a global design studio at Google and created campaigns that made the Nike Free the world’s best-selling shoe, period."

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t shifted their work life too much (aside from seeing their clients in person), as they’ve both been working mostly remote since starting their own firm. As for their work styles, Joe says they’re a complimentary team. “Leslie brings a lot of humanity to the work, thinking about the clients and our relationships, whereas I’m more analytical, always thinking about the problem and how do we solve it.”

Leslie headshot

Leslie (Loftus) Stitzlein

He continues, “I think that it helps that we come from a bigger story — what we bring from Cincinnati and the commonalities we experienced at DAAP. Our shared journey almost gives us the same DNA, if you want to call it that. It’s nice.”

Part of that shared DAAP DNA includes visits to Gordon Solchow’s house (Leslie says, “If you know you know”), having professors from Switzerland and Germany sharing their obsessions for craft, and above all else an incredible work ethic. “I became excited to walk to the studio at 2 a.m. for the work I was doing,” she says.

They say DAAP helped ignite their passions — and they show no sign of slowing down.

Distanced by Design

Want to hear more on how the DAAP couple is navigating creative innovation during the COVID-19 Pandemic? Leslie and Joe were featured on an October episode of Distanced by Design, a series of open-ended conversations among designers on the ways that creativity, innovation, and collaboration are being impacted (positively or negatively) by the COVID-19 pandemic and how industry sectors or communities might change as a result. Sit back, relax, and watch!