Talking about design that connects disciplines with Katie Edwards

“American design is so driven by capitalism and making money that aesthetics can be an afterthought,” says Leff Design Manager Katie Edwards.

Katie maintains a creative practice outside of her work at Leff that influences the way she thinks about graphic design projects. She spoke to me about design, inspiration, and connecting different areas of creativity—including a way to combine her interests in clothing and typography—at work and in her personal projects.

Mimi: How much does inspiration matter in design work? In your work in particular?

Katie: I think it depends on the deliverable and the guidelines around a project. The work I do for my day job typically has very specific parameters I have to follow, so inspiration, at least in the traditional sense, is less important.

But in my personal work, inspiration is everything. Because I don’t typically make money off it, I have room to explore and be inspired by whatever feels right at the time.

Mimi: Related to that, where do you look for new design concepts to feed your brain?

Katie: I’m really interested in vintage and antique design and things from before graphic design as we understand it existed. I have a collection of old advertisements, cards, clothing, and so on that I look to when I’m starting something. You might remember that we created visual assets for a client that wanted something artistic-looking for their event a few years ago.

I’m still a Pinterest stan, too. I realize it’s not for everyone, but I enjoy having a digital collection there.

Also, I’ve realized that as I pick up more hobbies, little bits of them show up in my design work. For me, creativity is all connected, and I love the idea of expanding beyond a single medium. If you want an example, I picked up sewing in 2020, and one of the first things I made was a shirt from a $1 vintage flour sack. Clothing + typography, baby!

Mimi: How much do you value novelty in design? What might be some advantages and drawbacks to novelty?

Katie: I’m such a sucker for anything tongue-in-cheek, kitschy, or clever, so yes, I highly value novelty in design.

I see novelty as an advantage in design because it tends to set work apart from the norm and can suck people in. To go back to a client project from a few years ago, part of what set the final design apart was that it was different—designed to not look like a typical ad on Instagram so that people might be curious enough to really read the message. There’s been such a streamlining of all quirky branding and design for a while now—see any rebrand where they ditched their funky logo for a blocky sans serif. It’s disheartening as a lover of anything funky.

However! I think novelty has to be done well for it to work, which I consider a drawback. If something’s too heavy-handed or confusing or it needs to be explained, it can make the work stand out in a bad way.

I think some people see novelty as childish, but it could keep our collective attention in a society where all companies are being rebranded to look the same.

Mimi: Talk about your thought process. How do you evaluate an exhibit that involves lots of quantitative data—numbers—as opposed to text and concepts?

Katie: If an exhibit includes numbers, I know the layout will be dictated by the clearest visual representation of that data. When I get concept-driven exhibits, I usually have more room to play with the layout’s structure.

Mimi: Based on your interactions with nondesigners, what are some common misconceptions in how laypeople think about design versus how designers think about design?

Katie: I think people underestimate how long good design takes. Creativity is more complicated than a switch you turn on and off, and I think it shows when ideas have been rushed. To come up with thoughtful, intentional design, we need space and time. I’d also say there isn’t a one-size-fits-all design solution that works on every project. Anyone who operates in that way makes the mistake of not allowing the content to lead the design.

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