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Leading Ladies of Design: Katie Kerr

Leading Ladies of Design: Katie Kerr


Leading Ladies of Design is a monthly interview series featuring female designers in New Zealand, highlighting their work, hearing their voice & championing their success! This month’s Leading Lady is Katie Kerr!

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to chat about being a Leading Lady of Design! Firstly, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your work?

I'm a graphic designer who is based in Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm mainly interested in exploring alternative structures of design practice. My research-led practice revolves around the multidisciplinary production of experimental paperback books.

Having previously worked as Head of Design at Alain de Botton’s The School of Life in London, I returned to New Zealand to finish my MFA at Ilam School of Fine Arts. Now, alongside designing for international clients and the arts sector, I run GLORIA, an arts-based publishing platform, with Berlin-based photographer Alice Connew, as well as Strange Haven, an artist-run space on Karangahape Road, with Sam Walsh.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Most days start with yoga than a sweaty hike up Queen Street to my shared studio Strange Haven on Karangahape Road. The studio is an old shop, and I converted one of spaces in what was once an 'out house' into an independent studio. It's cosy. After smoko with the other artists at Strange Haven, I start work for the day. From there, every day is different, but I generally try to structure my week so I spend half on commercial work and half on my own projects -- which sometimes means working Saturdays as well.

What piece of work are you the most proud of? Can you tell me a bit about it and why its your fav?

I'm most proud of 'Between Two Strangers', which is the first book I published with GLORIA. It was a mammoth of a project, and took nearly two years to complete. It was my first experiment in taking on the full arch of book-making -- editing, designing, printing, distributing and promoting -- and it was a learning curve, to say the least.

Here’s a challenge! Can you describe your design career journey up until now in three words?

Dwelling. In. The. Margins. (four words, sorry I'm not great at following rules!).

Do you think being a woman has impacted your career as a designer in any way, either positively or negatively? If so, how?

When I worked in agencies in London, I realised that there was an imminent glass ceiling for women designers. As Alice and I said recently in an article for Designers Speak (Up): "Ask any female designer and she will have a story about handling, dodging, cushioning or coming up against sexism; whether it’s navigating the egos of male art directors, incredulously comparing pay cheques with male colleagues, or something more subtle, but equally damaging, in nature." Currently 70% of design graduates are female, but leadership roles and award winners in the design industry are currently predominantly male. Where are all the women?

Some of my favourite designers are women, and having those role models have certainly impacted my career. I'd like to see those women get the recognition they deserve.

I would love to know how you would define success as a designer? Do you think you’ve found it yet?

Success is a difficult thing to measure as it's highly personal. For me, success has never been about money or job titles or awards. Perhaps it's more about freedom -- having the ability to make work that I am proud of -- as well as building community. I've had a couple of people tell me that reading 'Between Two Strangers' changed their life for the better, and that was far more rewarding than getting a promotion.

What do you think that the industry could do to better empower women in design and other creative fields?

In New Zealand, I think we -- both men and women in the industry -- need to talk about it more and stop pretending it isn't an issue. Secondly, I'd like to see DINZ conduct an independent audit of diversity in their organisation.

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career what would it be?

That joining a studio isn't the only path.

Are there any other Leading Ladies of Design who inspire you?

Absolutely, a thousand of them! I couldn't possibly list them all here. But if you want to talk to some NZ women designers who are working in the margins, check out Catherine Griffiths, Alice Connew, Ella Sutherland, Sarah Maxey, Emma Rogan, Emma and Tana at Studio Akin, Cait Johnson and Layla Tweedy-Cullen for a start.

What is one piece of advice you would give to other female designers?

Read more. I never used to either -- but there is plenty of critical theory on design that will help you make sense of what you are doing. Or totally confuse you altogether. Either way, it's good to read.

Where can people find out more about you?


Which Leading Lady of Design would you like me to chat with next? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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