"Collaboration is the key to making big things happen, and no woman is an island."
What did you study at university (if at all) and why?
My BFA (Bachelor's in Fine Art, from the US) was in graphic design, and I have an MA in Communication Design. I was interested in both animation and also graphic design when I was a teenager, and then upon the advice of an artist friend of the family was advised that studying graphic design might offer the most opportunities later on, so here I am! (Though who knows, maybe I would have been an incredible animator, but the world will never know.)
After graduating you worked as a book cover designer, but made the decision to go freelance and focus on data-related design. What inspired this change?
At the time I got a job as a book cover designer, it was about 8-9 years ago when there was a rise in the use of diagrams, data, and information design to communicate messages to a lay audience, as opposed to only scientific or business analytic audiences. So because of this excitement and interest in data visualisation, while I was working on book covers in my day job, my MA project Writing Without Words (a project where I visualised Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road) went viral on the internet and I had an inbox flooded with emails and freelance requests so I decided to quit my job and go freelance to work in this growing design field.
"Success isn't something that can be planned: we never anticipated this incredible outcome from a small personal project, and to be honest, I am unsure how I will be able to top the project in my own creative practice."
Throughout your career as a information designer, are there any projects that have been particularly significant for you? Why, and what did you learn from them?
My Dear Data project with Giorgia Lupi is probably the most significant as it was a very personal project with one other person that turned into multiple exhibitions, two books, a good friendship, and our postcards ending up in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York!
It was significant for a few reasons: firstly, as I am self-employed, it was one of the first time where I really had to negotiate the creative process with another creative person with a very different approach and design sensibility to mine, and even though we grumble and disagree sometimes, I have learned so much from the way Giorgia approaches projects that I might not have discovered if I was still continually working by myself. It taught me that collaboration is the key to making big things happen, and no woman is an island.
Secondly, this project has taught me that success isn't something that can be planned: we never anticipated this incredible outcome from a small personal project, and to be honest, I am unsure how I will be able to top the project in my own creative practice. But ultimately it's reminded me that you can't force things, and that nothing comes easy, and you have to stop focusing on likes, hearts, faves etc. on social media and just put the work in to see the results.
Tell us a bit about your creative process. What skills and tools are essential to your job?
I spend a lot of time in cafes in the morning with a notebook and a pencil to come up with ideas, but otherwise the main tools that I use are the Adobe Creative Suite, drawing materials, and basic spreadsheet software. Of course, I should probably learn to code or (I dabble a bit in Processing but I'm still an amateur) or learn some of the more intensive data analysis software but I have found that working with developers and data researchers and journalists as a team works best for me.
What are your main sources of inspiration for your work?
My main sources of inspiration are anything except the field that I am working in for that particular project, whether its a book, or a data project, or so on. I am always worried that if I am (for example) creating something data-driven and only look at data visualisations then I might unknowingly recycle ideas instead of coming up with new ones!
What would you like to do next?
More of the same would keep me happy: more books, more art commissions, more collaborations would be enough for me! However, I'd quite like to work on something really massive scale-wise, as I haven't really created anything larger than the height of a room...