The Design Diva
Bacon lovers, pancake aficionados, and cereal addicts: rejoice. If you haven’t already checked it out, you must visit the new Extra Crispy website, a forum for all things breakfast. With stories including “The Sweet History of Cereal and Video Games” and “What Your Breakfast Says About Your Relationship,” it’s one of the web’s most delicious destinations.
Part of the site’s appeal is its appetizing imagery. Quirky graphics and illustrations (as well as the requisite food pictures) draw visitors to feast with their eyes. Brooklyn-based Lauren Kolm is the seasoned designer in charge of creating the graphics. Before this position, Kolm worked as a book designer at Penguin Random House, creating original book design, typographic treatment, art proofing, and project management for over 250 book titles. Books and breakfast—what else do you need?
Kolm spoke to us about working in design, where she likes to eat the day’s most important meal, and whether you can judge a book by its cover.
What makes New York a great place to work in design?
I feel very lucky because a lot of my friends moved out to New York after school which meant that, by the time I moved out here, I had a network of people already working in the design industry who were able to give me advice on how to navigate it. But I think that even if you move to New York without knowing a single person, you come knowing that there is a pre-established design community and, because design doesn’t exist in a bubble, you work to figure out how you fit into it. Being surrounded by people who are achieving things you want to achieve and working on projects you want to work on gives you a reference point for your own career. Design is such a broad abstract term and every designer wants to find his or her niche, but that’s difficult to do if you’re not in a place where your selective interest is represented. The sheer number of designers out here means that the chances are better both that there will be people interested in the same things you are and that you will have the opportunity to directly interact with those people. Which means you will remain motivated!
There’s also this thing where, because the cost of living here is so high and being a designer in New York is not a recipe for economic security, the pool of design talent here is impassioned. You have to be really excited about what you’re doing to stay put in an environment that feels like constant trial-by-fire. But for those who decide that it’s worth it, you find yourself surrounded by other passionate people who have come to the same conclusion.
As media shifts more and more online, how are opportunities in the field changing?
As far as design opportunities are concerned, the Internet lets you create visual narratives in infinitely more ways than a print publication allows. The fact that I can contribute things like GIFs, memes, and infographics, in addition to traditional editorial illustrations to my company’s brand is a testament to the fact that companies are expanding the ways in which they reach out to their audiences. Because news moves so fast on the Internet, companies are creating more content faster and in more ways, which translates to just straight-up more design jobs. The democratic nature of the Internet also means that you don’t necessarily have to be classically trained in illustration or design, as long as you are able to create things that successfully resonate with people.
Are there any places and things you do in the city to look for inspiration?
Because most of my job involves being on the computer and making things that live exclusively on the internet, whenever I get creatively blocked, I find it really useful and inspiring to shift my medium and making something with my hands. Recently, that’s taken the form of screen-printing classes at SVA in Manhattan and machine knitting classes at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn. It’s frustrating but also really great to work without being able to hit the undo or erase button and I usually return to computer work with a clear head and new ideas.
Some other places I head to if I’m feeling stuck and need a break are Prospect Park to people-watch, the new Whitney for their consistently great exhibits and great natural light (two years of architecture school made me insufferable like that), or a venue like Baby’s All Right or Trans Pecos to get myself out of my head by dancing.
You work for a breakfast website. Where are your favorite places in New York to eat the meal?
I wasn’t a big breakfast eater growing up, so I feel like I have a lot of breakfast-eating to catch up on! I just moved from Bushwick to Park Slope, so a lot of my favorite spots are still up there. I love this vegan spot called Champs Diner because there’s not a single bad thing on their menu and also Girlpool ate next to me there once so you know it’s cool. I also love House of Yes, which is a performance space that’s heavy on mirrors and glitter and has very positive vibes and even more positive za’atar fries on their brunch menu. I have a soft spot for the Great Neck Diner, which is where my grandma and I go for lunch whenever I visit her on Long Island—every time, without fail, she gets a bagel with the inside scooped out and chicken salad on top of it, and I get scrambled eggs with home fries and wheat toast. What it lacks in taste, it makes up for with my grandma.
As a former book designer, do you think you can judge a book by its cover? What can you tell about a book based on its cover?
While that old adage definitely rings true overall, I think there is something to be said for occasionally judging contemporary books by their covers. The big publishers know that, with the prevalence of e-books and self-published books, the consumer has to be offered something a little more enticing than just words on the page to buy a hardcover. Often the text will have supplementary visual material to make it more appealing. While I was working at Penguin Books, the team I was on produced some amazing book packages including things like interior illustrations, photo inserts, custom endpapers, special excerpts, and of course the jacket. The amount of work that goes into creating a book package like that is not insignificant and a book that has undergone this treatment is generally one the publisher expects to be an important literary player. A book that beautiful and labored-over is usually worth the read.