Silliness, tenderness and food inform Sarah Kennedy’s charming design work
The New York-based designer tells us how her history in printmaking and love of culinary culture feed into her work.
- Olivia Hingley
- 7 February 2022
Seeing graphic design as a “huge responsibility”, Sarah Kennedy takes her work “very seriously”. But, importantly, the New-York based designer also wants to inject some of her trademark light-heartedness into the profession: “silliness and tenderness are core values for how I conduct myself, both professionally and socially so it comes as no surprise they both pop up in my work frequently.” With her inviting colour schemes, warm tones and lively shapes, Sarah’s work is full of playful possibilities. And, regularly interrogating herself with deliberations like “Can it be playful while still taking the subject seriously?” and “Can it be beautiful and also easy to understand?” Sarah always keeps questions of joy and accessibility at the forefront of her work.
With this light-heartedness being a core focus for Sarah, it's not a surprise that one of her central cultural references is the documentary Beautiful Losers, which follows a group of DIY street artists who rose to fame in the 1990s. While Sarah was particularly inspired by the way Geoff McFetridge and Stephen Powers talk about their work in the documentary, it is installation artist Margaret Kilgallen’s feature that most influenced Sarah upon viewing: “after seeing her work for the first time, it took me a solid two years to stop directly imitating her”.
Sarah began experimenting with graphic design in her early teens, “I had a few amazing art teachers that really encouraged me to push myself ‘digitally’ which at the time felt so risky and unknown”. But, when Sarah eventually made it to art school she actually ended up focusing on screen-printing and letterpress. Her practise in printmaking Sarah sees as having aided her graphic design work significantly; guiding her “design decisions” and helping her find her “voice”. After finishing art school Sarah focused on building her freelance design practice before completing an apprenticeship with Staci Janik Studio where she focused on restaurant branding. She is now a senior designer at Dagger, an advertising agency in Atlanta – “the long and winding road of it all!”
With some of Sarah’s best work coming from her collaborations with the culinary world, the designer tells us that her love of working within the food industry is “because there is already such an emotional foundation that people have with recipes and restaurants”. Sarah plays on this “emotional foundation” throughout her brand identity for Jane Cooks For You. Wanting something “nostalgic” and “familiar” but “not leaning too heavily on those tones” Sarah looked to vintage pyrex patterns and “a ton” of vintage restaurant menus: “the fonts in this brand are a homage to cookbooks from the 1970s and The Whole Earth Catalog, of course”. Completing projects for Brightlands Olive Oil a handful of times, Sarah tells us that “it’s really nice to work with a client consistently because a real trust is formed”. Whilst her first few projects were more content and infographic driven, once they gained more understanding of Sarah’s style she was able to experiment more. Recently completing a series of logos for their content series, Sarah displays some of her most confident work work. Featuring red, rounded cutlery, a yellow vase of flowers and some dusty blue kitchenware, the logos are as effective as they are visually pleasing.
But, far from restricted to food design, Sarah’s body of work shows a clear range and she recently built the website for her singer songwriter friend Faye Webster. With Faye’s brother Luke Webster having built the entire graphic identity for the album and Faye and Sarah having settled on a “clean but not boring design” the project proved “a fun challenge figuring out how these dynamic elements from the album cover and merch could live and breathe as a website”. The standout feature of the final design is the custom “haha” sticker doubling up as the cursor, a feat which Sarah tells us was “worth the many hours of YouTube tutorials”.
Looking to expand her design skills and take more risks, in the coming year Sarah hopes to become a more well-rounded designer. But, not limiting herself, she is excited about the prospect of exploring other creative avenues, such as working on a book or even dabbling in filmmaking. “I’m always curious where my brain will jump to next,” she ponders, “I’ll be just as surprised as anyone.”
Sarah Kennedy: Brightland Content Series Logos, Photo Courtesy of Brightland (Copyright © Brightland, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.