After started studying graphic design at Edinburgh, Berlin-based graphic designer Zoe Spurgeon tells us, she moved to Lisbon to work as an artist assistant at an investigative research centre called Hangar. Now currently working for Indie Magazine, Zoe continues to develop personal work and bring her fresh, exuberant practice to the contemporary design scene.
It would be a disservice to describe Zoe’s practice as multidisciplinary, instead, it is almost transient, whereby she acts on her instincts; spanning “the likes of print, animation, jewellery, and clothes.” Zoe tells us: “I go through phases of focusing on one of them really intensely and then getting scared of the others.” The result of this agitated, sporadic mindset is work that is fluid and immaculately considered.
A considerable amount of inspiration comes to Zoe, she explains “from words and writing,” elaborating that “whether that’s a poem, an essay or just a slogan on a shop window that I put on a T-shirt – I love the way some things sound out of context.” This is responsible for Zoe taking great satisfaction in “illustrating poems and essays,” telling us that “you can show people how you perceived what was written in a really immediate and visual way.”
In this regard, Zoe very much considers herself a visual designer, telling us “I tend to lean towards image-making in most of my work,” adding that “I definitely find it a nice break from the pedantic and sometimes intimidating rules that circulate around the graphic design world.” Emphasising that she in no way disrespect those who “have the knack for it,” Zoe personally finds “the rigidity of immaculate spacing and typesetting quite frustrating,” resulting in a more illustrative approach to graphic design, a conceptual approach that is produced by the way something feels rather than how Adobe dictates.
“I feel like I should mention making clothes and jewellery but I’m not really sure how it fits into my graphic design practice,” Zoe tells us, expressing that the design and production of her own clothes “have the same effect in the sense they’re a good antidote to being hunched over the computer for hours.” Finding enjoyment in “the physicality and immediacy” of the act of making. We can certainly see a correspondence between the two equally conceptual elements of her practice, where they both creatively bounce off one another. The result is a speculative practice, questioning why we should design the way we do, and in doing so bringing a more expressive, handcrafted element to graphic design. Zoe designs as if she were painting, providing a greater sense of authorship and artistry to her practice.
A recent project of Zoe’s was Our Cosmic Insignificance, based on an essay of the same name, written by Guy Kahane. Zoe tells us that “I found this essay when I was researching for another project – the essay had such rich visual metaphors that put some things I was feeling into a context I could understand.” The outcome was an illustrated essay “filled with motifs of ephemerality and change,” including phases of the moon, changing sky, sand-timers “and even skin.” In creating a visual tapestry, Zoe sews together the essay alongside the feelings she had encountered whilst reading it. In doing so, she strikes the “balance between being and becoming, and ultimately the inevitability of change.”
Finding it a contemplative process, Zoe explains that the project “helped me to understand my own anxieties and feelings towards the subject,” adding “I like to lean into this reflective way of working during personal projects,” due to the “certain kind of intimacy and thoughtfulness” that can be found.
After first moving to Berlin, Zoe designed an anthology called Thankyou! “I was having such a nice time and reading lots of poetry that reflected that,” Zoe tells us, “it made me ponder how enduring the human spirit is – that I, as a 21st Century woman, can identify with the poems by Christina Rossetti for example, who was writing in the early 1900s.” In representing these two worlds colliding, the publication portrays the “enduring and comforting words of the poems,” in direct contrast to the digital aesthetic of contemporary society – such as “emoticons and ultra-computerised imagery.” It’s an exciting and striking piece of work that harbours an innate beauty behind intense concept and interpretation.
Aware of the unpredictable change that Covid-19 will have on society, Zoe questions “what the world will look like on the other side of this.” What Zoe hopes, she says, is that “ when the industries I love the most like the nightlife industry and arts and cultural centres re-open, it will be really celebratory and exciting,” hoping to be involved in “the restoration and new beginnings of those sectors in one way or another.”
About the Author
Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.