“I will always ask a lot of questions”
Veronica Ditting in conversation with It's Nice That
Two months after Veronica Ditting’s family relocated from Argentina to Germany, her grandma came to visit and asked how she liked her new home. The designer, then aged just three and a half, said actually she didn’t really like it, because “everyone mispronounces my name”. It was here Veronica began a long-lasting relationship with the effects of language, which have infused her work ever since.
Veronica told me this memory while she sipped a cup of Argentinian tea at her studio’s office nestled between flats in the Barbican. London is now Veronica’s home, where she is continuously sought after by clients keen for the Studio Veronica Ditting design stamp of clarity and tactility.
Today she can be found jumping between cultural institutions (Somerset House, The Stedelijk, Barbara Visser) and fashion clients (Cos, Hermès, Tiffany & Co), but the designer’s first job, alongside already managing her own commissions, was as a freelance designer at Fantastic Man’s Amsterdam office. Thinking she would only be there for one issue, Veronica is now most well-known as the creative director of the magazine’s sister title, The Gentlewoman.
In between an image edit and a team meeting, we sat down to discuss how the designer has grown to this established point in her career. But first – considering the array of titles and descriptions often given to her – we get the bottom of what it is she actually does.
INT If you’re meeting someone for the first time, how do you describe what you do?
VD It’s complex! Art direction and creative direction mean you can’t 100 per cent put your finger on what it is. It’s not as visible as being a photographer and saying this is the picture I made. Usually, I say I am a creative director and a graphic designer. I’m the one who makes sure things are aligned, and we’re working towards the same goal. But I have no clue if my mum 100 per cent understands what I do.
INT What was it that encouraged you to study design in the first place, then?
VD I actually first studied industrial design in Dortmund and I started taking classes in graphic design, because you could build up your own schedule. To be honest, I probably wasn’t fully aware of what graphic design can actually be when I was studying – I literally sat behind a computer for the first time during my studies.
Then, I met someone who was studying at the Gerrit Rietveld in Amsterdam, who showed me a variety of projects that were much more spontaneous. In Germany, your role as a designer was nearly already defined by the type of project you were working on. I just felt that really puts you, as a designer, in a service position and that’s something I didn’t want to do. At the Rietveld it was about personality. I did an exchange and then it was a very conscious decision to stay. It really opened my eyes to what graphic design could be, how important it is and which standpoint you take. I graduated – god, it was in 2005.
“If I’m thinking about a headline or a title, it’s so much about how it sounds, not only the way it looks.”
INT What kind of person were you at that time?
VD I think, around that time, I had a Werner Herzog phase, a lot of German film actually, which I still really appreciate. It was probably a lot more about films than music for me. I was also just trying to discover vintage magazines or books, something a bit more obscure. I’ve always been really curious about things. I was incredibly eager to learn, but I remember when I was at the Rietveld I felt a little slower than everyone else, because they already had two years together. That took me a little while to get over.
INT While at the Rietveld your work centred around language. Where did this develop from?
VD I think it’s partly through my upbringing because I grew up bilingual. One of my earliest memories – I was born in Argentina and moved to Germany when I was about three and a half – is my grandma coming to visit after we moved and asking, ‘So how do you like being here?’ and I said, ‘I don’t really like it, everyone mispronounces my name’.
INT How did that develop into a design attribute?
VD It has to do with how, even if you say something in a different language, content in a very simple way can come across so differently. I think that’s what started my interest in it, from a design perspective – more the limitations of language. Now if I’m thinking about a headline or a title, it’s so much about how it sounds, not only the way it looks.
INT Can you imagine what you’d be doing if you weren’t working in design?
VD I’ve got quite an interest in a few things, but I do have a big interest in food. I don’t know what that would be, I just know I have a curiosity about it. I wouldn’t want to run a restaurant, that’s for sure. I know that’s a very sort of romantic idea people have and it’s actually really stressful. Other than that, it’s not like I would become a yoga teacher or something!
INT I guess that means you’re doing what you should be doing, then?
VD I mean, I doubt it all the time, to be honest.
INT But everybody does!
VD It’s part of it. That’s what gives you drive, at least it does me.
“It’s not just about image creation, it’s about design and tactility and so on.”
INT Now that you have your own studio, your drive must have changed, though. How do you juggle it all?
VD That’s a good question, because I feel like I’m behind with anything I do, with emails, with work. The difficulty sometimes is the switching back and forth between roles and things that I have to do just work-wise, but also managing the studio and everything. It’s just a sort of continuous juggling act. I always feel like I’m not doing enough justice in a way. I’m still learning.
INT If you’re here and working on a project, how does your average day shape up?
VD It’s really switching between types of work and projects continuously. Usually, in the mornings, I prefer doing image edits; it’s not something I can do at the end of the day. Then I catch up with the team, but I’m also still really hands on. I still design a lot of things myself, so I try to create headspace for it. I also have a lot of meetings with photographers, stylists, or collaborators. Then, towards the end of the season it’s really getting the thing sort of done, shaped up and out there. The year is quite clearly defined for me, because of the magazine of course.
INT It’s lovely to hear you still spend time designing. Is that a conscious move?
VD It’s very key. It’s just something I don’t want to totally lose. It’s also what makes the studio specific in itself. It’s not just about image creation, it’s about design and tactility and so on. But, I mean, I can’t do all the detailing myself anymore. It’s important to have a good team who can translate that as well.
INT Do you and your team have a particular approach to starting projects?
VD I will always ask a lot of questions. Sometimes people approach you and might not know exactly what they want, so we define together what that should be. It just helps the goal become clear from the outset. It starts really with content and what we do to create clarity within the project. I mean of course it depends, because we work on a different range of things, but in the end it’s all about communication and translating content.
INT What would you do if you were, say, stuck on a project?
VD Usually when I’m stuck it’s when I have no headspace. I’m actually really terrible at procrastinating, going round in circles. I remember someone I used to study with said it’s not about you, because whenever I was stuck I always felt that it was my issue, like why can’t I resolve it? He was saying it’s more what’s the issue with the project and why is it not resolvable. Sometimes you won’t be able to resolve it, because the demands are too complex or there are too many different opinions. It’s really about creating clarity with the person you’re working with. Or just taking time not to think about it for a while.
“In the end it’s all about communication and translating content.”
INT And how did the decision to move to London come about?
VD Well, I actually had a pretty good set-up in Amsterdam, but The Gentlewoman is obviously based here. The year before I moved I was here on nearly a weekly basis. I wasn’t really here nor there, and then the magazine suggested that if I were to move I could take on more responsibility. That was why I moved. I really moved for the magazine.
INT The Gentlewoman is something so attached to the work you do. I was wondering, from a design perspective, why do you think it has caused such fascination?
VD I guess when we launched the magazine, which is ten years ago this year, at that point no magazine looked, felt and read like it. Looking back at making the first issue, it was quite a challenge, but from the start we just tried to give the photography, writing, editorial and design, all of it its place. I think it goes back to the fact that from a design standpoint it speaks to designers, from a photographic standpoint it speaks to photographers and stylists. From a writing standpoint too, it’s much broader in a way. We really try to dedicate enough attention to all of those aspects which make it a whole. We’re a tiny team and everyone is creatively ambitious and wants to make it as good as we can with the time we have. I hope that still shows.
“I always think with credits you should mention how much time you had to work on something.”
Somerset House exhibition, 2019, Hanna Moon & Joyce Ng: English as a Second Language, photography shown by Hanna Moon
INT A completely different project you worked on recently was the design of Hanna Moon and Joyce NG’s exhibition at Somerset House. How was that experience?
VD It was done in no time. I had commissioned Hanna for The Gentlewoman for issue no.18 and she actually got in touch asking if I would do the graphic layer of the show, only in November. I was very concerned about time, and also about our role within that… then it also turned slowly that we were also doing the exhibition design, because they didn’t have any one doing it.
INT But that’s barely any time at all!
VD Yes! So basically, I said okay and tried to figure out what they wanted to achieve in their respective works, the first thing being the structure. Hanna wanted her works on the wall, a more classic approach, and Joyce already knew she didn’t want anything on the wall and instead a free-standing structure. The third room was completely undefined at that point.
Quite early on I thought what if we gave them a bit of more an object-like quality and they were keen for the rooms to reflect each other, but not be exactly the same. It’s a bit like working out the layout of a page, you just follow your feeling of what makes sense. Then the wall panels we made are these powder-coated metal panels. They show the layers within the photography and with the typeface it was looking for a bit of tension between the two – how those two worlds could meet each other. They were, in a way, a slight continuation of a project we’ve done for Het Nieuwe Instituut.
INT Which show was that?
VD It was a show at now the biggest design and architectural museum in Holland with 50 or 60 designers showing archives of their work. We came up with a structure which is an identity made up of archival sheets.
INT Wow, this sounds like it must have been a massive undertaking?
VD Oh yes, I always think with credits you should mention how much time you had to work on something.
INT But because you’re incredibly busy, how do you switch off from all of this? It’s often difficult for someone who works in this industry to go to an exhibition and not think about work.
VD Totally, I mean it’s totally terrible! It never stops and also the things I would think about are all sort of related to creativity. Actually, what I really love to do is architectural tours. I think because architecture is a little bit further removed from what I do myself I can switch off for a little while. But, in terms of something totally unrelated, I would probably go for a hike. That’s just good because I’m always in my head and can’t switch off.
INT What’s left for the busy year ahead?
VD At the moment we’re still in the middle of this project that will come out in September. Then there’s of course the 20th issue of The Gentlewoman. It’s really exciting because it’s about looking forward, rather than looking backwards. I can’t really talk about it! Yet…