We talked to graphic designer Stephanie Specht about her background, her design process, how she runs her studio and general questions about women in design…
She has worked for clients such as Google, Nike, Princeton University, Dazed, Ace & Tate, Royal Academy for Fine Arts Antwerp, All Eyes On Hip Hop, Artlead, Baloji, Brussels Museums Nocturnes, Canvas, Clement Blanchet Architecture, Das Mag, Design Sciences Antwerp, Eastpak, FVWW Architecten, Jefferson Hack, Leon Vranken, Maddalena Annunziata, Mads Teglers, Matters of Space, Park Studio LA, plusoffice architects, S Magazine, Salt & Stone, Stadsbouwmeester Gent, Target, Ugly Belgian Houses, Maat Ontwerpers …
“I didn’t always plan to become a designer. In fact, I began my studies thinking that I would enter into the realms of architecture and even took a course during art school at the age of 16. But what initially pointed me towards graphic design was a certain concern regarding my maths ability from my teachers. I should have known since I was always fascinated by the lettering on buildings – mainly old buildings – and the way architects would have their name on houses like a signature (as seen in Belgium during the 1930-40s). I did not realise I was already looking at graphic design back then”
After this realisation, I went on to complete a master’s in graphic design at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, and later ran off to Cape Town to follow love, abandon graphic design and to study oceanography. Swept away by romance and the ocean, I had always been a fan of the French explorer and naval officer Jacques Cousteau, so surely this would have been the right choice for me. But, again, this came to an end shortly after I heard that my maths wasn’t strong enough – and that was the final sign to stick with graphic design.
In 2006, I became self-employed and travelled across Brussels, Princeton and Brooklyn, working from “home” – “wherever that ‘home’ was” – and later moved back to Antwerp in 2013 following a break-up.
“I feel like all that experience and having lived in many different places has had a huge effect on me, because in my head I am so free. Every day I wake up and feel like anything’s possible if you have the right mindset. When you have a certain trust in life and you love what you do, the right people pick up on that.”
A little about your design process…
Fido: What does your process look like?
Stephanie Specht: I want to make things stronger. Better. Better in a sense of ‘what’s the essence’? During all these years I am still looking to purify everything, even in my work. I like looking at architecture. I try to take small architecture trips. One does not need to go far to do this – just riding my bike through the city is inspiring. I mainly have architecture books at home – it inspires me more than books about what I actually do. When I look at a building that I find interesting my brain does this thing where it exports the shape into single lines and shapes. The building or house suddenly becomes a layout. Besides architecture, music is also really important to me – I listen to a lot of different kinds of music styles. There are some jobs where you need to be in a certain mood, and music can really enhance this.
F: Do you have a design process and adapt it in every project? How much do you enjoy this part of your work?
S.P: See what I mentioned above – but I don’t always do all these things. It varies. Every day is different, every day demands something else. I enjoy this phase a lot. The whole pre-design phase, the experimenting, is my favourite part of my job. It’s when I feel most free. There are no limitations.
“Personal projects are very important in my design practice. They are my personal playground.”
Let’s talk business!
F: How simple/difficult has it been to create your own studio?
S.P: Both simple and difficult. The voice to do it felt very natural in the end, I was born to do this and work like this but the whole non-creative part aside I felt like it was very difficult in the first 10 years. The estimates, the invoicing, the planning, the communication with clients and setting my own boundaries like in how far do i go for a client and how much sleep can I miss for a project. It took a long time for me to find that balance.
F: Do you have a daily routine?
S.P: Drinking coffee in the morning and watching the birds play in the trees. For the rest I don’t like routines, it kills my creativity.
F: How do you balance the conflict between the economic aspect and your own requirements on the quality of design?
S.P: No idea … I don’t have a recipe for that. I live with the flow of life. Sometimes there are times where I don’t have much income so I am obliged to take on a little more work and other times it is the other way around. But one thing I never do anymore is to work on a project or for people that I don’t feel good about from the beginning. If I do that, it is like asking for trouble. Something I also learned over the years.
F: Do you usually work on weekends?
S.P: I try not to. I used to do it in the first 10 years though.
F: Do you work in your own office or share a space? How many people work in your team?
S.P: I have a workspace in my home that is large enough for 3 or 4 people but I am now alone in here. Interns will join me in the future!
Thoughts about women in the design field
F: Do you think there are special challenges for women in the design field?
S.P: Less than years ago, I think it’s getting better, but maybe my clients have changed as well? I work with and for a lot of women. But, I think, some women still feel the need to prove themselves in certain positions while they should not. When I was in my 20’s I always felt people did not take me seriously as a female young designer. Of course, the more you focus on this in your head, the bigger it becomes; Once I turned 30 I thought it was different and people took me more seriously – but maybe that was only a mental shift that I did myself? I don’t know. It also depends on what kind of environment you work in, I believe.
F: What do you think about positive discrimination?
S.P: Not so sure if it is a good or a bad thing. It’s such an organised act that you can question the beliefs of the initiator? Like, why do they do it? To gain points somewhere? If it comes from a genuinely good place then I guess it is ok. But I have my doubts. It feels forced.
F: Do you see a lack of female models in design?
S.P: There is certainly no lack, there is only a lack in the exposure of them.
F: What do you think about women’s mental burden?
S.P: What a difficult question … I don’t think I can answer this; Every woman is different and unique and has her own issues … I don’t think I can generalise this?
How have things changed post-pandemic?
F: Have you been asked to cut your budget even more after the Covid pandemic?
S.P: Not once, I am very lucky!
F: How did your work develop during the six last months?
S.P: I had more time for personal work and that is the best thing that ever happened to me. I was also renovating our house with my boyfriend so a lot of my time went to that project as well.
*** All the images are property of ©StephanieSpecht, you’ll need her permission to reproduce them 🙂