Art Director Isabel Lea shares her top tips for making a project a success
Isabel Lea, co-founder of ATYPICAL and the first ever Adobe Creative Resident to be based in the UK, is an art director and designer. As part of her creative residency, in which Adobe empowers talented individuals to spend a year focusing on a personal creative project, she’s exploring how typography-led design can respond to a place, its language, and its cultural identity.
Isabel used living in the UK as inspiration for her project BRIT(ISH). The project is an attempt to explore insights and ideas about being young and British during recent turbulent years.
Are you thinking of starting a personal project of your own but struggling to know where to start? Take a look at Isabel’s top tips on how to take your creative project to the next level…
1. Your everyday environment could be your biggest inspiration
For me, projects that respond to stories and insights from the world around us are often the most interesting because they add a level of unpredictability to the process and can result in something much more authentic. For the BRIT(ISH) project, I collected insights and anecdotes from people about their lives and how they felt about being young and British. The first step was to translate these into rough prototype designs. I collected the information in a variety of ways: jotting down overheard train conversations on the back of receipts, online surveys, asking questions in person, photographing ambient typography, and collecting random ephemera.
2. Switch between the details and the bigger picture
Back in my studio in Leeds, I looked for themes and insights in the scraps of information. I knew that I could never summarise all of the UK, so I focused on specific things to visualise a few individual perspectives. Many of the quotes I collected were specific inspiration points for designs. From there, I went onto sketches, vectors, and prototyping. Throughout the process, I printed, annotated, and refined, using a large concept board to help me see the bigger picture. I wanted to not just focus on each individual piece, but how they’d all come together thematically as part of a bigger project.
3. Experiment and get feedback! If you don’t get it right the first time, that’s ok!
My early tests for the series of design prints I created explored how I could use letters to express meaning. I tried lots of different ideas throughout this process, both in analogue sketches and later as digital compositions. It was important to me that the ideas were simple and clear; if they didn’t work as a sketch, I didn’t take them any further. Phrases like ‘life is a balancing act’ worked brilliantly as simple typographic compositions, but many others I ended up abandoning.
4. Experiment outside of your discipline
Along the way I discovered that some of the prints also worked well as animations in After Effects, which prompted me to experiment with animations that later formed the basis for augmented reality experiments in my exhibition. Because I haven’t studied product design, the clock designs I worked on proved a challenge. I developed many iterations, from cardboard prototypes to the full metal and glass pieces I exhibited. The faces themselves went through many digital iterations.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of design
People all over the world are buying the products I have created as part of my project. This global relatability shows that there’s a real power in using design to start conversations and to help visualise the intangible. As I continue my residency this year, I hope to continue finding new and experimental ways to spark important conversations about culture, society and everything in between.
You can also buy the products at shop.atypical.com