Elizabeth Spiridakis

 
“I was a Sassy addict!”
declares Elizabeth Spiridakis, a designer at T: The New York Times
Style Magazine
. Add “teenage” and you have a
mock-dramatic ’50s pulp tag line that captures Spiridakis
perfectly: her lifelong love of magazines, her omnivorous passion for
pop culture, her witty personability. These traits, combined with
serious design chops developed at school and on the job, have made
Spiridakis a rising talent in New York publication design.

Spiridakis
was born in New York City to a Greek father and a Dominican mother. She
grew up in New Jersey but came to the city weekly to visit her
grandmother, who took her to museums. “She had a giant bowl filled
with Met visitor lapel tabs,” Spiridakis remembers. “I
inherited her love of collecting artful clutter.” Among her
pop-culture collections are Paint by Numbers kits and vintage KitchenAid
mixers.

At Carnegie Mellon University, Spiridakis pursued her love of
“stuff” and “crafting” by majoring in industrial
design. But graphic design became her passion. She minored in
photography (and collected vintage Polaroid cameras), took as many
graphic design courses as possible, and eventually got paying jobs
designing posters for galleries. After graduation came the true New
Yorker’s disenchantment with Los Angeles, where she lived for two
years. She designed in-store signs and maps for Virgin Megastore,
discovering a knack for information graphics that served her well when
she returned to New York two years later to work in magazines.

Spiridakis got a job at Details under design director
Rockwell Harwood. “It was design boot camp; I learned everything
there,” she says. A few examples: tight deadlines, team design,
and working with editors. She shared Harwood’s “bold but
simple” aesthetic and observed the ways in which he elevated it to
a subtle balance that Spiridakis calls “bold restraint.” Her
information-design skills found the perfect canvas in the front of the
book, and she became Harwood’s crack charticle designer, using
deep colors, geometric shapes, clever typography, and sleek indicators
like arrows and brackets to make them sing. Her pages—fresh,
attractive, and practical—helped make Details a finalist
for the Society of Publication Designers Magazine of the Year award in
2005.

Spiridakis claims a “super flat” design aesthetic
(hence her turn away from the three dimensions of industrial design in
college). She likes Swiss modern minimalism, but adds,
“There’s a secret maximalist in me that likes a surprise
thrown in there.” For instance, she admires designers such as
Harwood and T art director Christopher Martinez who “use
typography in a way that will surprise you.”
At T,
where she’s been working since August 2005, Spiridakis has adapted
her style to the magazine’s more restrained, elegant look, using
much less color, for example. The other essential element to her
getting—and thriving in—the T job is her deep
knowledge of style and culture. “Elizabeth has an incredible
knowledge of fashion,” says senior art director David Sebbah,
“and she can translate it into graphic design. This is really hard
to find, and it’s why she’s here.”

Spiridakis sees
herself continuing to learn and advance in magazines. One day she would
like to fill a gap she sees on the newsstand (as unlikely as it seems
that such a thing still exists) for an American women’s magazine
that is to women what GQ, Esquire, and Details are
to men: smart, grown-up, encompassing culture in general but with
fashion in the foreground. Not another Sassy, exactly, but
potentially just as addictive.

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