Meet Atlanta–based brand designer and illustrator Sarah Lawrence, PRINT’s latest Designer of the Week. Lawrence, who’s worked with companies like Facebook, Racked and Buzzfeed, as well as with smaller nonprofits in Atlanta, is particularly fond of creating both illustrated maps and interactive public art projects. [She even gave a TEDx talk on her You Are Here (ATL) project back in 2014.] Below, she shares with us her passion, her best advice and her fun sense of humor.
Name: Sarah Lawrence
Location: West End Neighborhood, Atlanta, Georgia
Design school attended: BFA in graphic design from the University of Georgia, and I spent my free time DJing for our college radio station, WUOG 90.5 FM.
How would you describe your work?
Whether it’s a corporate financial study or a concert poster, I like to make things that are approachable and fun. The aim is colorful and friendly, but also clean and easy to understand.
Album cover design for The Hood Internet’s 10th anniversary album. I’ve been a fan for years, so I was thrilled when they reached out.
This is the second tee I designed and successfully funded on Cotton Bureau. I originally shared the image on my own Facebook page encouraging friends to buy the shirt, and a few people shared the post. When I came back a few days later, I realized that the design had been shared over 20k times (without my name or original caption, womp), and only about 25 shirts had been purchased. Pretty heavy irony about the design itself because it got SO MUCH EXPOSURE. I did get a lot of sweet emails from people saying it really resonated with them, which made it worth it.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Two ways, sort of. I’m a big proponent of keeping an idea book. Every time I’m stuck in traffic, in the shower or out walking, and an idea comes to me, I jot it down immediately. It might not be a perfect fit now, but I like to flip through my list every few months and see if the timing is right on anything.
On a day-to-day basis, I have a pretty standard collection of reference books and materials, from an anthology on symbolism to huge colorful coffee table books with different visuals from around the world. If I get really, truly stuck then I go to a reference book and flip through, but I try to focus on the goals and intended outcomes of a project and let the aesthetics/product grow organically from that.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
I love reading about people trying new and unique things, both in my industry and beyond. Nick Cave has always been hugely inspirational for me; I saw him speak when I was in college and was blown away by his work. I also love that he’s fairly humble and has a sense of humor about his work.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
I’m so lucky to be a freelancer and almost only take on projects that are either super fun or super challenging. It’s tough to pick a favorite. If I had to pick, it’d probably be designing the campaign for Midtown Alliance’s annual meeting.
The folks at Midtown Alliance are some of my favorite people to work with. Every project I do with them feels like a collaboration, and that’s what I hope for in every working relationship. The annual meeting campaign was especially fun because I basically grew up in this neighborhood, and feel so passionate about the strides they’re making to build a strong urban center.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
My biggest professional challenge so far is a workbook I made with Seed Life Skills, Hugh Acheson’s nonprofit in Athens, Georgia. The goal of the workbook is to teach students modern home economics skills. Think more how to manage a budget/read nutritional labels, less how to cook a steak for your husband. We wanted it to be both a useful teaching guide but also fun enough that a student might happen across it and flip through on their own. This workbook needed to do a bunch of things at once, on a teen’s tiny attention span.
The workbook took several months to complete; Almeta [Tulloss, program director at Seed Life Skills] would come over to my home office and we’d work for 8+ hours at a time on getting everything right. It’s been in schools in trial settings for a year now, and the feedback has been so positive. Kids, teachers and parents love the book! I also got to be part of the book signing in Athens, which was really exciting. We’re getting ready to make updates to the workbook based on the feedback from the first year and roll out a second version.
This is a sample of pieces from my daily lettering project back in 2015–2016, Drawing Shit Every Day. It was a pun, you know, “I’m just drawing shit.” I really did 365 of these over a year, and at the end of the project I threw a big SHIT SHOW at Mammal Gallery, a local art gallery in Atlanta.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I have so many things I want to do!
Short-term: make more illustrated maps, more interactive public art projects, and work with more nonprofits. I love making new friends, so if you’re a designy person or a nonprofit (or any other kind of person), hit me up!
Long-term: buy a commercial building in my neighborhood, have a design studio + printmaking shop in the top floor, a coffee shop + art gallery in the bottom floor. Sweet rooftop patio with a view of the city. I dream about using the space in a way that benefits the community—from classes and workshops to community art shows (so, maybe, year or two from now? haha …).
What’s your best advice for designers today?
Be nice and work hard! Duh. But definitely be diligent about maintaining your schedule and tracking due dates, deadlines and milestones—you’ll be armed with the confidence of knowing whether you can take on a new project and how long it’ll take. Save 30% of all income into a totally separate account for paying taxes (it’ll sting at first but come tax time you’ll be so glad).
This is a side project I’m doing—networking makes me feel icky; I prefer to make actual friends and work with them for fun, not personal gain. I made these cards (bonus points if you recognize the phone number) to hand out at events instead of business cards.
I worked on this illustration for Facebook’s research team recently. How do you quickly build rapport with someone you don’t know? You find the thing you two have in common and build from that.
The experts who write for PRINT magazine cover the why of design—why the world of design looks the way it does, how it has evolved, and why the way it looks matters. Subscribe to PRINT today, and get in on the conversation of what the brightest minds in the field are talking about right now—essential insight that every designer should know to get ahead.
Treat yourself and your team to a year of PRINT for $40—which includes the massive Regional Design Awards issue ($30 on newsstands).