“I was a Sassy addict!”declares Elizabeth Spiridakis, a designer at T: The New York TimesStyle Magazine. Add “teenage” and you have amock-dramatic ’50s pulp tag line that captures Spiridakisperfectly: her lifelong love of magazines, her omnivorous passion forpop culture, her witty personability. These traits, combined withserious design chops developed at school and on the job, have madeSpiridakis a rising talent in New York publication design.
Spiridakiswas born in New York City to a Greek father and a Dominican mother. Shegrew up in New Jersey but came to the city weekly to visit hergrandmother, who took her to museums. “She had a giant bowl filledwith Met visitor lapel tabs,” Spiridakis remembers. “Iinherited her love of collecting artful clutter.” Among herpop-culture collections are Paint by Numbers kits and vintage KitchenAidmixers.
At Carnegie Mellon University, Spiridakis pursued her love of“stuff” and “crafting” by majoring in industrialdesign. But graphic design became her passion. She minored inphotography (and collected vintage Polaroid cameras), took as manygraphic design courses as possible, and eventually got paying jobsdesigning posters for galleries. After graduation came the true NewYorker’s disenchantment with Los Angeles, where she lived for twoyears. She designed in-store signs and maps for Virgin Megastore,discovering a knack for information graphics that served her well whenshe returned to New York two years later to work in magazines.
Spiridakis got a job at Details under design directorRockwell Harwood. “It was design boot camp; I learned everythingthere,” she says. A few examples: tight deadlines, team design,and working with editors. She shared Harwood’s “bold butsimple” aesthetic and observed the ways in which he elevated it toa subtle balance that Spiridakis calls “bold restraint.” Herinformation-design skills found the perfect canvas in the front of thebook, and she became Harwood’s crack charticle designer, usingdeep colors, geometric shapes, clever typography, and sleek indicatorslike arrows and brackets to make them sing. Her pages—fresh,attractive, and practical—helped make Details a finalistfor the Society of Publication Designers Magazine of the Year award in2005.
Spiridakis claims a “super flat” design aesthetic(hence her turn away from the three dimensions of industrial design incollege). She likes Swiss modern minimalism, but adds,“There’s a secret maximalist in me that likes a surprisethrown in there.” For instance, she admires designers such asHarwood and T art director Christopher Martinez who “usetypography in a way that will surprise you.” At T,where she’s been working since August 2005, Spiridakis has adaptedher style to the magazine’s more restrained, elegant look, usingmuch less color, for example. The other essential element to hergetting—and thriving in—the T job is her deepknowledge of style and culture. “Elizabeth has an incredibleknowledge of fashion,” says senior art director David Sebbah,“and she can translate it into graphic design. This is really hardto find, and it’s why she’s here.”
Spiridakis seesherself continuing to learn and advance in magazines. One day she wouldlike to fill a gap she sees on the newsstand (as unlikely as it seemsthat such a thing still exists) for an American women’s magazinethat is to women what GQ, Esquire, and Details areto men: smart, grown-up, encompassing culture in general but withfashion in the foreground. Not another Sassy, exactly, butpotentially just as addictive.