“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.