Interview by Steve Simorka
September 17, 2016
New York-based Graphic Designer, Kate Ling, recalls how her crafting youth gave way to a love for design in years to come. She reflects on how learning hand lettering has fueled her creative process, and challenges all of us to “just produce work.”
Tell me where you got started.
My art background started when I was growing up in Malaysia. Back then there really wasn’t a design scene in Malaysia but I was really into crafting. I would go to art bazaars and learned how to make my own Japanese Sunny Dolls out of fabric and Ping-Pong balls. I would take pictures of them and posted them online and I sold some!
When I was sixteen an ex-boyfriend got me into photography. He told me I had a good eye, so I borrowed his DSLR and joined photography forums. Our group would invite models to do shoots. Sometimes we would go hiking so I could experiment with portraits and landscapes. I learned to make compositions through my photos and having to tell the models how to position themselves.
How did you make the transition from crafting and photography to graphic design?
So I always knew I wanted to do design but I actually thought about doing product design but that's an expensive degree and I also suck at math, so I didn’t end up doing that. But being exposed to the arts and crafts scene you find that there is a lot of design that goes along with crafting. If you’re making a miniature house, you have to figure out how the furniture is going to look. You have to figure out how it’s all going to fit and look together.
So we met when we were both designing ads for M&C Saatchi Mobile, we have both since moved on from there. Tell me about your journey since then.
I wanted to do something different and took a break from working and went back to school for UX. I took a program at New York Code + Design Academy. The principles of UX is really different from ad design. Ads you’re looking at client’s needs and not necessarily looking at your audience. User Experience is a balance of both with a focus on the User. Everything is user-centric and without that focus you wouldn’t have a product that anyone would want to use. So that’s always in the back of my mind now when I design.
After learning UX, did you find that it is something you want to gravitate towards?
I was thinking, do I really want to do this for a living? I wouldn’t mind it, I could get into Wire framing or User Research, there are these really narrow paths you can go down within User Experience. I have a working knowledge, I can do a lot of things with those skills and that’s good to have but I don’t necessarily want to focus on it.
SO YOU WENT BACK TO SCHOOL, YOU HAVE BEEN FREELANCING FOR A BIT AND YOU JUST LANDED AN OPPORTUNITY TO WORK FULL-TIME FOR SAPIENT NITRO. HOW ARE YOU MAKING THAT TRANSITION BACK TO FULL TIME AT AN AGENCY?
When you freelance you don’t really interact with too many people. You get a job, and you finish it, and you’re on to the next one. (laughing) Here are the files, Byee! But you know, full time you are a part of a team. You have to bond with them, so you know how you work together. The demand is different.
In freelancing they want you there to just execute a job. Where in full-time they want you there to build a team.
DO YOU FIND YOURSELF THRIVING IN A TEAM ENVIRONMENT MORE SO THAN FREELANCE?
I feel like I thrive in both but I really don’t know yet.
WHAT EXCITES YOU THE MOST ABOUT THIS NEXT STEP IN YOUR CAREER?
I’m really excited to be designing for Godiva’s Paid Social Campaigns. I love typography, so I’m going to be doing a lot of hand lettering with images of chocolate. I think in Q4 they want to come up with Thanksgiving and Christmas designs because there already done with Halloween. I think I can do some cool stuff with Godiva. I’m going to have so much fun, I know it!
Tell me more about your love of typography and hand lettering.
So I read a book called “Show Your Work!” By Austin Kleon. It’s been motivating me to just produce work and not to think, "oh my god, my works sucks!" Just do it and at least you're putting something in front of people. You can tell people that, I can do this, I can do that. You got to show them that you can actually do it. So I did it!
I’ve been practicing my hand lettering, I actually wanted to take a calligraphy class because I feel like it’s going to help me in, I want to say my career, but it will help me in my passion to doodle. (laughing) That’s why I call myself Doodle Ling, but it’s a skill that I’d like to master someday.
What are some of the works you find yourself producing now?
I’ve been doing hand lettering and embossing. I bought all those pretty powdery inks and an embossing tool. I also got a lot of card stock because you want card stock verses regular paper with embossing because you want something thicker. I feel like such a nerd right now! But you get a glue pen, hand letter something. Then pour on the powder, it’s kind of like sand art, then emboss it with a heater and you get a brand new birthday card! So I started making thank you cards and holiday cards for my friends. You gotta push yourself to do something like that.
It looks like your work is coming full circle.
Yeah, now that I do a lot of digital work, I don’t get to touch paper as much but it’s nice doing this because I can actually feel like I’m producing something you can hold.
See more of Kate's work here.