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Q&A with our superstar senior designer Sarh Horn, about her journey, her influences and her inspirations.

EDNA Views: Catching up with our Senior Designer Sarah Horn to celebrate International Women's Day.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your journey to how you have become a senior graphic designer.

Hello – I’m originally from Sunny Blackpool and I studied for my BA (Hons) in Graphic Design in my hometown (2011-2013) at the old Art School which is now Blackpool and the Fylde College in affiliation with Lancaster University. We were lucky enough to have a range of excellent lecturers, creatives and practising professionals who taught us what we needed to know to hopefully go on to become great Designers. My course was made up of 25(ish) students, a small class which interestingly was approx 80% male. I think for me, this is when it became quite evident that this was potentially going to be a male-dominated industry.

[Although, 2023 statistic from Major Players suggests that the Creative, Design and Studio gender representation is 46% male, 53% female and 1% non-binary!]

However, we had some very influential female teachers at university; the very talented Illustrator Jane Dodds, and visual communications inspiration Elspeth Edmondson, who both helped us to expand our design practice using craft, determination and getting stuck in!

I went on to intern and work at many small independent studios in the North West (Detail Creative, Instruct Studio, JAM) before heading down to London for my first full-time junior role. It was mentioned often that we ‘wouldn’t get design jobs in the North’, not because we’re women but because Graphic Designers ‘should go to London’ … which in hindsight now is such an outdated view, but it was almost expected just over a decade ago (but this is a whole other topic I could waffle on about!). All the studios I'd worked with in the North were led by men, but often with women in more junior roles working alongside guiding and offering a helping hand.

Interestingly there was a slight shift in this dynamic when I hilariously became ‘The First Lady of Hatched’, in my first junior role in London. A new boutique agency, Hatched, who after hiring me went on to hire a plethora of amazing (and some Northern!) female designers and project managers who I was lucky enough to learn so much from… as well as the guys! I learnt how to be a Junior Designer there and if it weren’t for this huge stepping stone and the leap of faith they had with me, I really wouldn’t be where I am now.

Leaving London after a few years we escaped to Antwerp, Belgium for a 5 year pre-Brexit interlude where I met one of the most influential designers in my career Sara De Bondt; Graphic Designer, Writer, Publisher and Founder of Sara De Bondt Studio and Occasional Papers. I began working with her in her attic studio on projects for Camden Arts Centre and the Tate, and also Occasional Papers. I learnt a lot from Sara in this close-knit environment and I think this is where I found out where some of my true passions in design were – print! She is an advocate for women designers and artists and recently highlighted some of the forgotten female designers from Belgium in her exhibition and book ‘Off The Grid’. As well as so many others, she helped me have a voice by publishing my photo book En Suites Available through OP, which I’m eternally grateful for; that and her friendship and guidance.

During this time in Belgium, I also co-founded Inspo Finds with my long-standing collaborator Naomi Bassey, who I’d also previously worked with in London at Hatched. Another strong woman who helped guide me through the design world in my early stages. I am so glad to have met Naomi on this path, and we worked so closely on nurturing Inspo Finds. Daily we’d send each other design inspiration and new projects we’d seen and we thought others might be just as interested, that’s why we set up Inspo Finds. We wanted to champion all designers, illustrators and artists with our Instagram page. We’ve also since set up self-published 2 printed collections showcasing the fantastic work of new and old designers. We’ve somehow managed to gain more than 160k followers on our socials, which is mad!

When we knew we were moving back to the UK, I was lucky enough to get myself a job with Studio. Build working with the very talented Michael C Place and Nicky Place, which felt like a real honour. I was there for 2.5 years before joining my biggest team yet at EDNA!

You mentioned above about 'some very influential female teachers', do you think the leadership of these women contributed to you having confidence that there was a place for you in a male-dominated landscape?

I think I was quite naive to it all, even at 21. I’m not sure I realised quite how all of that worked, or quite how male-heavy the industry would be. I think the lecturers at university helped give us some confidence that it was doable and it was possible to get those Junior roles after university, but only if we all moved away which seems so counterintuitive of growing that Northern Powerhouse of designers.

It seems there are a lot of conversations that happen with women about not pursuing industries as they 'didn't know it was an option' for them and it's as though the representation comes too late sometimes. Did you have this female representation before reaching university level? Or any kind of questioning whether there was a place for you before reaching university because of the lack of being able to see yourself?

Actually yes, because I wasn’t planning on going to university. I did a mix of A-levels; double Business Studies, Graphic Design and Photography. It wasn’t until everyone started doing their UCAS applications that my Graphic Design and Photography tutor Gemma McNair suggested I just apply locally. I had a part-time job at my local WHSmiths and I wasn’t feeling up to moving anywhere at 18, when I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Gemma told me about how she’d done her Graphic Design degree at B&FC and that I should apply, she persuaded me to apply for both the GD and Photography courses (the photography course in Blackpool at that time was world-renowned and had 100+ students). I actually got accepted on both courses and on A-level results day I had a big decision to make. I met up with Elspeth (who I previously mentioned above) at B&FC and she assured me that the Graphic Design BA was the best option and that I’d need and be able to use those photography skills along the way anyway. I guess if it wasn’t for Gemma pushing me to do a degree in the first place, I probably wouldn’t be at this point! It’s mad thinking back on it all…

Do you think there are things Commercial Studios could be doing to help influence education?

I think all studios should have an active role in local education at any level. I feel strongly that all educators, especially in Graphic Design, really need to have worked in the industry for a substantial amount of time before teaching students who want to go into this profession. There’s a lot to learn and the more experienced the teachers are the better outcome for everyone!

I think visiting lecturers is also a great way of sharing a variety of experiences. I know between myself and other designers who graduated from my course, we’ve gone in such different directions but all have the same university background. I think students should gain valuable industry knowledge from a vast range of designers, new and old!

Moving on from that, I personally found that Interning at a few different agencies was beneficial for my path. It helped narrow down that I preferred a smaller studio and I enjoyed being in those close-knit teams. I found I wanted to work on projects from concepts to artwork, and I’m thankful I’ve gained those skills now as I think they’ve helped me along the way.

Could you tell us a little bit more about how going from one female at 'Hatched' to many changed the team composition, and impacted the work environment and the creative process?

I think it changed massively. It really helped bring more of a range of perspectives to jobs, having a larger range of people with different experiences and different backgrounds. It was also nice to work with some other female designers, I was working so closely with the Creative Directors at that point, which I was comfortable with and enjoyed doing but it was a nice change of pace to work with designers who were a bit nearer to my junior level.

In your experience, how do you think the industry has evolved in terms of gender diversity since you started your career, and what more can be done to promote inclusivity in creative workplaces?

I think there’s a lot more discussion around it now, which is great! And interestingly I was reading the Major Players 2023 Census which suggested that gender representation in creative and design is 46% male, 53% female and 1% non-binary, which did shock me. I think that although there are probably more female designers in the industry, the problem is often that they aren’t in those top positions.

I always thought that the industry wasn’t built particularly well for women who wanted families or who might want to work part-time (although I know this is getting better). When I started out it was a lot of late nights, and there was a work-hard play-hard mentality.

I do think throughout my decade in the industry things have changed enormously. Studios are making a big effort to make sure employees' mental health and well-being are good (probably since Covid). It shows that Studio Culture is really important. I hope this will help to see a change in those higher positions, and studios understanding that mothers can still be designers and can still work those important jobs. We’ve come a long way, and hopefully will continue to do so!

As a Senior Designer, do you actively mentor or support younger designers, and what advice do you offer to those aspiring to enter the field?

I’d love to be supporting more younger designers. We have tried to in the past through Inspo Finds to be there for anyone who has any questions or might want some advice. I do try and get to a few end-of-year grad shows and where possible we do share grad show projects on our Inspo Finds platform. I have also done a couple of guest talks at universities about my career so far and how I’ve gotten here, which has been great for my confidence too! I’d really love to work more with the university students and look forward to any further projects with the Unis in Leeds.

It’s great to hear what the new up-and-coming designers are into, and how they tackle problems and briefs and it’s helpful for us too, we don’t want to be left behind. I love working with Wambui Kahungura in the studio too, and I hope we can continue to work together on projects and help each other along the way!

How do you envision the future of the design industry in terms of gender equality, and what role can individuals and organisations play in shaping this future?

I think it’s slowly becoming the norm to think more openly about diversity in organisations. It’s not just great for the individuals but also for the studios/organisations. We should be aiming to have as many different opinions, experiences and aspirations as possible in the studio so we can all learn from each other and be the best we can be! I hope we continue to see progression in the future.

How do you think women can be supported more to attain leadership roles in the workplace?

A lot of it is about being clear, having those important discussions and making it clear that there is a potential path there. Often Designers move around because they don’t see any progression where they are working. It’s nice that EDNA is transparent about internal processes and what we need to do to get to those next stages, I think that’s important, especially for younger designers coming into the industry to gain a clear understanding of how this all works.

In the true spirit of International Women’s Day which female creatives have inspired/continue to inspire you?

Designers, Writers, and Creatives doing great things for the creative world:

Sara De Bondt

Badal Patel

Sarah Joy Ford

MMS:Maryam Fanni, Matilda Flodmark and Sara Kaaman

Erin Blamire

Hannah Platt

The list could go on! …

It's also worth mentioning one of my favourite Instagram pages that's always championing women! :Design by Women

Happy International Women's Day from EDNA and Sarah Horn x