Working Late: Project Breakdown

This autumn we’ve been hosting a series of evening events called Working Late in collaboration with Adobe Typekit. Each evening was an experiment aimed at fostering a conversation about the how and why behind design projects. How did this thing come about? Why does this thing exist?

To cap the series, we invited Kelli Anderson to share a single project by breaking it down, talking through the struggles and laying the pieces out to show how they do (and sometimes don’t) connect.


All photos by Tim Gibson

Never one to do the expected, Kelli used the opportunity to share a confidential, yet-to-be published project and get feedback from the assembled peers. I can’t talk about the specifics of the project, but the lines of inquiry she led us down are worth reporting nonetheless.

Both the content and visual design of the mystery-project are deep and complex, but Kelli has worked and reworked them without being reductive. “Distillation” was the word that kept coming to mind as I listened to her talk. The project she showed is about essences; Kelli is designing interfaces that help people grapple with essentials.

Such a thing does not come easily, and Kelli generously showed dead ends as well as some successful experiments that will be in the final publication. With complex content, the visual design should probably be simple, she contended, so a lot of the struggles were to “pare everything down to get to the aesthetic analog for this [content].”


Being reductive brought other challenges, though, as it puts a lot of weight on just a few choices — is this the right typeface, the right two-color palette? Kelli made the case for the role of a designer in guiding such choices:

It’s my job to help people make decisions based on cultural reasons… “This has to be blue, and not just any blue, but this particular blue!”

This devotion to finding. the. right. answer was evident in the careful exploration of design proposals throughout Kelli’s presentation. As much as she was able to make a strong case for the expertise of the designer, she did not discount other factors, such as commercial concerns.

That’s why “distillation” kept coming to mind: seen as a set of constituent parts the creative process is messy, often confusing, or even tense, but it ends in something singular and great.

Huge thanks to Kelli for being open with her process, and this project, and to Adobe Typekit for helping make all of these events possible.



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