A Conversation with Kate Arends

Designer & Blogger

Photograph by Collin Hughes
Photograph by Collin Hughes

Design & Creativity

When did you decide or realize that you wanted to be a designer?

My senior year of high school I participated in a student government project that involved a redesign of our town’s riverfront district. I sketched out our vision for the presentation and decided I wanted to go to school for Architecture. A couple weeks into my freshman design program a professor introduced me to Graphic Design and I never looked back. I’m really happy I landed where I did, I would be been a terrible architect!

Before you started designing, what was your creative outlet or way of expressing yourself?

I wish I could say my elementary art teacher saw I had “talent”, alas, the most overt expression of creativity was seen through obsessive doodling. Backpacks, pillow cases, my trapper keeper, desktops- nothing was safe from my Sharpie. I’m a life-long sports fan, so many of my more elaborate doodles paid homage to my favorite Chicago teams in the 90’s, The Bulls and Blackhawks. I also had an elaborate comic saga going in middle school, about a girl named ‘SpaGhetto Girl’. I couldn’t tell you what her “powers” were, but she was quite the witty and defiant superhero- who loved SpaghettiO’s and hip-hop, naturally.

Photograph by Collin Hughes


Photograph by Collin Hughes

Your blog is an aesthete’s dream. How does inspiration shape or challenge the work you produce?

W&D is a fluid expression of my evolving personal aesthetic. If I’m feeling inspired or moved by something, I post. Blogging itself has become the most satisfying way to how to express my personal aesthetic. Since my sensibilities and aesthetic moves and changes with time and experience, I’m unfortunately not the most regimented blogger. Yet the mantra “blogging when inspired” keeps W&D feeling off-the-cuff and honest, which is something I look for in a blog. The biggest compliment I’ve gotten from a reader was that my writing style was like having a conversation with me. I try to capture and tone and voice that is authentically me, without getting too “Dear Diary” on everybody.

Photograph by Collin Hughes

From your blog and mixtapes/playlists you’ve released through Wit & Delight, how much inspiration do you get from music? From other disciplines?

Besides music, creative writing and dance are the most inspiring creative disciplines to me. Though I grew up in a musical family, (my mother is a Soprano and my parents met playing guitar), those musician/singer genes were blessed upon other family members. Yet music moves me in such a physical and emotional way, it’s like this elusive, non-linear source for inspiration in life- far beyond my role as a designer & blogger. I spent a lot of time dancing when I was growing up and learned early on how to feel music and express it through movement. Getting out and moving is still the best way to beat creative block, for me.

My father is a writer, so words were always something I’ve been encouraged to use for personal creative expression. I was a really shy kid growing up and I spent a lot of time commuting to the city for dance classes. Those long car rides were spent journaling, writing short stories, and recording commercials I’d written on a voice recorder with my sister. I wish I did that more today, but it was a strong foundation for appreciating great creative writing. Reading inspires visual ideas far more complex and original than looking at other design work.

Photograph by Collin Hughes


Photograph by Collin Hughes

At what point in your life did you feel the most comfortable with your style?

Not until recently. Since my early teens, I felt this pressure to be overtly feminine/girly with my outward appearance, and as I grow older, I’m realizing that it’s not who I am, and that’s ok. Femininity is less about style and more about the way you carry yourself. With age and wisdom, I’ve gained more peace with who I am as a person, and I think that’s much more reflective in my personal style today.

How has your style, both personal and design wise, changed or stayed the same over the years?

I’ve always gravitated towards classic, vs trendy. While I have the confidence to wear things that are different, they’re still grounded by basics. Glasses have always been a defining accessory for me, as I’ve been “four-eyed” since 8 years old! As for design, I can safely say I’m surprised and thrilled to have a career in this industry. I keep working to be the best I can be, and with that, both my eye and skill have evolved with hard work. I still have a long way to go.

Do you believe style ever stops evolving in one’s life? And more specifically, do you think your style will ever stop evolving?

I believe style evolves with time. I’m far from the person I was five years ago - thank goodness, and personal style is one way I’ve outwardly expressed this growth.

Photographs by Collin Hughes


How do you find balance between your personal projects and also maintaining a day-job/career?

Balance is still elusive to me. I can’t say that I’ve struck a balance that’s sustainable, but I do my best to find time to have fun. Friendships are very important to me, and in many ways, they’re the people that keep me sane. They’re a reminder that they’re more than work, and taking a break here-and-there is vital to maintaining the endurance needed to building the life and career I’ve dreamed of.

Is there a difference in any way between freelance clients and say, accounts you have at Cue?

Most of my W&D clients have smaller budgets and less complex branding problems to solve. Yet, I approach my freelance projects similarly to the way Cue does. I believe that design is ultimately a tool to bring solid strategy to life, and I can thank Cue for the foundation of my experience working with brands. It’s a true passion of mine.

Photograph by Collin Hughes

For more on Kate Arends:
Visit WitAndDelight.com

Interview by John Liwag
Photographs by Collin Hughes

This piece has been edited/shortened for clarity.

Originally interview conducted in July 2012.

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