Harriet Richardson on staying creative during a pandemic and using design to tackle important issues

We took the time to speak to Harriet Richardson who is a multi-disciplinary, London-based designer from Manchester. Harriet creates identities for ethical and ecologically conscious brands, as well as producing her own graphic prints. After graduating in 2017, she worked at Turner Duckworth before joining Pentagram as a designer. She aims to create memorable and satisfying pieces through the use of word play and visual tricks that bring the audience into a dialogue. At the moment, her focus is to continue using design to tackle important issues such as the climate crisis.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a graphic designer at Pentagram

I was born to two graphic designers so there wasn’t much hope of me becoming anything else. Thanks to my parents I had a creative upbringing and even attended the same Graphic Communications course at the University of Central Lancashire as they had done 30 years before. After graduating in 2017, I worked for a year at Turner Duckworth before an opportunity to join Pentagram arose. 

Although I always admired Pentagram's work, I never thought I’d join them. I had the impression that it was a big, corporate place I’d get lost in. However, after a recommendation from my university tutor, Ben Casey, I was put forward for an interview I couldn’t turn down. I met with Partner John Rushworth and immediately knew he was someone I could learn from. My portfolio was both offensive to typographers and practically grid-less, but John would later tell me that it was my ‘ideas-lead thinking’ that got me through the door. 

Far from the faceless corporate entity I feared it would be, I enjoy a huge amount of creative freedom there, working in a cosy team of 3 talented designers and a diverse range of clients. It's demanding but hugely rewarding and I'll soon be celebrating my third year there.

Where do you draw inspiration from to motivate your creative practice?

My ideas come about from everyday life; chatting with friends, listening to the radio, daydreaming on the tube. Like most designers, I’m a visual person, so being out of the house and able to see the world in all its chaos has a big influence on my thoughts. 

My favourite kind of idea, and the ones I’m naturally drawn to, are those deemed gestalt, a German word which translates as ‘a form or shape that is greater than the sum of its parts’. This essentially means ‘when the brain fills in the gaps’. In design, this could be anything from a play on words to finding negative space, visual tricks that bring the audience into a dialogue with you, making a piece more memorable and satisfying. 

How have you found the pandemic? Has it changed anything you're doing?

I’ve found it both brilliant and difficult. Like everyone, I have bad days when the thought of trying to be creative (or even active) is laughable. Observing day to day life was my main inspiration, so having this taken away so abruptly was creatively challenging. Not being around people to bounce ideas off is also frustrating.

However, all that time saved not riding the Central Line to work and back has had its rewards. Over the last 10 months I’ve been lucky enough to work freelance for the first time, I’ve set up an online print shop, and in November I did my first design talk. In a lockdown, it’s important to focus on what you achieve, not on what you don’t. 

Which charities will you be donating your print proceeds to?

I will be donating all profits from ‘The Sun’ poster to the ‘Justice for Hillsborough’ campaign. Given the idea for my ‘Life’s Too Shor’ print came about in the waiting room of a chemotherapy wing, profits from that will go to Cancer Research UK.

What are you working towards at the moment?

My focus will continue to be on using design to tackle important issues such as the climate crisis. Whether this is through brand creation or a single poster, I think the environment is the most important issue for us to get behind these days.

On a smaller scale, I’ve recently been working on a ‘climate-themed Christmas card’ which I'm releasing soon. My aim is to urge people to avoid ‘landfill gift-giving’ in hopefully quite a jolly way!