Frith Kerr: “Find clients who will let you f*ck with things”

Speaking at this year’s Offset Dublin, the graphic designer and founder of Studio Frith talks about her “playful” approach to projects, setting up a studio straight out of art school and why you should be selective about who you work with.

Frith Kerr’s client list reads like a who’s who of haute couture. The graphic designer and founder of Studio Frith has worked with everyone from department store Liberty to high-end fashion designer Valentino since she set up her consultancy in 2009.

Kerr grew up in Surrey, before moving to London to go to art school in 1992. She originally did graphic design at Camberwell College of Arts, before studying under Margaret Calvert at the Royal College of Art (RCA) for her masters degree.

After graduating Kerr decided to take the plunge into adulthood pretty much straight away, she explains during her talk at Offset Dublin, setting up Kerr / Noble with her fellow classmate Amelia Noble in 1997. Just over 11 years later, the two designers made the mutual decision to shut up shop, and Studio Frith was born.

Kerr, now 44, heads up a team of seven at her West London studio (although this can expand to include as many as 12 people during busy periods). The studio designs everything from visual identities and packaging to films and books for brands across the spectrum of art, fashion and culture. Kerr is primarily drawn to clients that allow her and her team the space to be “playful”, she says.

Anya Hindmarch candle packaging

Previous commissions have ranged from a collection of scented candles for high-end fashion designer Anya Hindmarch, featuring quirky, cartoon faces on the gift box, to graphics for smaller clients such as London-based greengrocers Melrose and Morgan.

“Occasionally, you can build up enough trust with a client who will let you fuck with things,” says Kerr. A prime example of this is self-proclaimed avant-garde dancer and choreographer, Michael Clark. The Scottish dancer, who was classically trained at the Royal Ballet School in London, came to Kerr to create a monograph for him based on his expansive personal archive of weird and wonderful imagery.

Just like Clark’s career story, the idea behind the project was to make a book that was “perfectly poised” and then “fuck with it”, says Kerr. “‘Why this fluorescent yellow?’ he asked me. ‘Because no one else would let us do it,’ I said. ‘Okay,’ he replied.”

Model and TV personality Alexa Chung was another client who approached Kerr with a completely open mind, she says. Chung commissioned the studio to create an identity for her eponymous fashion label when it debuted in 2017, along with an accompanying launch campaign.

Alexa Chung branding

“Alexa is the good-looking weirdo at the party,” says Kerr. The designer took a cheeky approach to the branding in order to reflect Chung’s personality, transforming her initials into a “slide” symbol that can be used on its own or repeated across an entire image.

Other projects – such as creating the campaign for the 2014 edition of Frieze Art Fair – require a slightly subtler approach, says Kerr. The concept needed to be “seen alongside art without pretending to be art”, while also being beautiful and interesting in its own right, she adds. The solution? Birds. The campaign cleverly links together the art fair’s two host cities with photography of the birds that regularly frequent Regent’s Park in London, and the ones that migrate to Randall’s Island in New York every spring.

What becomes clear from looking at Kerr’s previous work is the common denominator of all her clients – a visual culture that is built into their DNA. Working with brands that are inherently creative gives her and her team the freedom to push the boundaries of what a logo, a typeface or even a scented candle box can look like. “Collaboration is a huge part of what we do,” says Kerr. “If you’re going to go into uncharted territory, take a client with you.”

Offset Dublin took place 23-25 March 2018 at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin, Ireland. Head here for our coverage on the festival, and here for more info.

Frieze Art Fair
Frieze Art Fair
Michael Clark monograph
Michael Clark monograph
Melrose and Morgan
Melrose and Morgan
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  • Alex April 6, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    you made it fluorescent yellow because no-one else would let you… design without substance – I just made it look pretty.

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