On aesthetics and trust with Specht Studio’s Stephanie Specht

The third instalment in our monthly collaborative series with OnlinePrinters – dedicated to highlighting some of Belgium’s finest graphic designers and studios – sees us discussing beginnings, inspirations and working processes with Antwerp’s Stephanie Specht (1982) of Specht Studio. Never staying still, Stephanie is currently in the midst of finishing up a project with Office8888 for Architecture Workroom Brussels, alongside designing a book and album artwork for Ghent’s notorious lyricist Baloji. She’s also been charged with the creation of a new identity for party-starting collective “All Eyes on Hip Hop”. Come July, she’ll be embarking on the Los Angeles-based Designer in Residence opportunity she received from the Otis Art and Design College.

At its core, how would you define your studio’s artistic intentions and vision?

I’m an aesthete, so I strive for beauty in everything.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general? How do you organize your studio and its workflow? What tools do you use?

Approach: The last couple of years I feel like I’m approaching my clients and work in a more intuitive way. When I get a new project, I first want to get an idea of who the person behind the project is. Since I work a lot for smaller businesses, the personal approach is very important. I work very close with my clients. The nicest thing is when you become friends with them afterwards because everyone is happy and you share a similar vision.

Organization: I work from home. I used to have a separate studio/work space, for one year – but soon found myself missing working from home. I was used to working from home since the beginning when in my early 20’s. The routine of going back and forth to this studio was killing me in the end – I dislike routine, quite frankly. I found myself longing for the freedom I had in my own living space. But I think it’s also related to the fact that my home is in the middle of the city and that studio was outside of the city. Since I already work alone, I often have the need to see people during the day, and being able to just walk outside and be sociable. This was not happening in that one space. But I am grateful for the experience.
Workflow: In the first months of the year I always have a lot of work, so I get an intern – just once a year. I think it’s very useful for them to have work experience during a pretty chaotic time, to get a sense of the work flow. I am always prepared to handle all jobs myself, in case all goes wrong, but it’s still always helpful if they can help with pre-design rounds or even research. I always look for someone that I feel has a similar design sense – so that I don’t need to worry about that aspect afterwards. Until now I’ve had four interns, and I am so grateful for every single one of them – they are all super talented, nice people. I felt I had a good connection with all four; we had fun and created some beautiful stuff. The best thing is that we learn from each other, too.
Tools: Sadly enough my main tool is a computer. But recently I’ve started to paint again – not for clients, but just self-initiated projects. More specifically, I’ve started painting swimming pools – the result of a lack of holidays perhaps!

When I look at a building that I find interesting my brain does this thing where it exports the shape into single lines and shapes.

What about your studio’s name? Where does it come from? What inspired it?

From 2006 till 2013, I worked under the name Stipontwerpt, which translates into Dot Designs. Some friends at design school called me Stip, so that name came easily. 2013 was a pretty heavy year in my life, emotionally – loads of heavy stuff happenend. I moved back from New York to Antwerp and had to start all over again, so it made sense to just start working under another name too – my own name, to be exact. I sometimes add Studio to it, as a reference to the collaborations I have going on with either interns or other designers.

Can you pinpoint a person, or a moment, that was instrumental in making you want to become a graphic designer?

I always wanted to become an architect but there are some ‘graphic design’ moments I recall. Like in 1991, when I got my hands on my very first cassette of Nirvana’s Nevermind! I was intrigued by the typography. Or when Lus Pittoors first mentioned the word typography in 2000. When Johan Swinnen gave me my first ever book project when I started out as a freelancer in 2006. He took a big risk actually, because I had no experience with book design at all prior to that. I was also always very fascinated by lettering on buildings – mainly old buildings – and the way architects would have their name on houses, like a signature.

What are the challenges you face as a graphic designer working in Belgium today?


To you, what role should graphic design occupy in the community?

It’s very hard to say, since there are so many different types of graphic design. Since I’m an aesthete I’m just going to answer that it should make the world a nicer place to look at.

On a more personal note, how does your everyday inform your work?

I like looking at art and architecture. I visit galleries often but more often I try to take small architecture trips. One does not need to go far to do this – just riding my bike through the city is inspiring. I mainly have architecture books at home – it inspires me more than books about what I actually do. When I look at a building that I find interesting my brain does this thing where it exports the shape into single lines and shapes. The building or house suddenly becomes a layout. I like the fact that the profession I never turned out doing – being an architect – now became an important source of inspiration. Besides architecture, music is also really important to me – I listen to a lot of different kind of music styles. There’s some jobs where you need to be in a certain mood, and music can really enhance this. Sometimes I pick up sentences from lyrics in a song that I really like and it makes me want to try out new typefaces with these words.

What were your first introductions to graphic design?

Music! In the year I decided to study graphic design I was really into labels like Warp and Ninja Tune, not only because of their signed artists but also thanks to their visual approach. Album artwork is of course very interesting to me. I loved the album artwork for Mouse on Mars’s album Niun Niggung a lot for some reason – same goes for Amon Tobin’s Bricolage album. Autechre has also had some very interesting album artwort, most of it done by Designers Republic (a graphic design agency I really admired) back then.

Who were the first clients that took a risk on you?

Johan Swinnen, big time!

When you are ambitious and you believe in yourself and you love what you do, the right people pick up on that.

Who are some of your main clients today?

That would be artist Baloji and photographer Mads Teglers. I love working with and for them.

What work would you say you are the proudest of?

The book for Jefferson Hack, which I worked on together with Piera Wolf and Ferdinando Verderi. Hack is renowned for his innovative vision in journalism, film, photography, television and digital media. He co-founded British fashion/culture magazines Dazed and Confused, Another Magazine, Another Man; as well as their digital versions. The book is a limited edition piece of 5,000 copies, each with an individual cover. It shows a vast overview of works produced by Hack – making the book itself a very large body of work. I was quite exhausted after this job.

Who would you say are your design mentors?

It’s hard to name just one person; there are some people in my life who are not graphic desigers themselves, but still offer me a different view on design, art and music and who feeds me visually in the form of an email packed with images and links – which I really enjoy.

What does success look like to you?

Succes to me in general is when all things good come naturally, and I forget that I am actually ‘working’ because both the client and project are pleasant. When you love what you do everyday as a job and people want to pay you for that, that’s also success on a certain level. When you are ambitious and you believe in yourself and you love what you do, the right people pick up on that. Clients wanting to work with you because they understand your aesthetic view is the greatest thing possible. The worst is when they just see you as a toolbox. Clients who respect you and listen to your advice are the ones who make you love your job more.

What would you say to the budding graphic designer just about to open his own practice?

Go for it, full force!