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Kate Koeppel

Visual Designer and Founder of Skill Exchange


Skill Exchange

Primary design concentration:

Graphic design and branding

Most preferred tools for designing:

Adobe Illustrator, a Fabriano Eco Eua gridded notepad, and Staedtler pen


Illustration

How and why did you choose to become a designer?

I fell into design, really, or perhaps, in actuality, I was designing for years, and just didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I come from an arts background and was raised by a creative mother/artist/problem-solving maker. I carried those skills and mindset into adulthood, but while I was in college, I had narrowly decided my options were artist or lawyer. I didn’t realize there was the whole other world of problem-solving and art together. It took a few years after college for me to find design, I had to knock around in a few crappy office jobs first. Once I figured it out, it made perfect sense, and I ran face-first into developing new skills and honing the ones I already had.

What are some of the challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

I think one of the biggest challenges (and inspirations) is the internet. There are so many ways to connect to find community and inspiration online, but also so many ways to feel intimidated and overwhelmed by all the good and bad and sometimes harsh commentary that goes along with it. Knowing when to unplug and get away from the screen to find inspiration in physical materials always helps me refocus and find balance. Making something with my hands, whether it’s a meal, or a home improvement project usually sets me straight.


Laser-cut alphabet record dividers

What is your definition of an “elegant solution,” that is, good design?

The more I learn, and the more I work and collaborate with other designers, the more my ideas change. I think it’s a good thing to keep growing, and the only way to do that is to learn from others to challenge your assumptions and biases.

From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

Being confident in your work, but also being brave enough to seek out new skills and methodologies from time to time.

How do you stay motivated and grow personally and professionally as a designer?

Finding a community of people from different disciplines, with different skill sets, is extremely helpful. We can trade skills and services through collaboration, and teach each other things we might not otherwise have the time or resources to learn on our own.

Sometimes taking a risk with a new big project or client can be so rewarding and challenging. Being a little scared every once in a while helps keep me going. Being comfortable is good too, but I’m more likely to learn and push myself when I’m a little bit out of my comfort zone.


Cat-inspired projects

For those aspiring to become a designer, whatever the discipline, what is your advice?

The most challenging lesson I’ve learned professionally is to let past projects go and move on. If you’re stuck on the last thing, you can’t move on to the next. It is often my tendency, and that of many designers I know, to look back on projects and experiences and critique yourself on the lessons you hadn’t learned yet. Self-critique is only helpful to a point. I have to remind myself regularly, once it is done, be done with it. Keep moving forward to get better.

What is your quest in design, from a professional practice, education or evolution standpoint?

Keep learning, keep growing.

Kate Koeppel is the founder of Kate Koeppel Design, “a one-woman design studio guided by a philosophy that is playful with purpose.” She also invented Skill Exchange in San Francisco. It is “a workshop series which aims to inspire the community to use their hands and learn traditional, hand making and self-reliance skills in a fun, social setting.”

Images courtesy of Kate Koeppel.

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