A career in design was inevitable for Jessica Walsh. Walsh developed her craft at the age of 11 and was set for early success. Early in her career, she went on to work alongside Stephen Sagmeister, before founding her own studio &Walsh – a New York-based creative agency that specializes in branding and advertising. Walsh […]

A career in design was inevitable for Jessica Walsh.

Walsh developed her craft at the age of 11 and was set for early success. Early in her career, she went on to work alongside Stephen Sagmeister, before founding her own studio &Walsh – a New York-based creative agency that specializes in branding and advertising.

Walsh now heads up a majority female team – as part of the 1% of creative agencies founded by women – and works across the board on a wide mix of projects. This includes a photography campaign for Wix, the identity for Egyptian restaurant Zooba and editorial design for The New York Times Magazine to name a few.

Inspired by her colourful, handcrafted style, we caught up to learn more about her impressive journey to date, how her past has influenced her creatively and why she no longer wants to be pigeonholed for one aesthetic.

The Luupe: How did you first get into design?

Jessica Walsh: When I was 11, I taught myself how to code and design websites. I created an HTML help site that taught other kids how to make their own. This was when Google Advertising had just launched and I tried one of its banners and I started making a lot of money from it. I never thought I could make money from this hobby, I always thought I would do a regular job in business or finance. My success early on with web design was what gave me the confidence to go to art school and dedicate my life to design. 

 The Luupe: When did you start getting design jobs? 

Walsh: After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, I turned down a job at Apple to intern for Paula Scher. I worked there for many months before I landed a job as an art director at Print magazine. I started working there in 2008 when the economy crashed and the magazine’s budgets were slashed for illustration and photography. I’ve always approached constraints and hurdles as being interesting obstacles; I taught myself photography and set design, and I started creating a lot of the cover and interior artwork for the magazine. This was where I developed my colourful, handcrafted set design-style. 

I experimented and played with all kinds of techniques that I had not seen done before in the design world, like body painting. I started to be recognised for this style and I was hired by various editorial clients. After a few years of doing this, the colourful illustration style started to become trendy. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into doing this one kind of style, especially as it no longer felt fresh or unique. It was at this point I decided that I wanted to start a design and branding studio so that I would have varied clients and challenges. 

This is Jessica Walsh

The Luupe: What was it like transitioning from working alongside Stefan Sagmeister to launching your own studio? What were your reasons for doing so, and how has it gone thus far?

Walsh: Stefan and I had an amazing decade working together, the partnership was very successful for both of us. I had been leading Sagemeister & Walsh’s operations and client work for the last few years when I decided it was time to start my own agency. It made sense to separate the client work from the arts and exhibition side of our company.

This isn’t the end of Sagmeister & Walsh – all is great with Stefan and I. Stefan has said he does not plan on doing commercial work for the foreseeable future, and we are both going to continue

collaborating together through the Sagmeister & Walsh name on art projects, like our exhibition and book on beauty. &Walsh is now over six months’ old, and I am so grateful for our amazing team, clients and collaborators. I am so excited to continue growing and creating great work.

&Walsh branding

The Luupe: Are there any key influences running through your work, or is there a particular time, moment or artist that inspires you?

Walsh: Growing up, I was inspired by my grandmother’s crazy fashion. She didn’t have much money, but she was able to put together these amazing colourful outfits that were so inspiring. When I come across something I find beautiful, I collect it. I take a photo or video of it, tear a page out of a magazine, or copy a passage from a book.

For photography and videos, I use Pinterest to organise all my inspirations. I also collect things into an inspiration folder on my Dropbox and organise them by field (i.e. sculptures, fashion, psychology, photographs, paintings and nature) as well as by themes (colours and shapes etc.). For writing or text-based inspirations, I organise them in Evernote.

&Walsh for Zumtobel

The Luupe: What kind of work is inspiring you?

Walsh: I prefer to collect inspirations from fields outside of design, such as art, fashion, film, furniture, literature or psychology. I think that the more varied and obscure your inspiration is, the fresher your work will feel. I avoid looking at graphic design or branding work for inspiration. When you look at other work within your field, you run the risk of creating things that have already been done before.

I frequent museums, photography shows, watch movies, listen to music and have conversations with friends. I read books about psychology and science, plus blogs about popular culture. Quite literally, everything we do, see, or listen to can inspire us subconsciously. I try to diversify my experiences to keep my work fresh and interesting.

&Walsh for PetPlate

The Luupe: What types of projects do you usually like to take on, is there anything in particular that catches your eye?

Walsh: Work that can touch a mass audience. Many of the best designers I know prefer to create work for niche cultural audiences like galleries or zines. Often, it’s easier to get great design work approved for these types of projects. I personally think it’s a shame that so much beauty and talent is focused on projects with small audiences that are already creatively minded.

I want my work to touch as many people as possible. I don’t believe there has to be a compromise between beautiful, smart design with functionality and mass appeal. The response to beauty and strong design is largely universal and it increases the effectiveness of our work. My dream job would be to redesign the US currency or help transform neglected areas in cities through our mural work.

&Walsh for Zooba

The Luupe: Run us through your recent identity for Zooba – what’s the concept and how did the project come about?

Walsh: Zooba was founded in 2012 in Egypt by Chris Khalifa. Chris reached out to us to help brand their first US location in New York City. They wanted to create a modern brand identity that included authentic elements of the restaurant’s Cairo roots. To do this properly, we went to Cairo and were inspired by the beauty of the layered visuals we saw on the streets: the hand-painted typography on foul carts, geometric patterned tapes, mismatched coloured tiles, posters and painted illustrations on walls. The Zooba team was so welcoming and the trip made the branding come together in a really cohesive and authentic way.

&Walsh for Zooba

The Luupe: Can you tell us a little bit about the design details you’ve used and why you decided to incorporate them?

Walsh: We worked with Mohamed Mohamed to create the Arabic calligraphy in the branding. It was

extremely important for us to do this properly and work with someone whose native language is Arabic, and someone who understands the history of the Arabic language and the calligraphy writing form. We layered this with modern versions of patterns and illustrations inspired by the streets of Cairo. Just like their food is a modern twist on traditional classics, we aimed to do this with the visual language.

The Luupe: What’s in store for &Walsh, do you have any major upcoming plans or projects?

Walsh: We see the landscape shifting quite a bit. While we will always have a love and passion for print, we have developed a focus on digital content production that is not only impactful but also fast to market. With social media, brands are struggling with keeping the quality of content up and with delivering content in a timely manner. We are growing our in-house photo-studio work and doing more digital and social content for brands that stands out from the cookie-cutter filler work that we see so much of today.