Career Growth

Emma Hursey on Manifesting Valuable Communities & Collaborations in Design

Starting out in fashion and culture journalism, Emma Hursey outlines the skills she acquired from her for writing degree are responsible for enriching and developing the stories behind her work. "I’m passionate about storytelling", she explains. "I work with words and communication everyday, so having a knowledge and love of writing has been a portal to typography. It’s definitely heightened my interest in typeface design."

The independent graphic designer and art director is originally from the UK and having spent time working from Berlin, she is now based in rural Australia. Her work focuses on branding, editorial and print design and tends to be "typography-led with heaps of colour and various illustrative forms". Occasionally crossing over into digital design and "forever learning animation", Emma’s expertise are remarkably multifaceted.  

Much of Emma’s work stems from a mission to ‘democratise design and empower local communities’. As she continues, "my work takes a multidisciplinary approach and that already gives me a lot of room for collaboration, but I’m constantly examining ways to grow into my beliefs with actions… It’s a process, especially since I only recently moved to the other side of the world and I’m still finding my feet here. At present I’m reading and listening to the thoughts and work of many wiser people than myself. I’m a strong believer in sharing and redistribution, which is the ethos behind the two resources websites I maintain – Doing Me Doing You and Good Book Catalogue… It’s also the reason why I share a lot of the process and concepts behind my work on Instagram. Projects don’t smoothly transition from beginning to end and the routes we go through can be messy. I like to pick that apart and contemplate how my work came to be, because sometimes I surprise myself". 

We were so intrigued to hear about Emma’s socially conscious approach to design – it definitely feels like what the world needs right now. So, we decided to get in touch with Emma to learn more about how she puts her opinions into practice… 


Hi Emma! Can you tell us a bit about where you get your inspiration from and what role that takes on in your work?

My inspiration comes from everywhere and nowhere. Ideas pop into my mind during the most mundane tasks and I’ve built a habit of writing them down before they disappear as fast as they came.

We all consume so many visuals now. I tend to try and focus on the feelings creative works prompt in me and in nurturing concepts. If the answer to ‘why’ is because it looks good, then something is missing and that work won’t stand the test of time. 

An equally important question is who motivates us. Ideas are mere thoughts without actions behind them. That means our motivation is on par, if not more essential to a creative practice than our inspiration. Above all, I believe we all need support from others. My friends and family play a huge role of course, but in my last year in Berlin I was a part of The Boys Club – a design collective and studio space in Neukölln. In that year I think we all recognised that together we were bigger than the sum of our parts. We hosted events from the studio for the likes of notamuse, AIGA Eye on Design, Ladies Wine & Design. None of that would have happened with just one of us. That reinforced my focus on community and collaboration, on teamwork. I want to see change in the world and that pushes me to do the little I can in my own bubble, to build relationships, to gain knowledge, listen to others’ stories and to share what access I have.

That’s so true… So what are your thoughts about the design community at the moment? What excites you about the possibilities in design today?

What excites me the most is a more critical approach to design work. Hearing from designers who are studying all aspects of their creative roles, not just the visual output. Designers are critical thinkers, and we should apply that skill to the connection between our everyday and society’s ills. My design community is political and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I’m glad the wave of BLM momentum this year has had many creatives turning their gaze towards the institutions, agencies and designers we’ve revered for so long. I hope our memories don’t fade and that it kicked some people into action – either on themselves or in society. I know it did for me. It should spur people into actively addressing how diverse their social and working relationships are in real life and digitally, and whose stories they give value to. 

The pandemic has shown so many full-time employees that the hours they’re held to are often redundant. Many of my friends have noted they won’t work a full 8 hour day everyday when working from home, or they love not having a two hour commute. In general, but specifically in the design industries, I’m excited that we’re in a great position to start rethinking our work lives. The 40-hour week was designed, it’s not a naturally occurring phenomenon. As designers, surely we can compose a better way of working.

Yeah I think this whole year’s series of events has majorly shifted a lot of peoples perspectives for sure… What do you hope to see develop or improve in the future then in terms of the role of type/design in society? 

Much of my work goes into print, so the environment and sustainability has grown into a huge feature of my practice. It’s often the focus of my creative direction and brand propositioning projects, then the research feeds into the design of a brand identity and campaign. 

I’ve found sustainability is a good route to approach all of my favourite -isms and bring them into the conversation with clients too – anti-racism, feminism, classism and ableism. These topics are intertwined with sustainability, they’re quintessential if a brand is genuinely disinterested in greenwashing. 

I’m determined to filter the momentum and the problems of society into my design work, elevating them to my clients from the initial discussions and propositioning stage. This is the small way I’ve found to push for change from change makers and those with more hiring or commissioning power. I reference my research in proposals and I pitch the voices I learn from to my clients as collaborators. Through designing systems for brands which place multiple voices at their core, I’m aiming to bring responsibility and a medley of lived experiences into the business, to have the difficult discussions around how things are done before a company is set in its ways. My knowledge is in communication, so a lot of this is simply about listening, asking questions and discussing solutions.

That’s so important. Building from that, what are your thoughts on the interaction between societal issues and type design?

Type in particular can feel Eurocentric, a modernist monolith. It was probably the biggest barrier to my own comfort working with type. Experimental type is really having a moment though and beyond any trendiness, I love the ethos of these faces, of breaking the status quo, rethinking the rules or just throwing them out of the window and speaking in new ways. It’s impactful, breaking the visual mould of how something should appear really gets an audience’s attention and it’s necessary to move forward. Fonts were designed a certain way partly because we produced them using a method that has fallen out of use. So it’s time to go further and ask what do we make with our new tools? We’re not the first generation to do this, but we can reach each other easier than ever before. We don’t rely on the traditional routes to get our work out there anymore, but that’s why it’s more important than ever to be critical thinkers. We need to examine everything we see, we shouldn’t fall for trends. It comes back to asking the ‘why’ of any design. 

And lastly, can you expand on how you feel collaboration and diversity within design teams is an important part of delivering the changes we need to see in the design world?

If we measure value simply in terms of monetary growth, a number of studies show diverse companies are literally more valuable. The worth of difference goes beyond fiscal wealth. In design, a variety of perspectives make for a more equitably designed project, one that speaks with and for more people. What is design if not manifesting a greater world? You just need to know what greater means on your conscience. 

A designer with a variety of perspectives is an asset. Diversity is hindered if we all have to be from or have passed through the same culture to be deemed worthy of our titles as designers. It would keep marginalised creatives out of the industry at a time when we need those voices more than ever. With the momentum of Black Lives Matter this year, so many have spoken up and against their educations and teachers in some of our most revered Universities, so I’d urge more designers, studios and agencies to start questioning our preoccupation on these institutions too.

On a personal note that’s shown me gratitude for my less than conventional route into design and the years I’ve taken to cultivate my process. Good design takes knowledge, but you still need an affinity for people. I don’t believe institutions are the sole conveyors of this knowledge – and they’re far from the space to raise our empathy – I do believe no matter what, the best designers are the curious ones. Since nurturing my curiosity, by evaluating my work, enjoying the process of learning and through my interest in others’ stories, I’m increasingly more inquisitive as a designer. I’ve come to realise, there’s always more room to grow it just won’t happen without movement, without actions. 

Thank you so much, Emma. It’s been a pleasure. 

If you’re interested Emma’s ethos, we highly recommend you check out her work. We particularly love Corsica Type, Flowers and Contrary to What is Agreeable.You can also see more on her Instagram, website and her ongoing projects, Doing Me Doing You and Good Book Catalogue. Emma also wanted to credit the book Teaching Community by bell hooks for the some of the ideas she’s shared here – she highly recommends it for anyone looking to learn more about these topics. Thanks again, Emma!