Our next design Archives comes from South African born, New York based veteran Heidi Chisholm. Heidi’s career spans almost 25 years, and includes some major triumphs – like the Afro Coffee branding and Shine Shine textile designs – and abysmal learnings – like Bio Sculpture Gel. Like Garth Walker, Heidi found her true design colours when she focused on her surroundings and started drawing off the vibrant iconography of South African culture. This obviously caused problems for her when she moved to the US, but she’ll tell you more about overcoming that later on. In 2010 Heidi started Mr Somebody & Mr Nobody with Sharon Lombard, a line of playful African inspired objects for the home. Heidi’s design career is a true testament to the importance of trial, lots of error, opening your eyes to what’s around you, learning, learning, and more learning, and then perhaps breaking through to something truly good.
1990 – 1994: The Pre Design Days
I applied for graphic design at the University of Stellenbosch, even though I did not truly know what a graphic designer did in the real world. The only work I can find from my student years is this linoprint that I made in my 2nd year. I was always interested in expressing some sort of emotion in my work. As you can clearly see, I needed many years of experimenting and learning before I could achieve what I wanted.
1995: In Need of a Concept
After finishing my degree, I freelanced for about 6 months. Although I have little record of my early career, I did find this Bio Sculpture Gel logo, because it was still in use until recently. It was for a startup nail care company. I was still really struggling with typography and it was influenced by the trends of the day rather than being based on a solid concept. I was working on my own at the time, with no influence nor channel of inspiration. You can clearly see how important those aspects are when you look at this logo.
1996: Early Advertising
My first job was at a small advertising agency in Cape Town, called Carolyn Parton Advertising. This is the second logo that haunts me somewhat – I always saw it unexpectedly when travelling on the roads, as it is a transport company. This is not the original version that I designed, but it was very similar, except less solved.
1997-1998: London Days
I worked in London for a year as a graphic designer at an exhibition company that did large installations for European trade and consumer shows. We were part of the graphic design team and often worked with the 3D team, so being exposed to that was interesting, especially being able to consider the finished product as a whole. I feel my work started improving, because I realized one has to practice to get better, but also I became technically more skilled. Also, I guess living in London at the time, one is overwhelmed with good (and bad) design, but I became more critical and discerning about visual design. (Unfortunately I don’t have any examples of my work from this period.)
I worked at The Jupiter Drawing Room in Cape Town after London. My work started improving at this stage, not only because I started winning awards, but being surrounded by talented people definitely rubs off, so you naturally need to raise your game. Some award winning work included packaging for Pennypinchers nails – which was a little system of stacking boxes. Unfortunately I can’t find the design for this. The only two things I could find from this period are this TNT packaging and these two Musica Posters. The TNT packaging has been tweaked a little since I worked on it, but I was tasked to update the existing packaging at the time. It’s not award winning work, but it was successful in that it didn’t leave consumers confused. I think what pushed my work forward was being surrounded by talented people and learning how important a concept in your work is.
2001 – 2008: ‘The Daddy Buy Me a Pony’ Days
I started a design studio called Daddy Buy Me a Pony with Peet Pienaar and Stacy Hardy. In 2003 Peet and I designed the first Afro magazine, which was a turning point for me. I began to understand what it meant to be inspired by your surroundings. I fell in love with contemporary Africa. I feel that it was here that I really started developing a style and Peet was a huge influence in that.
2003: Afro Coffee
After the magazine came out, Grant Rushmere from Afro Coffee approached us. He needed us to help him with his branding, coffee packaging and tea packaging He had a logo, and he allowed us to change it a little bit to create the coffee and tea packaging. Part of the work for Afro Coffee was this wine packaging that was a real working radio. Stylistically, my designs relied heavily on illustration and African inspiration. I learned how to work with a lateral kind of concept rather than an advertising concept approach, which came more naturally to me.
2007: Beyond CI Rules
I started to do work for France Productions, which produces photography shoots in Southern Africa with a mostly French fashion magazine client base. I designed the logo and collateral and then every year I do a new business mailer. What is interesting about this brand is that I realized that one can develop and evolve a corporate identity organically, rather than by a set of rules. The work here is more a feeling and collaboration than a recipe.
Shine Shine Textile Designs
In 2007, I started working with Tracy Rushmere who wanted me to design African inspired fabrics for her new company, Shine Shine, which produced a new design approximately every 6 months. After designing the first fabric, there was a great response, which helped build my confidence.
2008: The Big Move to the Big Apple
In 2008, I moved to Brooklyn, NY and continued to work from there. These fabrics brought together my design and illustration skills as well as my deep appreciation for Africa. My confidence continued growing through them. Confidence is great, but too much can make it impossible for a client to work with you, and that is not good for a business. Also it can make you lose your critical eye. Since I am often working alone, I use my husband, Gareth Chisholm, who is a designer himself, as a sounding board. He keeps my confidence at a healthy level for sure and has a very critical eye.
I slowly started building a portfolio of US-based work, which was more difficult than I thought, as the cultural and visual references that I was familiar with were completely foreign with an American audience. This was a major learning curve, and it took a while to come to grips with. Also, the city is a great leveler, as you could be the best of whatever from whence you came, and here the competition level is so high, your work has to compete on so many levels.
2010: Finding a US Aesthetic
This is a catalogue that I designed around 2010 for “THE ART OF WRAPPING GARBAGE” – A photography exhibition by Susanne Walström about the Japanese practice of excessively wrapping everything from candy to garbage. During this time I started exploring other styles, and trying to look at my surroundings the way I would in Cape Town. Another tool I began to rely on was an in-depth understanding of print production techniques and special effects printing. While it is not an obvious thing to notice, it definitely complements my work, as knowing your toolset very well gives you confidence when you design anything – the fact that I know how I am going to produce it in detail is reassuring.
Mr Somebody & Mr Nobody is Born
In 2010 I met Sharon Lombard, a fellow South African living in the US. We created Mr Somebody & Mr Nobody and make homeware inspired by Africa. This is an ongoing project and we work a lot with artisan carvers and makers of handmade goods, and recently did a collaboration with well-known fashion designers and artists.
2014: Collaboration and International Art Fairs
These are shoes by Walter Van Bierendonck who collaborated with us in our Pop Up Shop at the Miami Art Basel 2014. Bernard Willhelm was also part of our show. For me it was exciting to see how these sources of inspiration can come together and accept how other designers’ work can change the perception of your own work.
2015: Trusting Clients and Doing Good
Most recently, I have been working with a non-profit urban planning cooperative called CohStra. They asked me to design a report that they wrote for the city Guelph in Canada. I really respect their work and realized again when you trust your clients, you value their input and can apply it to improve your design. This is one of the reasons why it is incredibly important for me to get to know my clients and to be in contact with them myself – the trust level is much more personal.
More Graphic Design Month awesomeness this way!