Accompanied by a feast from Dishoom in their delightful conservatory, we spoke with Superunion's Katherina Tudball about culture-creating projects.

On the morning of 16th July, we were joined by Katherina Tudball, Superunion’s Creative Director in the comfort of Dishoom’s conservatory for the most recent instalment of our regular series Design for Breakfast. With over 15 years of experience within the design industry, Katherina delivers work that inspires and creates a positive social impact including her work as an elected member of the Board of Trustees for D&AD. In particular, working with the New Blood Shift programme, Katherina is herself shifting the balance towards helping young designers get a foot in the door. In the past few years she has worked on a number of projects in the culture, education and non-profit sectors with clients ranging from working on the first BBC Two rebranding in 20 years to award-winning projects with Shakespeare’s Globe, The Science Museum and Royal Mail.

Katherina spoke with YCN’s Ella Reynolds on everything from women in design, how chatting can change your career and the fulfilment of always having a side project ticking along.

Here’s what we learned:

Collaboration creates trust

Throughout the morning, Katherina discussed how collaboration can build trust and a more open culture within a company. A collaborative approach to working was engrained from her university days when she found that being able to talk, challenge and encourage her peers perfectly translated into a positive work culture.

When asked for advice on helping team culture from a leadership role, Katherina described how an “informal thirty minute catch up once a week, off site” was a natural way to build relationships and add to the open, trusting dialogue that is key to a functional team. According to her, getting to know your team members well makes it “easy to be honest or blunt” without a demotivating or negative atmosphere.

Side projects bring joy

Katherina frequently brought up not only the enjoyment and fulfilment that side projects can bring to yourself, but their importance in creating a well connected and creatively engaged team. She explained that “junior members get ownership of projects and are able to connect with more senior members” because taking control of a subject they care about helps to build drive and ambition.

Side projects hold so much weight for Katherina that she recommends structuring time into the work schedule, for example studio time to allow senior members to review and advise younger colleagues’ work. By experimenting and exploring ideas in passion projects, you are able to reignite ideas and inspiration for your client work.

Involve your clients

Working with clients is, of course, a key component of the design industry. The greatest evolution in Katherina’s work practice has been shifting her focus to the needs of the client by involving them at all levels of the process. Maintaining a dialogue and consistent contact allows you to explain and “show why you are doing something”, leading to a more sincere and integral impact that lasts.

Similarly, Katherina talked about her time working with BBC Two’s creative team and how frequently meeting with them in person drastically changed the output, allowing them to completely let go of their egos and build a culture of trust within the project. Discussing sharing the work throughout the entire process, Katherina acknowledged that it can be “painful to let others in” at early stages, however this is where her perspective has recently changed. Throughout her past projects she has consistently only shown completed, pristine work but with BBC Two, sharing the notes and unfinished pieces proved fruitful and drove a supporting, collaborative project that is beneficial for everyone.

Talk, talk, talk

From collaborating with her university peers to asking for advice from senior directors, Katherina discussed how the power of chatting can redirect your career, ambition and much more. Through her extensive experience working with D&AD and their Shift programme, a free nightly school for new creatives without a degree level qualification, creating connections between people that wouldn’t normally meet is a big part of diversifying the industry, furthering careers and focussing your attention on your drive.

The idea of the power of chatting directly linked in to the topic of women in the design industry. Katherina described the light bulb moment that happened when she began discussing her career and ambitions with female senior designers and directors, as they provided more relatable advice that she could identify with. She encourages chatting in the pub and reaching out to women within the industry for a mentoring opinion that could revolutionise your trajectory and experience within design.

Whilst describing the impact of gaining female views on things in her career that she couldn’t see, Katherina explained that as her career has developed she has noticed that women are not visible within the industry above mid-weight positions because they often do not receive the necessary support in their roles. However, the recent commitments to 50/50 male - female speakers on many panels has been an important and much needed development for diversifying the industry.

Play!

For any young designers fresh out of university, Katherina’s advice was to “play and explore”. She described the influx of graduates that have been taught an over professional approach to design by universities and colleges to focus heavily on brand identity, rather than developing a strong personal voice. Finding your own style to offer avoids a generic looking portfolio. She emphasised the fun of joining a new company and being able to shape the minds of interns in a playful, intuitive way rather than having to teach them to be imaginative.

On the subject of graduates and young designers, Katherina touched upon the recent change in internship culture and the “need to be paid” as interns are no longer willing to be exploited for free work. She hoped that companies attract interns with further opportunities than simply creating a larger portfolio, by giving them a work culture that is something to stay for and will motivate their passion for the company.

We’d love to thank Katherina for sharing her insights, the great audience members for asking questions and engaging attentively, Dishoom for providing a delicious feast and Sam Bush for snapping brilliant photographs.

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