We sat outside the Jam Factory with glowing lights over head, with a faint frost nipping at our noses. Despite setting my laptop up next to me to record our interview, it helpfully sat there sleepy and uninterested, leaving me to recount this meeting entirely from memory. Rookie error!
First, I reminded Katie of how I came to know of her. It was back in 2016, when I was just coming to the end of my first year as a furniture student, and when I’d had the opportunity to participate in an initiative called Designing Futures hosted in London’s Clerkenwell. The project was lead by social entrepreneur Jade Ilke, and aimed to strengthen the links between employers and young people entering into the industry. The training day involved visits to a handful of the design showrooms within the design district of Clerkenwell, as well as invaluable sessions in networking skills and self-development. To round off the evening there was a panel discussion chaired by Katie, herself.
Thinking back, I remember how much I connected with the opinions she made during the talk; defending the points of view of so many young hopefuls entering into the design industry. It was only after that event in Clerkenwell and bumping into her briefly at London Design Fair 2016, that I eventually put a name to her face. A few months later, I found myself scrolling through her Confessions of a Design Geek Blog, and discovered the design journalist that she is. It was a combination of all these encounters that lead me to start my own blog.
So when I happened to discover that she had been accepted onto the part-time Masters in Design History at Oxford University, I jumped at the thought of being able to interview her personally in my local city.
I soon learnt that Katie’s infectious enthusiasm for design was realised some years after her educational career had come to an end. Her undergraduate degree in Biology at Oxford Brookes University was followed by several years in advertising and marketing. Her experience of a male-dominated and competitive industry, meant that when faced with redundancy, she said goodbye to the work that was turning her into someone she didn’t want to be, in order to pursue a new direction and something she had a real passion for.
I asked how she felt the design industry compares- in terms of gender balance- to that of advertising. She explained that although design and craft seem less sexist from the outside, it isn’t necessarily the case, and suggested that perhaps we only believe this to be because of it’s softer and more friendly nature, when compared to the competitiveness within other arenas. The gender inequalities that remain within our field are perhaps harder to spot, but that is because they are so ingrained into our culture. To demonstrate her point, she referred to how many boards of directors or design committees for shows are predominantly formed up of white, middle-class men.
This led us to our next topic for discussion: how easy is it to be a craftswoman and a mother? A topic particularly relevant to us both, as we discussed the birth of our crafty mutual friends’ baby. The conclusion being that being a parent is challenging whatever your trade, and within the craft community there are plenty of inspiring examples of craftmothers; including blacksmith, Bex Simon (https://www.bexsimon.com).
Katie’s baby was her blog: Confessions of a Design Geek, which she personally founded and ran for seven years. Her courageous leap into a new area of work meant her career has been largely self-directed. However she has also done internships with, and worked part-time at several different design magazines, including DeZeen. As well as her blog, she ran her own magazine for two years and self-published a book. These have since lead to even bigger and more exciting projects, such as her following book: Makers of East London, and her most recent: Urban Potters. Katie recounted how her mum claims with such pride that her daughter’s books are sold at the V&A.
I recognized and made comment on how Katie seems to have forged a seemingly very successful career very independently, often using her own initiative and determination to ensure projects come to fruition. This reminded me of the panel discussion in Clerkenwell, as a hot topic within the debate bad been the concept of ‘working for free’ within the creative industries. This is particularly relevant due to the rise in companies and institutes favouring unpaid internships.
‘Working for free’ is commonly misunderstood as working for others for nothing. However, as Katie not only pointed out, but demonstrates, it really means doing self-lead projects within your own time, which often, as the book Don’t Get a Job Make a Job (Gem Barton, 2016) demonstrates, will inevitably lead to some form of paid work or further opportunities. Katie and I were both in agreement that unpaid internships are a disgrace, as they are only possible for the wealthy or for those who already live in the South of England, and as a Geordie, this is something I am particularly sensitive to. Apprenticeships and training schemes, however, are good ideas, as they can be beneficial both to industry and employees.
I was particularly fixated on how intuitive Katie seems to have navigated a pathway through the world of design; was it premeditated, or the result of following her nose? As her answer, she described the process of drawing a venn diagram formed of three intersecting circles: things she enjoys, things that will help others or the World, and things that she is good at. Anything that you are able to add to the centre of your diagram, as it falls into all three categories, is the thing in which you should pursue in life, or as a career. In Katie’s case, writing seemed to be the lovable glue that held her diagram together, which came as no surprise, as she admits to ‘devour books’. Since she carried out this exercise, she has learnt that the Japanese format of this type of diagram involves a fourth circle: things that make money!
If I’m ever short of inspirational or motivational quotes, my meeting with Katie gave me many: “Don’t follow your passion, follow your energy” (Mark Cuban, 2017), “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (Howard Thurman), and “I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work the luckier I get” (Samuel Goldwyn).
The trend seems to be that those who go on to be successful in creative careers are those who have a strong sense of integrity and self-belief. Katie likened it to cutting someone in half and seeing if they were like a stick of rock; the same through and through. Who she was specifically referring to was Sebastian Cox (http://www.sebastiancox.co.uk), who is a popular example for someone striving to do well in the World through his designs. Katie is of the opinion, and so am I, that design is one of the most powerful tools, if not the most, in which to help incite positive change.
One of the main selling points of entering into design is the warmth and friendliness it has to offer to its community. Networking in this industry never feels like it is ‘work’ because of the special relationships you build.
As we came to the close of our discussion, Katie spoke about her Masters program, which she was due to start that week at the University of Oxford. She explained how her admissions essay discussed how the industrial revolution played a significant role in the birth of the idea of craft, and drew a comparison to the current craft revival within our digital age. Cross-examinations, such as this, are hugely important, as they allow design theorists to predict what is yet to come.
For more information on Katie’s work and selection of projects, visit her website: http://www.katietreggiden.com
* Honorable mention to Heather Scott, who Katie knows from her home in Cornwall. Heather is a designer-maker from Falmouth, who does metal and woodwork, which are both typically male dominated spheres. Heather’s work came up in my conversation with Katie and particularly as Heather works independently to create some really beautiful pieces, I thought it was only fair to give her a shout out!