When I learned that designer Verena Michelitsch hailed from Austria, visions of some of my favorite things, like raindrops on roses, edelweiss, and brown paper packages tied up with string, swam through my head. At least that last bit about packaging rings true for Michelitsch, who combines illustration and type to great effect in her brand identity and packaging design work. Clients like Bing Bang Jewelry, Seilenna Swim, and TenOverSix reap the rewards of her sophisticated graphic style, which speaks volumes with its simplicity.
Her design pedigree is impressive, too. After moving to New York City in 2012, she went to work for fellow countryman Stefan Sagmeister at Sagmeister & Walsh, then (freelance for Eddie Opara) at Pentagram, and finally at RoAndCo before moving on to become design director at Sid Lee NY.
What led you to design and illustration?
I studied communication design in Graz, Austria. The program was interdisciplinary, covering everything from classic graphic design to interactive and exhibition design. I was really interested in iconography, especially the work of Otl Aicher and Otto Neurath, and the idea of a creating a minimalist visual language that’s universally understandable. To some extent my illustration is inspired by iconography. Combining branding projects with illustration or icons adds additional layers to express a brand’s visual tone.
Tell me about your move to New York. Was it a smooth transition?
I freelanced in Austria for four years before moving, so I was able to send quite a substantial portfolio to a couple of New York design agencies. This was definitely helpful versus applying for a job right after graduating from university. Then I met great people and was lucky to get connected to different studios. Last August I was offered the opportunity to lead the design team at Sid Lee NY, which was a great next step for me after two amazing years at RoAndCo. I was brought on board to strengthen the design part of the agency and create an in-house design department.
I see echoes of Art Deco in your work. How would you describe your style?
I’m not crazy-inspired by Art Deco—I don’t use it as a reference or in my mood boards—but I’m into geometric shapes, lines, and simplicity. I don’t necessarily like the idea of following one style too much, but when it comes to illustration this aesthetic is my personal way to visualize ideas.
Tell me about type. It plays a leading role in your work.
I admire good type design and really look to Swiss type design. I think you can learn true basics about graphic design from type design: the harmonies between the letters, their shape, scale, character, and taking historic references, etc.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m lucky in that I really like my job. That said, I do quite a few side projects. Creating my own images and products, is most rewarding. I believe a portfolio should show the kind of work you want to do in future. And my side projects show what I’m personally interested in, which leads to new client work.
Do you have a creative routine?
I like routines and keeping my work organized. I start a project with research and mood boarding. At Sid Lee, I find it helpful to talk to copywriters to get a non-designer perspective on things.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently on a production in India with Sid Lee, working with a photographer on a print campaign. Photography is such an essential part of a brand and I love being involved in creating the photographic direction of campaigns and look books—seeing the whole picture. In the end it’s all intertwined: logo design, typography, photography, overall voice and tone. They connect and take cues from each other—that’s what makes a brand authentic and strong.