When Berlin’s Studio Pandan gives you a hot tip, you sit up and take notice. The studio’s latest recommendation was the work of Leipzig-based designer Teresa Schönherr, whose work across party posters, exhibition design, editorial, and books manages to be zeitgeisty in its acid graphics busyness and metallic type, but without ever veering into trend-for-trend’s-sake.
Schönherr moved to Leipzig six years ago to study at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst (Academy of Fine Arts) in the German city. Though she graduated in February this year, she plans to stay. “It’s a very good vibe here,” she says. “You can live here cheaply, and there are so many creatives.” The plan is to freelance, continuing the work she was already doing on the side of her studies—namely designing posters and taking on projects for clients across music and culture.
Even this early in her career, her smart, eye-catching, and technically proficient work has meant she’s already achieved something many designers still dream of after years in professional practice. “People trust me and my aesthetics,” she says, citing a recent poster commission for Berlin-based music festival Melt. “I started out designing all these posters for parties that were put on by friends, so I was always producing a lot and not really paying attention to how good it was. That helped me get into the freelancing scene, and I began getting commissions not just in Leipzig, but in Berlin and Nuremberg too. That’s what’s good about design, you can work from wherever.”
While that’s true, it seems that it’s Leipzig specifically that’s fostering such creativity—for now, at least. “You have so much more freedom when you’re not having to work three other jobs alongside your design just to pay rent,” Schönherr points out. “We have a real community here, the housing costs are low, and there’s so much free space.”
“There’s a lot of creative energy and if you want to try out something new, you can,” she adds. “Some friends, for instance, are opening a silk screen space, and it’s not such a big deal whether to not it works out. It’s a nice little bubble. When I hear about other designers living elsewhere, they’re always having to hustle and living in very small spaces. I’m lucky to have ended up here.”
Schönherr’s work is identifiable in its vibrancy, playfulness, and her ruthless determination to use every inch of whatever canvas she’s given.
The city seems to be lucky she’s there, too: not least thanks to a recent commission to design the site Leipzig.biz, which uses a gaming interface and poetry to explore the rumors and stories that abound in an area in the east of the city. This was an unusual project in a few respects. For one, the government pumped a significant amount of money into it (unusual, apparently, for Leipzig); and it also saw Schönherr break away from her usual poster-based work into collaborating with a poet, a number of visual artists, a photographer, and a game designer who worked using Unity to create an unusual portrait of money and how it functions in various spaces across Leipzig.
“It’s a pretty complex project,” says Schönherr, “and it feels like a big responsibility as a designer, since it touches on social issues in our area, and the different positions that artists take here. I understood how important my job was as a designer to make a ‘thing’ out of all this stuff. It wasn’t just making a poster, it was organizing content and giving surface to a bigger idea.”
Across her output, Schönherr’s work is identifiable in its vibrancy, playfulness, and her ruthless determination to use every inch of whatever canvas she’s given. She says she draws a lot on the “flair” and “dramaturgy” of Japanese Manga. “I’m always trying to fill the gaps, make it look stuffed,” she says. “I want my style to be humorous and vivid—it should be fun to look at.” Her diploma project, for instance, looked to worlds like Where’s Waldo? to create a dense triptych that was over 8 feet wide.
“It explains a lot about how I work in poster design,” she says about the project. “All the little actors are performed by me, and I am sticking to the historical composition of a Christian triptychon. I love the storytelling quality of designing; making a scene how I want to. But that freedom means a level of responsibility to take the viewer on a visual journey and make it an experience.”
The designer’s desktop is packed with various folders of images: some of them might store color combinations that have caught her eye, others might be themed around “spooky” clowns, Juggalos and the like, or simply “underwater things.” “There’s always something that might trigger me,” she says. “Like most people, I’m sure, I get stuck in imagery I find online and use it to make some sort of output.”
“Using a grid means that the elements aren’t just there by coincidence. It gives things more force.”
Her approach to typography delights in breaking the “two fonts” rule set by her art school professors, often mingling numerous font styles—some that she made herself in Font Lab, others lifted from Da Font. But while her sources are disparate and her images delight in busyness, Schönherr still uses a grid for all her designs. “Using a grid means that the elements aren’t just there by coincidence. Even when things look chaotic, I have a rule that I stick to. It just gives things more force.”