Alexandra Lunn became fascinated with typography and a love for collage from a young age and utilises them today throughout all of her work, which takes a playful but systematic approach to creating bold and vibrant visual identities. Having spent time in Budapest and Amsterdam working with animation and design studios; Lunn moved to London in 2014 to freelance and look after her 103 year old Polish grandmother. Since 2017, Lunn has been putting all of her time and energy into her graphic design studio that caters for businesses and bodies operating within the arts and cultural industries. Learning self discipline has been the main challenge for Lunn when starting out on her business venture. Likewise, learning to decipher between her passions and work has been beneficial in allowing her to enjoy everything that she manages to tie into her busy life and schedule. With a solid three year business plan that involves expanding her team by 3-4 people, Lunn shares with Marguerite some of her entrepreneurial expertise and explains why her grandmother is one of her biggest inspirations.
When did you get into graphic design?
It’s hard to define what graphic design is as it is so vast but one of the responsibilities of a graphic designer is to work with, document and present stuff that’s already out there. Like many other children, I put a lot of care into collecting, organising, categorising and displaying my Spice Girls paraphernalia–the photographs, stickers and cut outs. I also made a hand crafted, staple stitched booklet on Leonardo Di Caprio when I was 10; it portrays my infatuation with him; I’d interview him and then lovingly write each word out together with collage. Throughout the fanzine, juxtaposition of photo, collage, pencil shading, combined with the stream of excited writing all convey my unconscious caressing worship for my hero.
When I was 14 I was curious about whether or not the weapons of mass destruction really did exist and for my GCSE piece sourced images of victims of war and then painted the words ‘What’s Your Excuse’ over that. This early work is something that I’d never usually reference but using words to get a message across sparked my imagination and understanding of how powerful different typography styles impact the reading of text and convey new meanings. The message is in the words.
When did you establish Alexandra Lunn Studio?
From 2014–17 my business has been more like a baby in the womb.
After briefly interning with Metahaven, I began caring for my 103 year old grandmother. During that time I went on a protest March about the housing crisis and austerity. There I met Russell Brand's PR manager who later contacted me about doing some animations for his best selling book; Revolution. Penguin Publishers wanted 4 x 30 second animations created in a hand drawn style (when in Budapest I learnt how to do traditional animation from the artists who created Soviet Propaganda animations) to build momentum for the book. The first one was to be done in 24 hours so I got in touch with 3 other animators who were at the RCA, set milestones and created it in just 24 hours. After it had been online for 12 hours it had reached 23'000 views and the books went like hotcakes. This made me realise how fun it is to collaborate. In 2016 I helped to set up Evening Class, https://evening-class.org a self organised design education experiment in East London. Since then I’ve been building up my contacts and improving my professional skills and expertise by freelancing in studios and agencies including Somesuch, Brave New World and The Beautiful Meme.
I’ve always admired Jonathan Barnbrook’s approach to design and working there in 2017 on the concept development for London based museums and exhibitions really strengthened my design thinking skills. Barnbrook also runs his own type foundry and part of my job was to organise some of them for online publishing. Here I grew a real appreciation for type; specifically, it gave me a new understanding of how each and every font that we work with today is a reflection on the culture in which it was or is made. Font Book = history. Jonathon understood early on that a normal job isn't for me and since summer 2017 I’ve been focussed only on building my business; now I’m really enjoying working for clients who want to stand out with design that’s different.
What are your main techniques for getting the ideas of the businesses you work with off the ground and how do you make their brand visible to a wider audience?
People come to me for a free consultation where they describe to me what they need and what they want with their business. Sometimes they might not know what branding is; here I talk them through what it is and can be by sharing how others in their field have done it as well as how myself and other studios approach briefs in order to come up with interesting design solutions.
We go through a brand identity questionnaire where I ask questions that allow me to understand their business’ goals and objectives as well as which style and brands they admire.
Although people come to me for bold and vibrant identities that stand out, at the end of the day, you can't argue about taste. We approach each brief as a collaboration between client and studio. Our Creative Process Flowchart really helps let our clients know where they are at every stage, as well as provide good opportunity for them to leave feedback for us to work with. Included within this process is a lengthy research phase where I collaborate with brand strategists and marketing experts who help me to understand our client's audience. We then carry out first hand research by reaching out to those people via social media and asking them which visuals they respond best to.
To make their brand visible to a wider audience we create a social media style guide. We then leave them with the tools that they need to publish themselves. Should they not have time to do this in-house, we offer a monthly retainer basis where we take care of all of their digital marketing needs.
What would you say has been the hardest part of starting your own business?
Learning how to be more self disciplined. I’ve always been interested in many different things. Music, Art and Drama have also attracted me but Graphic Design pulls me in because it's all about making sense of the world. As soon as I saw the other disciplines as hobbies it’s been much easier and more fun to appreciate them; working for and with businesses and bodies who operate within the arts and artists every day; working toward my bigger goals makes the more mundane things such as doing my accounts, invoicing and general admin more doable.
What would your three most important pieces of advice be to a young female entrepreneur?
Take breaks, take naps, don’t overthink it.
Can you tell me about the workshops you host at Alexandra Lunn Studio and why you decided to start these?
I've always taken a very experimental approach to design but being a business owner limits the time you can spend pursing other loves, interested and hobbies. It was really selfish–I just wanted to learn how to create typography. But I'm also interested in how folklore and craft practices and bring people together; I love how nourishing and satisfying it is to bring people together and create something from nothing; the conversations you end up having take a different turn; I think there’s been studies about how these activities reduce stress too so I created a collaborative activity between strangers that revoked the lack of face to face communication by using hands to craft a typeface, the main tool of Graphic Design. It was and it the perfect way to collaborate, meet new people and learn together. The performative act of stepping out of our usual routines to partake in an activity that is at the core of what design is leaves participants with a positive, collaborative and memorable experience as well as a deeper understanding of what craft is and can be and the feeling of wanting to do and make more. We hosted this event at London Design Festival, 2018 and more recently the D&AD asked us to host some more workshops for their audience.
Do you have a long term plan for your business?
In 3 years time we’ll have grown to 3-4 people including exhibition designers and project managers; we will be creating more bold and striking visual identities for curators, galleries as well as businesses and brands who think differently through campaigns which span from editorial design, social media strategies and exhibition design. Later on I'd like to grow to a team of 8-10 people but I don't want to go any bigger than that as I want to maintain a small agency feel so that our clients get the same level of service as we're providing for them now, never get put on hold and also so that all team members are listened to, cared for and valued which in turn will help them to produce better work.
Do you know where you want to be in a year’s time?
As our workload increases we’ll continue to work in the same way as we are now but will introduce other processes in place so as to make sure we're being efficient as possible, making the most of our time whilst being able to take breaks, too.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
If you could have four artists to dinner (dead oR alive), who would they be?
Frida Kahlo, John Lennon, David Bowie, Goldie!
How did you find out about Marguerite and what has been your favourite event so far this year?
My colleague (and Lithuanian designer) Ieva Misiukonyte found your events online and thought that I’d be interested in them, which I am! It’s hard to choose which one I like the most but so far I think I most enjoyed the trip to Margate to see the Carl Freedman Gallery because it was a good start to the summer and fascinating to see Billy Childish’s beautiful work, plus be shown around the studio space by Robert and Carl who shared with us more about the history of the space plus all of the amazing artworks that were on display in the print studio. Then meeting so many other lovely women and enjoying a roast dinner with them all was an added bonus. I enjoy all of Marguerite’s events because everyone’s welcoming, friendly and because we genuinely want to help each other out. I always learn something new; this goes from the spaces that the events are hosted in right through to the meeting new people and then of course the theme of the event. The talk by Gina Martin at The Standard in King’s Cross was also great. I’d never heard of her but she’s such an important role model and walking into the space was like walking into a Stanley Kubrick film. I love finding new nooks and crannies in London–it really opens your eyes to what’s available and at our fingertips.
Can you name some of the studios that you have worked with prior to starting your own business/any that you would love to partner with in the future?
In 2011 I worked at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow as an archivist, organising and categorising their books and publications. In 2012 I worked as an animator at Kedd Animation Studios, Budapest. In 2014 I interned at Metahaven, NL and in 2016-17 did a placement with Jonathan Barnbrook. I'd be pleased to partner with the V&A, Art Night and the Barbican's design departments.
Are there any female entrepreneurs that you admire in particular?
I come from a small town called Hebden Bridge and it’s got a strong LGBTQ+ community. Lou Millichamp who set up Nelson’s Wine bar, Hebden Bridge was a strong female role model.
My grandmother escaped a Nazi occupied Poland during WW2 and then came to London where she became a couturier in Knightsbridge and then set up her own business as a seamstress.
I love interior designer Sophie Ashby’s eclectic style.
I like how curator Fatos Üstek is influenced by many different subjects (and how she used to be a mathematician) but also how this variety forms a lot of richness to her work.. I also admire her pragmatic and hands on approach to curation.