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Lauren Holden

Your work focuses on writing and imagery, how did the intersection of these two elements come about? What have you discovered through this intersection?


My interest in graphic design has always been driven by its connection to language via typography, but this deepened in the last year while designing and authoring, an online visual poetry anthology. I started the project partly because I wanted to write more (though I had no real experience or training), and partly because I wanted to articulate the mental health difficulties I was experiencing. I was also reading a lot of poetry at the time, and was interested in how it naturally evokes an imagistic component through devices like metaphor. I became fascinated with visual poetry because of the complex network of meaning it involves, where in addition to the text’s literal and rhetorical meanings, a layer of meaning lies in the typography itself. I started to make my own visual poetry in part to try to explore this network, and in part to complicate it with other additions like sound, motion and interaction.


My main takeaway from these studies may seem a bit obvious: text and image relate to one another in a dialogue. When creating visual poems, adding an image might make part of the text redundant, and vice versa. I found myself continually shaping and reshaping the visual-textual relationship until they supported one another in a sort of partnership (rather than the visual elements being an ornamental, top layer). I think you could argue that the same process is necessary when designing a poster or book cover, where redundancies weaken the overall impact.

A quick perusal of Lauren’s portfolio was an exciting glimpse into her creative vision. For the Toronto-based designer, it is the exploration between written words and creative visuals that form the language of her work. I’m excited to see where this work takes her.

How has your creative process changed over time?


I’m pretty early in my practice, but I tend to value ambiguity in my work more than I used to. When I started school, I thought that the point of design was to communicate something with precision so that the user/audience will know exactly what you want them to—and of course, there are many cases where that is absolutely essential. But now, at the end of my degree I feel that there are some contexts where it is more useful to communicate a feeling or an atmosphere for a user to navigate themselves. My shift in attitude is nicely summarized by the lovely Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who asks of any piece of writing, “Is it alive, or is it dead?” She’s referring to a work’s ability to grow, change and allow different interpretations with the interaction of a reader, but I think this perspective is also meaningful to the visual realm. So these days, I’m experimenting with leaving a bit more to the imagination in my visual and written practices to see how viewers’ interpretations play off of the work.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever heard?


That would definitely be a tidbit from my thesis advisor James March, who said “Making is a way of thinking.” It’s a pretty simple statement, but I find when I’m doing visual work, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of trying to know exactly where you’re going (through research/conceptualization) before you actually start. What James’ statement showed me is that making is research in and of itself. The process of making will reveal things about the material, the forms, how you might communicate something in this context, and the problem at hand. Then, all of these findings will inform the final output, or at the very least, will inform the next exploration.

december 2017
graphic designer

What's in your margins?

In the last few years, I’ve started to keep a journal on my phone/computer where I jot down poems, prose, a book/movie/website/artist to check out, or just notes about experiences as they happen. I found that over time this practice builds a bank of fragmented ideas and inspiration that often relate to one another in some incoherent way I haven’t wrapped my mind around yet. Having something to draw on when I’m starting a project makes it infinitely less anxiety-inducing, and sometimes a lucid, semi-formed direction can be gleaned from the fragments.

Edited by Joshua Duttweiler

Who are some artists that you feel have impacted your own practice? 


I spent a semester abroad at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar in Germany and my peers there really influenced my practice. They would often set rules for themselves when starting a project to limit their scope. Instead of restricting the output, the rules actually led to more playful and experimental results. I tried this approach when making/researching for my visual poetry project. I limited myself to one size and weight of Caslon and tried to make a printed visual poetry anthology using strictly spatial elements. Having rules made it so much easier to start, and prompted me to push against the restrictions to see what was really possible.


Literature is also a major source of inspiration for me, in both my written and visual work. E. E. Cummings is one example, for his ability to play the role of poet and (I would argue) designer through his spatially- and typographically-motivated visual poems. I’m also really excited about a bunch of Canadian authors/poets who are using poetic prose to animate simple realities in nuanced ways. These include: Jill Margo’s How to Become a Mascot, Frankie Barnet’s collection An Indoor Kind of Girl and Sofia Banzhaf’s Pony Castle. I’m also obsessed with NYC-based author Darcie Wilder’s book, Literally Show Me a Healthy Person which touches on issues of mental health in this non-linear, fragmented way that is so awesome.

What have been some of your biggest strengths and struggles during your career so far?


I’ve tried to be honest and vulnerable in my work—particularly in the online anthology I authored about my mental health,— and I’ve found that people really respond to that. When the project went live, both friends and strangers reached out to me with their own stories of struggle. I saw that the piece struck home for a lot of people and had value beyond my own self-indulgence, which was a really powerful and motivating experience.

Balancing self-care with my studies while coming to terms with a mental health diagnosis was probably the biggest obstacle I’ve faced in my practice thus far. I started struggling during my exchange to Germany in third year, and those difficulties unfortunately carried over into my fourth year. What was supposed to be an exciting and freeing time for me was, in reality, spent being volleyed between psychiatrists and doctors trying to find the right diagnosis and treatment. At that point, when my mental illness was all-consuming, no other work made sense to make than that which dealt directly with my well-being. But with less energy to work, I was forced to stop obsessing about whether something was “good enough” and to relax into an intuitive creative process. As much as I resisted it at first, making was deeply therapeutic, and it ended up being the project I’m most proud of.

“I found myself continually shaping and reshaping the visual-textual relationship until they supported one another in a sort of partnership.”

What project are you especially excited about right now?

I’ve been spending most of my time lately finishing up school, but I’m really excited to dive back into the next chapter of I’ve just finished up some writing classes that have exposed me to some really interesting literary work and which have happily (and a tad painfully) highlighted all of the cracks in my knowledge about writing. I want to make use of what I’ve learned and perhaps depart a bit from the micropoems I created for Instead, I’d like to try working with a longer-form reading experience, perhaps through prose poems.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Currently, I’m on the cusp of graduating from the York University/Sheridan College joint program in design in Toronto/Oakville. Last summer, I interned at LOKI, a Montreal-based studio specializing in social justice work, where I had the pleasure of working on some really meaningful projects. In the last few months, I’ve also been taking some creative writing courses (Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction) for fun at the University of Toronto. Being so close to graduation, this moment represents a bit of a new beginning for me. I’m excited to see what happens next!


Right now I’m most curious about two subjects: first, how acting as a visual and a verbal author simultaneously might create more robust “reading” experiences—for example, in disciplines like visual poetry. I’ve spent the last year trying to understand this relationship, as well as how adding sound, motion and interaction could create even more immersive experiences. Second, I’m curious about how design might be used as a tool for activism and community building, and how designers might navigate politics in their personal and client work. But no matter what I’m working on, I try to emphasize research, writing and authenticity.

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