interview with Verena Michelitsch

Verena Michelitsch is an independent designer and art director from Austria, currently based in New York. She has worked for an array of international studios and clients, including Apple, Nasa/JPL, Facebook, Red Bull, The Smithsonian and Opening Ceremony. Verena also runs a very interesting online magazine and event series, dedicated to sleep, called Sand & Such.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a graphic designer and art director, working on my own since a year now.  I live and work in Greenpoint, my clients are mostly in the field of fashion, art, culture and tech. I enjoy the contrast of working for big companies as well as small startups.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in a small town in the south of Austria, close to the Slovenian border. I moved to Graz, Austria’s second largest city to study Information Design. Graz was my home for a few years after university, after doing an art residency with a photographer friend, I co-founded a design studio called En Garde.

Why and when did you move to New York?

Being on my own right after college was a lot of fun and I learned a lot, but felt I was lacking a mentor after some time. I wanted to get more experience and thought about doing a year in New York. Initially I was really into exhibition design and wrote to all big NY museums for an internship. I also sent my portfolio to Stefan Sagmeister, who was my biggest design inspiration when I was a teenager and in university. They had a slot for an internship open and I was able to work with them. I really enjoyed the energy in New York and felt I had found the new mentors that I was looking for, so I applied at other studios, and was eventually offered a full time position at a studio. After hustling to get a work visa I moved out of my apartment in Graz which I subleted in the meantime, and made the permanent move to New York. I don’t know why exactly I wanted to go to New York in the first place, I guess it’s the myth around the city and the energy that made me curious. 

La Presa De Los Serna - Book Design
La Presa De Los Serna - Book Design
La Presa De Los Serna - Book Design

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in Art and Design?

Creative careers were supported in my family, my grandma ran a photography business and so did my aunt. I grew up in the photo studio and darkroom, looking at images getting developed and taking passport photos during summer jobs.

I initially was more interested in art history and such, but quickly found out that I needed to create things with my own hands besides studying art history, which led me to design.

How would you describe your creative process?

The process is always different – sometimes clients already have a clear understanding into which visual direction they want to go in, sometimes I work with them on a design strategy to find it out. When working on logos, I sketch a lot on paper before getting into illustrator. I only started doing this recently, and I find to get stronger ideas when doing that first. When working on branding projects I pin up a world of mood imagery and sketches next do my desk, so I always see it and new things come to my mind...

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual? 

Definitely, I’ve always thought it’s a myth but NY has an energy that’s contagious. I spent half of last year in California and just felt too relaxed out there to get any of my side projects done. 

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like New York? 

Even after 6 years I do still miss my family and my old friends very much. With some of my old friends I am still in touch regularly over the phone, and sometimes it sucks that there’s an ocean between us.

Sand & Such - Art direction, branding, content creatiion.
Sand & Such - Art direction, branding, content creatiion.
Idle - Art direction, branding, content creatiion.
Idle - Art direction, branding, content creatiion.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in New York?

Definitely! There are so many museums, institutions, lectures, events and facilities, it’s hard to keep up and I love that about NY, the density and richness of culture and art in any possible direction. 

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the designer/creative to improve the quality of peoples lives in their city?

To an extent, yes, of course. I deeply believe that change, improvement and ideas don’t really come from top down (especially not with the current US government), but spread from small movements and trends. 

I once worked on a project for the city of NY and found it somehow really interesting to work for public service and institutions where (e.g. urban) problems really need to be solved creatively (versus products that need to be sold for brands).

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particular excited about?

A fun/weird book project I’m doing with a writer friend of mine. Too early to be too specific...

Cait Oppermann - Webdesign and logotype
 Sasha + Lucca - Brand Identity

What is the one thing you can’t live without in New York?


If you could add or change something about New York, what would that be?

That trains are on time?

Describe the perfect day for you in New York.

Spend half the day in museums and in the park and have dinner/drinks at a nice restaurant. 

If you could choose any artist/creative from New York to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

Every second person is an artist/creative here, and doing amazing things, I wouldn’t know where to start! 

What do you do to switch off ?

I love editing photos on my phone, it really relaxes me. Otherwise, cooking, recently, baking banana bread, and yoga. 

Apple News Campaign - Design Director
Apple News Campaign - Design Director

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does New York evoke a personal smell to you?

In Summer the city really smells badly. Otherwise I feel it’s always so windy which makes the air quite fresh/crisp. Or maybe I just feel that way because it’s still winter and cold outside.

What is your favourite time of the day?

The Morning, definitely. 

If you weren’t living in New York and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

Barcelona, I always wanted to move there, it’s warmer, and it's a big city in the Mediterranean (which I love) that has a fairly big lively scene. And Vienna, because my friends are there and life is quite chill there.

Seilenna - Graphic Design

new york by Verena Michelitsch

A selection of places in New York - recommended by designer and art director Verena Michelitsch. See all of Verena's favourite places here

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