Hilary Sedgwick is one of the most sought after graphic designers and illustrators in the Philadelphia area. If you live or work in the region, her designs have probably infiltrated your consciousness at some point, perhaps while you’ve stood under a bus shelter brandishing the words “Temple Made”, or maybe after browsing through a copy of Grid Magazine at your neighborhood coffee shop. You can even scroll up to the top of the page to see one of her latest designs, a logo for a new website called rad-girls.com.
How did you discover design?
It was kind of a random decision. I came to UArts for photography. All through high school I always had a love and a passion for photography. I always dabbled in a ton of different mediums. My parents kind of threw me into everything. So I grew up doing pottery, clay work, sculpture, painting, but photography was something I always went back to. It was between Philly and Boston. I was going to go to Mass Art, or UArts. I decided to choose Philly because I wanted more of a change. Boston was too close to home. I needed something so different.
You don't declare your major until the end of your freshman year. It got down to the wire and I had met people in the photo program, and had talked to a lot of them about it. For some reason it didn't spark my interest. The freshman program is a lot of fundamental work, and that is when I started realizing that I was appreciating things from a design standpoint...hanging up flyers on my wall, finding stuff at 611 [Records], different shops around Philly where I was 'like this is really beautiful, I'm going to hang it up'. But it was a flyer. That's when I realized that maybe design was something that was more interesting to me. At the last minute I just made design my major. It was not something that I expected. I don't think I knew it was a medium you could go into. Small town Massachusetts, its not like people are talking about graphic design. Coming to Philly really made me discover that.
Urban life really inspired you.
The shameful part of my past (laughs)...I went to parties. I went to raves and stuff. It was taking me to New York, Boston, all of these different cities where parties were happening. I remember I would always choose the parties I wanted to go to based on how good the flyer was. Being exposed to that, a lot of the people who were doing those flyers were obviously in Philly. Those creative’s, graffiti artists, illustrators around Philly were producing that type of material, things you would find at coffee shops. It was inspiring.
Do you think Philadelphia has a style of design associated with it?
There’s such a culture here of people just wanting to create and make. We have a lot of art schools. A lot of people stay here and it breeds creativity.
Philly has that great jumpstart culture. It's easy to meet like-minded people that you can spend time with and collaborate with and learn from. You have a lot of letterpress, screen print, illustrators, and typographers. To be able to mingle with that many different types of people because they're so accessible- it just breeds this great culture. That's why we have an impressive design community.
What were your post-college plans?
Right out of school I had a rough first interview. Right after that interview, I thought 'I don't think I'm ready for this.' I went in and I felt really, really good about it and they asked me a question, and I didn't give the right answer. They were just like 'good luck.'
I ended up taking a year to kind of figure out what in the field I wanted to do. I was very confused about it. There are so many options. You can go to an advertising shop, a digital shop, in house, all of these options and I wasn't sure what mine was. I took a year off and waitressed and worked at coffee shops and nightclubs.
I struggled getting a job because they would look at my resume and ask 'what have you been doing for a year?' That hurt me a little bit and it made it harder to get a job. A lot of places turned me down. ‘You're not ready. You don't have enough experience.’ I never did internships. I didn't have that experience.
What was the breaking point for you? When did you realize you needed to move forward?
Kenny pushed me a lot. He was in the same field. He didn’t go to UArts. He went to The Art Institute. He had a totally different learning experience. Right after school he was taking jobs, working at a bunch of different companies. I almost began to get jealous. I looked at what where he was going in his career and what he was doing, it's almost like I'm watching him pass me and we're in the same field. I didn't want to feel like I wasted my time and I wanted to do my career justice. I just knew it was time. Watching him create these projects, be so excited, be so proud. I want that.
I want the satisfaction of producing something and having myself be excited and the people I'm working with be excited about it, you know? I think that was the big turning point for me. Watching him get into his career and be successful and moving forward with it and to see myself just going to the coffee shop everyday, not necessarily living paycheck to paycheck, but not having something to show for what I was doing that past year. I wanted to feel a sense of creative worth.
What did you learn during that year after college?
Even though it was a negative thing in the sense that when I went to find a job they told me I didn't have enough experience, this that or the other, it made me a lot hungrier. It made me want the job. It made me want this career. By the time I was ready to have a job, I was like 'this is what I want' and it was one of those things where it almost opened my eyes 'ok, I've had my time to play around and figure out what the rest of my life is going to be...not that I can figure that out in a year. By the time I started looking for a job I knew that I made the right career decision. It made me work really hard for it. Even though it wasn't the most ideal job, and it wasn't glamorous, I still learned a lot from there, which got me to the next job, which then got me to the next job. Every job I've had, whatever they've put in front of me I took that challenge, hungry to learn. Was willing to work hard. Was willing to pull late hours. I extended myself a lot because I knew it was what I wanted to do. That year off made me realize I'm gonna have to work hard for this. Even though I've been now working for 10 years in the field, I feel like I'm still just as hungry and aggressive and eager to learn. Our field is always changing and I don't ever want to be behind the times. I don't ever want to feel like I've become stagnant or uninspired. I look at everything wide-eyed, just ready to learn from everything.
What was your first job in the industry?
The first job I took was for a catalogue company out in Bucks County. It was a small, four-person design team that worked in house. It was very corporate. High heels, business pants. It was not ideal, but I was able to take what I had learned and I was able to get that job and apply it there.
I was doing catalogue layouts for the first year and a half and directing photo shoots, art directed, and did a lot of that stuff. It wasn't a creatively exciting job. I wasn't given a ton of creative freedom. It was like, here's the template, lay it out.
After a year and a half of that I left there to go to a small interactive shop called O3 World. Got that connection through a friend. They were looking for a designer, and they looked at my portfolio and they took a chance with me even thought I was not digitally strong, but I had always dabbled in design and coding. I had the base knowledge and they knew they could train be to become a bigger asset to the company. I ended up being there for five years and I loved it. It was my dream job.
So it was a real growth experience for you.
I started there where I purely just did logo design, brochures, and flyer layouts. After doing a lot of that stuff they started giving me more interactive projects. I did a lot of websites. They slowly over the years became more interactive-focused. Since it was small, there was that startup mentality...you kind of had to wear multiple hats. You had to make sure you did more than what was just your responsibility so I learned a lot there. And my boss was a great teacher. He pushed me to learn a lot of new things. By the time I left, I was doing a lot of interactive design and front-end development. They taught me to code. It was an amazing experience in that regard. It really began to shape me. But after five years of being there, I just started realizing that I wasn't getting the growth anymore because there were so many options there before.
One of the designers from Allen + Gerritsen, which at the time was Neiman, reached out to me and asked if I was interested in coming on board and working with them. It was a really, really, really hard decision. It was a really emotional decision. I felt like this place I was at for 5 years was like a family. But I ended up making the decision to leave and go to A+ G and I've been there for 3 years.
Have you had any female mentors along the way?
My first boss was a female. She was a great mentor in that regard. She was the only other female in the creative space; she definitely took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. I learned a lot from her. I remember when I had to give my notice that I was going to another job, it was a very emotional thing. We had built a very strong, sisterly relationship.
It seems like you're kind of a jack-of-all-trades.
One of the reasons that they reached out to me and wanted me to come on board at A + G was the fact that they called me a "hybrid designer.” I was able to do current and traditional design, and interactive work. Then the illustration thing was something I started doing for fun on the side. It's crazy to think that I do as much of it as I do now and get commissioned because it's something I just do for fun! I've honed my own style for it, which is funny to have people say that it's recognizable.
Every job I've had has been different. I've never been intimidated by a challenge. I've never not wanted to learn something. I kind of just take it as it comes. If it's a project that might make me question my ability, I'm gonna figure out a way to learn how to do it.
What are some of your favorite projects you've worked on during the 10 years of your career?
Temple Made was one of the biggest projects I've ever done in my career. It was my first time working on a camp of that scale. Not just designs, advertisements, transit, but also doing TV an event and all of these materials whether it was for admissions, or it was for football. IT was my first time working on a campaign of that scale and to kind of see how the student body responded to it, it was very much embraced. The end of the campaign was with this huge event on campus, Temple Made Live. We had Klip Collective there, and there were DJs. It was a massive university block party. To see thousands of students in the center of the bell tower courtyard chanting “Temple Made", wearing my tee shirts it was overwhelming and really, really exciting.
Another one I loved doing was a Grid Magazine cover. That was by chance that they hit me up. It was a short timeline and I had a couple days to do it. We changed direction a couple times and I was really worried I was not going to be able to do the project. What I ended up producing, I was really, really excited and pleased with. Plus, it was the first time I've ever done the cover of anything.
Tell me about your moniker, Oh- Revoir.
I was taking something and reinventing it so that it had a different feel . “Au Revoir” is goodbye, so long. I gave myself that name when I was saying goodbye to an old style of me from a creative standpoint. I was starting and finding myself new creatively. I changed the "AU" to "OH" as a shocking surprise, brand new, giving it new meaning. Saying goodbye to my old creative ways. It was the birth of myself as a designer!
Your wedding to Kenny is approaching. Do you see yourself having to choose between family and career?
I don't think you ever have to choose. I've heard that and I've even seen people go down that path. The way I see it is if you're really, really passionate about what you do, you don't ever have to sacrifice it. There is a way to figure out a balance for everything. If a job is not able to work with you on your home life or the fact that you have kids, it’s probably not the right job. It doesn't mean that you're not able to do what you want to do with your career.
There are always going to be long hours in advertising. That stuff is always going to happen; if you surround yourself with the right team and the right people there is a way to work things out. I'm not intimidated by it. My career is what I'm passionate about.
I've had difficulty with friends who aren't in advertising and don't know anything about it. They don't understand. I'll have to cancel plans with them last minute. I've had friends get frustrated by it, 'well tell your job, this...’ You can't just all of a sudden say 'screw you guys, I'm out'. It is my job. I take pride in what I do. There's just that balance you have to find. It's not an easy thing to do; it's hard for me to comment on because I'm not in that scenario.
Kenny is also a designer. In what ways do you guys support and inspire each other?
It's funny; a lot of people couldn’t believe I'm dating someone in the field, doing the same thing as you because of the competitive aspect. I actually think it's a blessing and I think it's amazing. We're there for each other; we're supportive of each other. This is where that balance thing comes in great. If I have to work late hours and I can't be here for something, he can help out with that or vice versa. He has always supported me in my career and the decisions that I've made. We're very understanding. If a random late night has to happen, he gets it. He's in the same field. There's that mutual respect for what we do.
We also inspire each other because we are very different designers. We have different aesthetics and everything. We work at different companies. When I work on a project, if I feel stuck, I can talk to him and he's going to give me advice. Same thing. With personal projects, we push each other to creatively learn and express ourselves and do things to keep it fun so it's not a job. We're artists, we're passionate about what we do, but we're also working a job that does that. Sometimes finding that creative balance can be really tough. Putting your all into a client project can be exhausting, but sometimes you want to create for personal reasons. Finding that balance can be hard.
We don't collaborate very much though; I think our wedding will be the first time we really collaborate on something. We've kept it separate in that regard just because we do have different jobs, work in different places, at a certain time we're competitors to each other. That was a little bit difficult, but we also try not to let design rule the world [laughs]. We try to make sure we come home and have dinner and not talk about design the entire time. We try to find personal time... let's talk about something else, let's see a movie, let's have dinner out.
What would you say to somebody who wants to be the next Hilary Sedgwick?
I've been in the industry for 10 years and I'm still learning stuff. I'm not at the peak of my career, I don’t know if there's ever going to be a peak. Be humble about it. Be excited. Just learn.
Try it all. Don't be scared of anything. Don't turn stuff down because you don’t think its worth it or you don't think you can do it. Throw yourself into everything. There's nothing more gratifying than taking a skill set you have, applying it to a creative person who is trying to start their career, and helping them become something. If you think about it, everything needs design. Design is everything.