Q&A with Anna Mills

Anna Mills is a 23 year old typographic fanatic, sort-of (in her own words) graphic designer based in Bristol.

What are your current inspirations right now?
At the moment I’m inspired by playfulness within controlled structures. I think that’s why I keep going back to the type-in-grids layout - there’s something about the juxtaposition between uniformity and wild goofy type that really pleases me. So grids, graphs, charts, classification systems but then also juicy curves and erratic shapes.
All these type things get saved to a folder on my laptop called ‘character studies’ - and I think that kind of sums up my feelings about typography at the moment - that each letter has its own personality, the more extravagant the better. And this human quality in the letters really lends itself to being animated - I wanna see them jump off the page!
What is your creative process' like?
I’m a big sketchbook user (and a picky one at that). Sometimes I’m very free with it and the pages are a complete mess, and sometimes I’m more rigid - drawing grids, carefully colouring between the lines as if my life depends on it.
Recently, I’ve started drawing and redrawing things over and over - in an attempt to achieve something that I mentally note as a ‘confident line’. I had a substitute teacher in a year 8 ICT lesson who found me drawing something in the back of my book - I expected him to ask me to put it away and return to my excel spreadsheet, but he just walked by and said ‘nice confident line’. I have since wanted all my lines to be confident.
Scanning and printing are another part of the process. I think seeing so much design on screen - in a sort of flat, pixel, clickable, editable landscape makes me long to see something that looks solid and unchangeable. I think this is why I like printing stuff out - the quality of ink on paper and it’s little bleeds, errors and textures carry a sort of confidence - it says I EXIST! I AM REAL! And maybe that makes the design feel more believable - maybe believable isn’t the word.
If I were to reduce it to a cycle, I would say - thinking time and documenting > sketchbook > scan > photoshop > print > scan > photoshop.
How did you go from virtual design; to then doing hand embroidered pieces?
For me embroidery is less about the process (I only know two very basic stitch types) and more about a means of production. It’s a way - albeit a very slow way - to produce a large scale / tactile outcome from something I’ve designed on paper without having to get someone else to produce it for me. Similarly to printing stuff out, it’s a way of making a design feel like it has a real solid place in the world, you can look at it, touch it, feel all the knobbly knots on the back … and it feels very far away from a screen - even if that was part of the process. Also because it occupies both hands, it means I can’t check my phone every 5 minutes.
How did you initially get into design?
Well I always liked art at school and at home, but in terms of choosing to study it - I think I was just copying my older brother.
What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?
I feel like I’m just starting out, so I’m going to recycle some advice that someone gave me last year: work out what you like doing, do it a lot, show everyone, someone might pay you for it someday?
What's your favourite piece of work you've released in the past few years?
With a lot of things I’ve made, I look back couple years on and think ‘ah that doesn’t really feel like me anymore’ - but one thing that I keep coming back to was this entry for a competition called the 27th Letter. The brief was to design a letter you felt the alphabet was missing - I designed a character for the sound of ‘ing’.
Your five favourite books/magazines right now? (Can also recommend any youtube channels or podcasts)
MacGuffin No.8 ‘The Desk’
Today In Focus (podcast)
Envisioning Information - Edward R Tufte
Useless - Royal College of Art, Critical Writing in Art and Design
The School of Life Dictionary
What type of music do you listen to whilst working?
I mainly listen to NPR Tiny Desk concerts - I like hearing the bits of chat in-between the songs.

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