To anyone who's ever dreamt of becoming an art or design writer, Katie Treggiden is the living embodiment of 'making it'. Her career reads like a vocational-myth; she's got so many accolades, content, and connections under her belt it's a wonder she can stand upright. But her journey to becoming a highly successful design writer, editor and public speaker is no fantasy – that's what makes it so much scarier. It's completely real and achievable. The singular path she took to get to it? Really hard work.
"I worked in top London agencies for 12 years, working my way up from Account Executive to Client Services Director, but I knew I wanted to do something more creative," Katie writes, describing the years leading up to her career in design journalism. She's gracefully agreed to answer a few questions for think and does so while her out-of-office auto-reply is still activated, likely making her way through the dense carousel of editorial work she now oversees. "I had been trying on various 'hats' through short courses in everything from pottery to photography at Putney School of Art and Central Saint Martins and even training to be an interior designer at South Thames College and KLC, but eventually realised what I enjoyed most was writing about all of those things".
In 2010, Katie started a blog called Confessions of a Design Geek, which she describes as having taken off "really quickly". That's a slight understatement – after only five weeks from its launch, the blog was nominated for the mydeco’s Best Interior Design Blog in Great Britain award, which it then won. "It gave me the confidence to pursue my dream," Katie writes, "and then I remembered that I'd actually wanted to be a writer when I was five years old".
Cover image: Confessions of a Design Geek blog and Fiera Magazine.
Katie Treggidan receiving the mydeco Best Interior Design Blog in Great Britain award for Confessions of a Design Geek
I've always had a
strong sense of justice,
so championing new designers
came very naturally
It's not hard to see why Confessions took off in such a massive way. Think back to seven years ago when online design journalism was a very different place. There were far fewer sites that spoke about design in a personable and easy-to-read way. Dense and very industry-focused platforms like Design Observer were the go-to places for design theory and hard-core interrogation, Dezeen was perfect for keeping up to date, but even with the then recent launch of It's Nice That, it felt as though there was very little middle-ground between the two extremes.
Confessions might appear to have been born out of a desire to fill that gap, but in reality it was purely a product of passion. "This will sound silly, but it started as somewhere to document what I was learning about design. I lived in a tiny flat and didn't have space to keep programmes from the exhibitions and talks I was going to, so I blogged about them so I could throw away the brochure!" Katie reveals. And although there seemingly wasn't a grand plan for the blog's USP, it did emerge from her personal agenda. "After the site won the award I had to up my game a bit! I've always had a strong sense of justice, so championing new designers came very naturally when I realised what they were up against to make it in such a crowded and competitive market as the design industry".
Katie Treggidan speaking at MagCulture's 'The Making of a Magazine' event, 2016
Although Katie still doesn't believe Confessions was really ever that big, she does credit its ability to draw readers to her decision to stick with emerging designers. "I was always a strong advocate for new designers – new designers still believe in the impossible, and there's something very exciting about that. I think that was quite unusual when I started out in 2010 – print publications were very focused on big brands as were many blogs". The utilitarian roots of her blog, partnered with the fact that Katie was simply captivated by new design, turned out to be a winning combination. Her writing style – easy, relatable, with no discernible frills – didn't hurt the blog's success either.
"I always wrote in a very approachable tone, which again was perhaps unusual when I started – design could seem quite impenetrable at that time, so I think the blog offered people a way in. And I think people found it quite refreshing because it was completely uncompromised by advertising or relationships with brands. It was very genuinely just me."
Makers of East London, Katie Treggidan, Hoxton Mini Press, 2015
From Confessions onwards, Katie's trajectory kept rocketing. She now regularly contributes her writing and editing to the Guardian, Crafts Magazine, Elle Decoration, Design Milk and Monocle24. She's also written three books and launched Fiera magazine. And despite having written her last Confessions post in March of this year, Katie's output is more staggering than ever – almost inconceivable as manageable by one person.
But she does manage it, and is assured that there are no tricks or short-cuts for someone to create similar success in this industry – even in a much more saturated content landscape. "I have, perhaps naively, always believed that if you create something you believe in and you execute it well, your audience will find you. I think you've got ignore stats to a certain extent and just focus on making good work. That will transcend whatever the latest trend in click-bait or driving traffic is".
Fiera Magazine, Katie Treggidan, 2014-2017
Katie does have an essential bit of advice to dispense to would-be design writers. When asked if she could break it down into three digestible points, she replies:
"Write about design. Write about design. Write about design."
A good design writer, Katie insists, has got to really love their subject. "You've got to live and breathe it. It's got to be your life". And as for the craft of writing itself – "I am an avid follower of Ernest Hemingway's school of writing. I think you've got to find a truth and then express it as elegantly and succinctly as possible. I also believe anyone with a platform of any sort has a responsibility to use it for good".
Katie Treggidan chairing the 'Design Undefined' panel, for Clerkenwell London, May 2016
I have always believed that
if you create something you
believe in and execute it well,
your audience will find you
Katie shows no signs of slowing down, so all that's left for aspiring art and design writers is to try their darnedest to catch up. When asked the golden question – how the hell do you manage it all? – Katie is very clear about the reality of how much she is able to dedicate to her career. "I love my job, I don't have kids, and I have an amazing husband who runs our household like a slickly oiled machine. All of that means I don't have a lot to do besides work, so it has my complete focus. I'm extremely lucky".
Anyone would be inclined to counter that luck has only played a fractional part in her success story. But it is encouraging to know that there's seemingly no cryptic equation to achieving goals in the art and design writing world; only hard work, a sense of wonder, and being genuine at all costs.
Katie Treggiden is a design writer with more than 15 years experience in the creative industries. She regularly contributes to publications such as the Guardian, Crafts Magazine, Elle Decoration, Design Milk and Monocle24. She has written three books and launched an award-winning design blog and print magazine. Her latest book, Urban Potters, in out in September 2017.