Steph Davidson designs smart and flamboyant websites, illustrations and GIFs for the digital arm of Bloomberg Businessweek. She even designed Paul Ford’s epic 37,000 word essay, “What is Code?”. A Canadian-educated designer who studied at Western University in London, Ontario she is now based in  New York. As she gears up to return to Toronto to give a lecture and workshop at A-B-Z-TXT, a new typography school, we catch up with Davidson and her sharp aesthetics.

 
 
Michèle Champagne: Designing in a flamboyant way for a business publication is a difficult task. Designers, editors and readers need a compelling motive to want to explore world trade and hedge fund scandals with drop shadows and glitter text generators. What are your motives at Bloomberg?

SD: Generally, as the designers here, we satisfy our own criteria and entertain each other.

MC: How does your team at Bloomberg work?

SD: I work on the digital features team which is James Pants, Sheryl Sulistiawan and myself, so it’s a bit different than Businessweek the print magazine. Typically we’re assigned to design something independently and, depending on the scope, we might collaborate with the print team or not.

With feature stories, the digital team works differently every time. I’m a junky coder. I can do basic front end coding, so a developer like Toph Tucker or James Pants and I will bounce around ideas, or they might take the lead and I’ll make graphics for them. Sometimes the digital editorial team takes creative direction from Businessweek’s print team and sometimes we go separate ways.

MC: Many design and editorial teams celebrate collaboration, and yet a hierarchy still exists: where words trump images, and editors trump designers, micro-managing every page layout. Have you ever experienced this hierarchy? If yes, how did you get out of it?

SD: People at Businessweek have a lot of autonomy and we get away with doing a lot of unusual stuff. Once in a blue moon something gets too bizarre and we reign it back in, but it’s usually for the best. For example, I overly-airbrushed a photograph of Mark Zuckerberg—in a pageant full glitz kind of way—and it was just too bizarre.

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MC: What has surprised you the most about your time at Bloomberg?

SD: The fact that a business magazine has attracted so many design weirdos.

MC: If you had to coin an apt but ridiculous term for the Bloomberg Bussinessweek aesthetic, what would it be?

SD: Dafontcore.

MC: Tell me about your time at Western University, in London, Ontario. What did you study, and do you miss any particular courses or professors?

SD: I did media studies and visual art, the courses I took at Western were very focused on conceptual thinking and theory. It was cool to have a studio space.

MC: What was it like working in Canada after your studies at Western University? What did you do?

SD: I worked in digital advertising for two years and got burned out, followed by a year of computer animation at Sheridan College and freelancing in advertising. Then I got this job. A lot of the campaigns I worked on in Toronto were taking American creative and adapting them to the Canadian market, sometimes just adding French, so I felt limited by that.

I’m not sure why this “adaptation” is so limited. Bigger agencies in the United States and Europe can be very envelope-pushing, but big agencies in Toronto always strike me as timid. That’s not true for smaller Canadian design studios though—a lot of small studios create work that is out there. Maybe it’s Canada’s proximity to the border and cash flow.

MC: Why did you decide to leave Canada? What were the magnets south of the border attracting you?

SD: I got this job offer. That’s why I left. I had always wanted to live in New York City: you meet a lot of people since everyone comes through here eventually. It was a valuable networking opportunity.

MC: If you could kidnap any international editor and redesign any publication in Canada—on- or off-line—what would you do? And why?

SD: My favourite news source is CBC.ca. It would be cool to work on that. I love the CBC. It’s an integral institution. When working from home, I listen to CBC Radio 1 all day for the news. I think their website could be splashier.


Steph Davidson joins Tracy Ma for a lecture and workshop at A-B-Z-TXT, a school for 21st century typography in Toronto. With Creativeapplications.net, and hosted at InterAccess gallery, A-B-Z-TXT will mix print and digital traditions with hands-on masterclasses, workshops, lectures and group discussions. The 4-day programme invites LUSTlab from The Hague, N O R M A L S from Paris, Sean Yendrys from New York City/Montreal, and more. Find news of A-B-Z-TXT in their newsletter or on Twitter.

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