Jessica Walsh was born on 30 October 1986 in New York and raised in nearby Ridgefield, Connecticut. She began coding and designing websites at age 11 and is now a graphic designer, art director, illustrator, and founder of creative agency &Walsh. She is one of the coolest girls ever and a brilliant creative mind like no other.
So of course we had to go and talk to her!
By Lara Franco Gomes
Photography courtesy of Jessica Walsh
LEMON MAGAZINE [LEMON]: Where do you find inspiration?
Jessica Walsh [J.W.]: When you look at other work within your field as inspiration, you run the risk of creating things that have already been done before. I frequent museums, photography shows, watch movies, listen to music and have conversations with friends. I read books about psychology and science and blogs about popular culture. Quite literally, everything we do, see or listen to can inspire us subconsciously. I try to diversify my experiences to keep my work diverse and interesting.
[LEMON]: How would you define your inner creative world?
[J.W.]: I am interested in creating emotionally engaging, concept-driven work that is embodied in beautiful form. Creating work that functions for our client’s goals and connects with their audiences is at the core of everything we do. In my personal work, I try to use design as a tool to elevate issues that are important to me, to start dialogues or give back to the community in some way.
[LEMON]: Three women who inspire you?
[J.W.]: Growing up, I was inspired by my grandmother’s crazy fashion. She didn’t have much money, but she was able to pull together these amazing colourful outfits that are so inspiring.
[LEMON]: Are you able to balance your personal and professional lives? What are some tips for people struggling to find a balance between the two?
[J.W.]: Project management is an incredibly important skill that I am grateful to have learned early on in my career. This means understanding the speed at which I work, my limitations, and being able to create accurate estimates of how long something will take. This helps me plan my weeks/months/year and create realistic deadlines that I can follow through on. The variables are greater when working with a team. I have to learn everyone’s speed, strengths and weaknesses, and then plan accordingly.
[LEMON]: How did 40 Days of Dating start?
[J.W.]: This was the first time I had the guts to really put myself out in an emotionally vulnerable way. I remember almost calling off the release of the project a few days before, I was so nervous of what people would think. There is a prevailing belief in the design industry that people should remove themselves from their work physically or mentally. That’s fine if you don’t want to put your image or emotions in your work. However, I’ve found time and time again that work functions better when there’s a human element to it.
[LEMON]: What has been the happiest day of your professional life?
[J.W.]: The greatest joy for me is releasing a project I’m proud of into the world and seeing people connect to it or engage with it. I love creating work that touches people, is relatable, gives back to the community, or that starts a dialogue on important topics. Projects such as Ladies, Wine & Design, 12 Kinds of Kindness, Pins Won’t Save the World, 40 Days of Dating, or Let’s talk about Mental Health are a few examples.
[LEMON]: What was the turning point to get where you are now?
[J.W.]: After graduating from RISD I faced a tough decision. I interned at Apple and they offered me a well-paid job. However, I wanted to be in a studio environment where I could learn from a variety of clients and design challenges. Instead of accepting the job at Apple, I started a low-paid internship working for Paula Scher. It was a big risk, but I learned an incredible amount working with her and her team at Pentagram. I threw myself into the work and worked nights and weekends while doing freelance photography projects to pay rent. Paula recommended me for an art director position at the design magazine Print. It was at Print that I developed my surreal, colourful, handcrafted, playful style. I started working there in 2008 when the economy crashed, and the magazine’s budgets for illustration and photography were slashed. I accepted this limitation as an opportunity to do things myself and started creating elaborate handmade set designs, which I photographed in my apartment. Eventually, people began to recognise my style and hire me for larger projects.
[LEMON]: How did &Walsh start?
[J.W.]: As I got older, I realised I had other motives besides passing down my knowledge and putting beautiful work into the world. I also wanted to have control over my future, like where I live, when I can have kids and major decisions about how to run the business.
[LEMON]: What are your thoughts about being one of the few creative agencies in the world led by women?
[J.W.]: The numbers say it all: 70% of design students are women, but when you look at the top, the numbers are shockingly small: only 5% of CEOs are women. Approximately 11% of creative director positions are held by women. Only 0.1% of creative agencies are women-owned. POINT. ONE. PERCENT. How does this make any sense when women drive around 80% of consumer purchasing? Diversity in leadership at agencies drives profit.
There are many reasons for the lack of women founders/execs:
#1. Sexism in the workplace
Studies show that companies are often consciously or unconsciously biased in favour of candidates who are men, which leads to more men being hired, getting raises, and receiving promotions.
#2. A lack of diversity in mentors or idols historically
Open a design history book and you’ll see that almost all the famous designers mentioned are white men. The design industry used to be a boys’ club at the top, lacking diversity across both gender and race. With a lack of representation among their role models, underrepresented people can be deterred from pursuing creative positions.
#3. The responsibility of childbearing
Many people start families and have children around the time they’d be considered for career advancement. Historically, most cisgender men continued working and did not hold child-bearing responsibilities, leading to a gender imbalance in terms of career success. Many call this the “motherhood tax,” referring to the financial burdens and sacrifices involved in motherhood.
The lack of representation at the top was my inspiration for starting our non-profit initiative Ladies, Wine & Design. We offer free mentorship circles, talks, and networking events in over 250 cities worldwide. We have events on topics such as Creative Leadership, Design & Business, Diversity in Design, and more. These social initiatives will be a driving force of &Walsh. I also want to implement these principles within our studio. I’m excited to build an agency that provides equal opportunity for all to learn and grow creatively and climb the ranks towards leadership.
[LEMON]: How do you define your work?
[J.W.]: People have described my personal work as “colourful, bold, emotional, surrealist, and provocative.” I do have a certain visual sensibility I am drawn to that surfaces in my personal work. With that said, we don’t have one set style for our branding work with clients. Our goal with brands is to help them discover their own unique brand personality through our strategy phase. All our creative work is a reflection of the brand’s unique personality: from copywriting, typography, colour choices, to the images we create. This helps a brand build equity in something true and honest to them, that helps set them apart from their competition. I don’t believe in putting my own personal style onto a brand, unless it’s a match for the brand’s personality and makes sense for the brand’s goals and target audiences.