BackGround – Emma Kate

432_logoEmma Kate is a graphic designer, photographer, writer, public speaker, advocate for mental health, fan of polka-dots, traveller…

Having started her professional design career in Adelaide, Emma moved to France in 2011 to live, learn, and work. The experiences she picked up on this adventure helped spawn her 2012 exhibition, Rêverie; a documentation of Emma’s travels throughout France and Europe. Emma is now based in London, UK, and we eagerly await her next creations.

Emma has packed a lot of work experience into just a few years, and has been kind enough to pass some of this wisdom on, as you will find out if you read further.



Can you recall any situations or environments or objects or animals or people which/who have inspired you to create?

I think that most situations, environments and people inspire me to create. But mostly, it’s experiences that inspires me. It’s more than being inspired – I tend to feel an instinctual need to respond to most of my life experiences in some creative way. To document, level, process and make something more from them.

Do you have a set methodology for coming up with new ideas, or does your pure amazingness allow you to just happen upon them during the course of your day?

For self-directed work, most ideas just knock haphazardly at my front door and demand immediate attention, usually in the middle of the night, or when I am inconveniently immersed in a hundred other ventures.

For freelance and professional work, my methodology is about getting to the essence of a project – ideas are always hiding there for me to work from.  Practically speaking, coming up with new ideas can be a rudimentary process. I always start with a white blank page and do a big brainstorm of words, emotions, colours, visuals, patterns and motifs that apply to the project. And then I play.

What do you do (or where do you go) to open your mind? 

In London, I hop on a train, and find a good coffee joint (no simple task). When I’m at home in Australia, I drive. It’s something about being in motion that unravels my mind.

Do you carry a notebook, or voice recorder, or camera (actually, a phone can do all those things…) wherever you go?

My iPhone never leaves my side. I love my real camera, but over the past year I’ve been more Instagram inclined – I like the immediacy of capturing small details that elevate ordinary moments.


You mention on your site that your first design job was your ‘dream job’ – what was so dreamy about it?

Intrinsic is an authentic and soulful company to work for. Dreamy, because the studio is nestled in the heart of town, on a tree-covered, light-dappled street; the office space is nurturing and inspiring. Also dreamy because I idolised the brand, and I was able to do the things I most love there: storytelling (interviewing people about their life/business) and design (playing with patterns, colour and words). The shared lunches, cupcakage and having Cibo around the corner were all pretty dreamy perks, too. Intrinsic had a hugely positive impact on my life, professionally and personally.

(OK, I understand now, the dreaminess of this gig)

What would you suggest is necessary for a successful design/arts job hunt?

Preparedness to work hard. Very hard. A willingness to knock on doors, rather than hide behind your email address. Show people who you are and what you can offer, to their face. A love for intense networking and making connections – people know people. And being prepared to move to where the jobs and opportunities are.

Do you think it helps to be memorable to get employed in design (or any other field for that matter?)

Yes, design isn’t a cookie-cutter profession, it’s all about your style and being memorable in a way that the employer really connects with.

You do some freelance work: how do the hell you do find freelance work?

Lovely strangers email me, we have coffee, I design prettiness and play with colour, we become great friends, they say nice things about me to their friends, who email me…

Getting lovely strangers to email me didn’t just happen, of course. Throughout my time at uni, I did ridiculous amounts of work for free – I designed for charities and business start-ups and I had a solo exhibition, which was all great for meeting a bunch of people and getting good exposure. I built a website and I blogged. I made a Facebook page and I got myself a mentor and business coach. Having a web presence has been hugely important in establishing my brand and as a point of first contact.

How much sleep is enough sleep?

About 5 hours is probably enough…. to function. 7 hours is wonderful.

Sometimes I thrive on the delirium of sleep-debt and the adrenaline that ensues. It’s a different energy and reality to create from.

Do you embrace new technologies in your work?

Not really…I’m a bit old fashioned! My main design tools are my Mac Pro, Wacom (I really am getting old, if a Wacom tablet is old fashioned), paper, pens and ink, and that’s really as far as it goes.

Have you won any awards (apart from the ones listed on your site of course)?

I won the ‘terrific kid’ award for my year group at the end of Grade 3. Does that count? (Yes it does)

I’ve done a lot in my first years out of uni, and some of these have been recognised in different ways, but I don’t consider myself a ‘success story’ by any means. I want to do really, really great things in my career, and I’m really just at the beginning.

Have you been to any awards ceremonies then? Fun?

Yes, for the award in Grade 3! I stood up on a stage to collect my certificate and gold star. Probably my proudest moment. (awww)

Can you excel in your chosen field and still have balance in your life?

Absolutely. But I live and breathe design. Work spills into my life, my life spills into my work, the line between the two is fuzzy and I like it that way. My work is such an extension of myself, my freelance clients become friends and when I really think about it, my downtime is often just as filled with self-directed design and creative projects – writing, snapping photos, dreaming up exhibitions – as work time is. I’m always accountable to my inbox – my laptop comes everywhere with me – but I don’t see that as unbalanced.  I think for freelance designers it’s different than a typical employment field. We’re in this industry because we want complete immersion.

Saying that, of course some time-out from design is important to recalibrate and switch off! My nightly ritual of watching Downton Abbey and munching on Nutella toast with my awesome flat-mate is really important to me!


What are some of the most powerful/memorable lessons you learned at university?

You have to learn the rules before you break the rules. Also, climbing on UniSA’s (University of South Australia) rooftop for sunrise is ridiculously amazing.

Do you learn best by doing, seeing, reading, hearing, or a mixture of some, or all of them?

Doing. I learn when it’s tactile and gritty and in front of me.


What was your favourite 90s cartoon? 

Sailor Moon.

What are you listening to?

The XX, Mumford and Sons and Cinematic Orchestra.

What are you reading?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Artists who inspire you?

Sabrina Ward Harrison, Gustav Klimt and Rob Ryan.

Thanks for your time, Emma.

All the best,



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