Creative Director at Studio Elana Schlenker


ElanaSchlenker (Creative Director at Studio Elana Schlenker)

Elana is the principal of Studio Elana Schlenker, a medium agnostic design practice established in 2011. She is the founder of Gratuitous Type, a magazine of contemporary graphic design, and Less Than 100.

She/her • Pittsburgh, United States • May 28, 2024

What led you into design?

I was interested in design before I knew what it was called! As a child, I wanted to write and illustrate books like the ones I was reading. As I grew older, I would make zines with friends, ASCII-laden e-newsletters, and websites. Eventually, I came to understand that I was really drawn to designing these things, and I never looked back.

What does a typical day look like?

No day's typical when you work for yourself, but an ideal day is when I get to work from my home studio with minimal interruption. It starts with a cappuccino, an hour or two puttering around with my dog in the garden (on my perfect day it's spring or summer, obviously), some more coffee, and then off to work. I work on many projects at once so I'm usually bouncing around between a few of the most pressing things—but it feels amazing when I get a solid day (or even just an afternoon) to focus without interruption.

That's my favourite thing.

What's your workstation setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

I'm inspired by collaboration with others and by travel — I feel that most of my best ideas have come when I've been out of the studio thinking about other things. That said, sometimes when a client briefs me I have an idea or an image in my head right away, other times it's a slog to get something where I want it to be and the process is not so much about getting to that aha moment as just putting the time in to chip away at it, like a sculpture.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

This morning I was looking at Laura Hilbert and Sarah Stendel's poster work for HfG Offenbach, which was made by screenprinting their design onto clay, and then cutting the clay apart. I get really excited about these sorts of unique processes, and when people really get their hands dirty to make something. This is something I'd like to do more of in my own practice.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

A recent project I'm really excited about is Florida!, a travel guide I designed and art directed along with Jordi Ng for A24. We became involved in the book at a very early stage and were able to really help shape the structure and specific editorial components of the book, in addition to our more straightforward design work. I love when I can be involved in a project in this way. We also worked really closely with Gabe Alcala to pack the book with illustrations from cover to cover. It's a behemoth at nearly 600 pages, so it really was a tremendous labour to put together—but also so much fun.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

I love design and trying new things, and I'm an optimist so most new opportunities sound exciting to me. As a result, a big challenge for me has been to learn to trust my intuition and to recognize red flags when I see them in a potential project —not every project is suited to me. This may not sound like a straightforward "design" problem, but when I'm not excited about something it can be hard to do my best work. Knowing which projects are right for me is a really important foundation for creating a strong, successful design.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Pursue what excites you. If you're having trouble finding someone to pay you to do the work you're interested in, find a way to make it yourself. Putting that work out into the world will lead to more of the same. That's not to say we all don't have to do work to pay the bills sometimes (or a lot of time!) but find ways to make your own opportunities if no one gives them to you.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

The first edition of Florida! is sold out, but is currently being reprinted and will be available again soon from A24. You can sign up to be notified when it drops: