Erin Horner — Contra
Erin is a designer focused on reimagining the future of work, and building a career around the life you want.
I had no what I was signing up for when I applied to design school. As the story often goes, I was a crafty kid and loved to draw and tinker with things in the garage. I used to burn CDs for my friends (shout out to Lime Wire) and design personal covers for them using permanent markers—things that felt insignificant at the time but reflecting back definitely aligns with what I do today.
Growing up in a regional area of Australia, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of art or design and certainly didn’t know things like what the Bauhaus was or who Ray and Charles Eames were. When I was about 16 I went to a career expo and randomly added my mailing address to a design school called Billy Blue. They sent me packages in the mail for years, filled with catalogues and cards and all kinds of colourful things. I had never used a Mac and had no idea what Photoshop was, but I applied with the most hilarious make-shift portfolio and got in. I’m not kidding when I say I created it through a mix of Microsoft Paint, WordArt, collaging, and scanning at my Dad’s surveying office. Ultimately, I think it was that knack for resourcefulness and a desire to create that led me to design.
Since the pandemic began, there has been no typical day. Some days I work from home, others I go to Dumbo or Ludlow House to work with my co-founder Lauren. Our studio is so new and small, that we have a lot of control and flexibility over how we structure our time—a blessing and a curse!
We try to keep meetings as lean as possible, but we have regular check-ins with clients, freelancers, and new business calls. Lauren and I both wear a lot of hats and split our time between admin, project management, new biz, and then our respective disciplines—Lauren leads the strategy side and I lead the design side. We think of the sides as of the same coin, and we are very involved in both.
I try to get outside and go for a walk whenever I can, so that’s always a consistent part of my day. It could be just to my local bodega, but the ritual helps me start and end my workday in a way that has been difficult not having a regular commute.
It’s an unpopular opinion, but I do love the internet. It’s allowed me to connect and meet so many talented people in the industry, and I get so energized by conversations with friends. The company I keep has always been a huge source of inspiration and often leads to ideas sparking and converging.
I love to walk places whenever I can because I see so much more of the world’s details on foot. Whether it’s noticing street art in my borough, discovering a public swing set, or taking photos of interesting cracks in the side walk (yes, I’m that person), there are few creative blocks that fresh air and movement can’t solve.
Of course, I also get inspiration from museums and galleries, furniture and book stores, and different creative disciplines like art and architecture.
Living spaces are usually quite small in New York, so every item in your apartment has to count—especially in the kitchen. It’s not recent, but I constantly rave about my Always Pan and Perfect Pot from Our Place. They have little rest spots for the spoons/spatulas, nesting steamer baskets, and are a joy to cook with. Beautiful and incredibly functional, which is how I quantify great design.
I am very proud of all the work we have done since starting Super Keen. We’ve been able to work with exceptional founders and be a part of bringing their ideas to life, but I’m also proud of Lauren and me for just fucking going for it. It’s been hard and scary some days, but I feel really lucky to have someone to figure it out with. Between the two of us, we have a huge skill set and have worked on 20+ brands in the past year—although I don’t really recommend that 😅
A lot of the work hasn’t publicly launched yet (sorry!!) but we’re excited to eventually share branding for a credit card launching in the Philippines, a skincare range for melanated skin, and an online platform for kids learning.
Prior to starting Super Keen, I’m probably most proud of the work I did for MUTHA and Zenly—both completed with the team at Character NY. For MUTHA, we set out to dismantle the sea of soft, same-same stereotypes of motherhood and create a fierce brand deserving of women’s attention.
For Zenly, we built on their existing brand, celebrating the colour and zaniness they already possessed through a visual system that could scale and culturally localize. Ideating different popsicles and what they could symbolize was so much fun, and the Zenly team has done such a fantastic job applying and pushing those ideas even further over the past year.
We face what I think all small studios face, which is mostly to do with capacity. I am so grateful we’ve been so busy, but we are definitely getting more selective and turning exciting projects down because we don’t have enough hours in the day. We want to be really intentional about when and how we grow, so balancing everything can be hard, and sometimes it means doing tasks that are probably not the best use of our time.
It’s always going to be hard not to compare yourself and your work to others, but put in the time and focus on being better than the last version of yourself. Iterate as you learn new things, and don’t let the haters get you down. Better to be excited and naive than experienced and jaded.