In conversation with Charlotte Strick and Claire Williams Martinez
IN CONVERSATION WITH
CHARLOTTE STRICK AND CLAIRE WILLIAMS MARTINEZ
Charlotte Strick and Claire Williams Martinez are the founders of the award-winning, women-led design studio, Strick&Williams. The creative duo joined forces in 2014 to open the Brooklyn-based design firm which is focused on the arts, education, publishing, non-profits, and everything in-between.
Charlotte, a graduate of Parsons School of Design, was previously an Art Director at Faber & Faber and Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her work has been featured in many leading publications and books about cover design. Charlotte's writings on art and design have been published by The Paris Review, The Atlantic, and Literary Hub.
Claire, who holds degrees from both Vassar College and Parsons School of Design, brings a diverse background to the firm. Previously, she designed for Studio Blue and VSA Partners in Chicago, where her clients included The Newberry Library, The University of Chicago, and Harley-Davidson.
Together, these incredible women bring to the studio sixteen years of experience working for publishers and design agencies. I first learned about Strick&Williams while reading about a new multi-platform publisher called Spiegel and Grau in a copy of Monocle magazine. When I found out who was behind the design of the publishing house, I immediately reached out to Claire and Charlotte.
I'm drawn to design, and particularly celebrating women in design, as you can see from the creatives I've interviewed for AD since I launched this series — Olga Grlic, Nicole Caputo, Samantha Hahn, and Janet Hansen, to name a few.
I was delighted to connect with the Charlotte and Claire, and talk about what led them into the industry, what roles each of them play, and some of their most memorable projects.
|Photo by Edwin Tse|
What led you both into the design industry and how did Strick&Williams come to be?
Charlotte and I met at Parsons School of Design, where we both landed a short time after graduating from different colleges — Charlotte from Wheaton (MA) and me from Vassar. Charlotte pursued work in the fashion industry before deciding that graphic design would be a better fit. I spent time interning on independent film sets, and at a couple of design studios, before going to Parsons to study design formally. We met in the registration line and chatted for a while, but Charlotte was held up when the school misplaced some of her paperwork. I offered to buy her a bagel, and that spontaneous choice led me to one of the most formative relationships in my life. The enthusiastic design exploration that we began together as students bloomed into a freelance business, which paved the way for the studio that we run today.
Tell me about the roles each of you play and what a typical day at the studio looks like for you both.
We are both designers and creative directors, so we lead different projects but collaborate on everything. No design leaves the studio that we have not both considered. We split up responsibilities when it comes to the nuts and bolts of running the business. Charlotte manages finance and accounting while I manage the calendar and utilization. We meet every Monday morning to review our job list and the calendar for the week, and to identify priorities. We work independently and gather for critique, and we also manage a team of subcontractors who support us on our projects: designers, developers, illustrators and so on. Life before the pandemic was filled with in-person client meetings, which we really enjoyed. It's so much easier to build relationships that way, but now we have clients that we've never actually met!
For example, the fabulous new multi-platform publisher, Spiegel and Grau, launched their business in 2020. Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau hired us to design their brand and the cover for their very successful first book, Fox and I, and we have been working happily together ever since — without ever actually meeting!
Charlotte and I are hopeful that as the pandemic winds down, we'll be able to see more of our collaborators.
|Spiegel and Grau (Branding by Strick&Williams)|
I always say if I didn’t live in Vancouver, I’d live in New York City. Craig Taylor's New Yorkers was a recent reminder of why I love it there. I’m so moved by the art, culture, and design that thrives in the city. Where and who do you look to for inspiration?
It is cliché to say that in New York the streets are full of inspiration, but honestly our environment does provide a lot of color. The fashion, typography, and design trends on display in all parts of the city are a touchpoint. Beyond the a-list of major art institutions, we do have our favorite galleries (Sikkemma Jenkins, Hauser&Wirth), and smaller museums (Poster House, The JP Morgan Library).
While the art fair scene has been dicey during Covid, we always look forward to The Affordable Art Fair and hope to be able to go again this year!
|Cowboy Poet Outlaw Madman: Selected Poems by Val Kilmer (Design by Strick&Williams)|
Charlotte and Claire on the design of Cowboy Poet Outlaw Madman by Val Kilmer.
|Cowboy Poet Outlaw Madman: Selected Poems by Val Kilmer (Design by Strick&Williams)|
You’ve worked on design projects for the world’s leading publishing imprints and magazines. What project is most memorable to each of you and why?
There have been many wonderful partnerships, and it's impossible to say which is most memorable. But we can highlight a couple of projects that have meant a lot to us:
We were with The Paris Review from 2009–2021, so that experience was very special. When Lorin Stein was hired as Editor in 2009 he wanted to redesign the publication to visually reference its mid-century origins, and we helped him do that. We poured through early issues, studying lead type versions of the masthead, comparing fonts, thinking through page layouts, and considering materials. The result was a new millennium take on the 1950s approach to the Review, providing an elegant reading experience, lots of room for art, and of course very vibrant covers!
|The Paris Review (Design by Strick&Williams)|
In 2016, we redesigned the website to extend the character of the publication design to the digital platform—which until that point was quite different. We also added a History section to the website where Review enthusiasts could see photography and ephemera from the early days of the magazine. Over the years our scope of work grew until we were overseeing the design of the print publication, website, gala materials, and marketing campaigns. Charlotte also held the role of Art Editor until 2021—a role she found deeply inspiring—bringing to readers fresh and exciting work from new visual artists. The depth of our relationship with the Review was unusual and satisfying, because we knew the publication and the team that ran it so well. We made a lot of close friends there.
|The Paris Review website (Design by Strick&Williams)|
Another project that has been very important to the studio is our collaboration with Columbia Global Reports. This book imprint publishes 6–8 works of top-notch, long-form journalism every year, targeted at a general audience of curious readers. CGR has an uncanny ability to produce writing on issues that are just about to become hot: populism in global politics (2016), the role of monopolies in technology (2018), and the fate of Hong Kong (2020), to name a few.
When the publisher, Camille McDuffie, and the Director, Nicholas Lemann, came to us in 2015 looking for a design partner, we knew it was a perfect match. We conducted a series of workshops to uncover the values, goals, and visual preferences of the team, and then we got to work designing a logo. The CGR logo capitalizes on the fact that the letter o appears three times in the name of the organization. This happy coincidence provided an opportunity to reference the Earth's rotation, an apt metaphor for a book series that covers global issues. Since then, we have designed every book cover for CGR and have learned an incalculable amount in the process. We continue to oversee design for the imprint, from their first website to marketing campaigns celebrating their fifth anniversary. We consider the team that produces these books extended family.
|Columbia Global Reports (Design by Strick&Williams)|
The firm is based in Brooklyn. What’s your favorite spot in the area to buy a book and grab a coffee?
Brooklyn has some amazing independent neighborhood bookstores. You can count on the salespeople being informed and very often chatty, so it is easy to spend a pleasant afternoon talking and thinking about books. Some favorite spots include Terrace Books and Community Books (owned by the same family), Books Are Magic, Greenlight Bookstore, and McNally Jackson (which has locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan).
This borough lives on coffee, and because there are so many local places to drink it readers need never cross the dreaded Starbucks threshold. In my neighborhood, I recommend Café Grumpy, where the coffee is stellar and the logo never fails to make me smile.