Behind the Design at Dept.

By Katie Steel, Co-owner and Creative Director at Department Store for the Mind

These books and working with Dept seem to have been what I was meant to do for the last ten years.

This is the story of the people behind the design of the books - a story of trust, creativity, friendship and the internet.

I’m Katie, I founded design consultancy Supafrank and now co-own and creatively direct Department Store for the Mind. I love it when two disciplines collide - for Department Store it’s psychology and design in equal measure - rebranding how we feel about our emotions has been a wonderful journey and one we hope to stay on.

The internet and social media has been getting bashed for its effect on our mental health and creativity recently, but here are some amazing things that have come out of it for me.

Sophie - Founder of Dept.

About four years ago, I was an obsessive user of Pinterest (I still am really). It’s a space where I feel free to explore ideas lightly without too much speculation. I was followed by an anonymous user who often liked and pinned my boards. That user turned out to be Sophie Howarth (co-founder of the School of Life). If I had have known it was her, I might have pinned differently - trying to be cooler and not seen so much magic in the bonkers and imperfect. After months of a Pinterest connection Sophie invited me to Shoreditch House to discuss an idea she had - this was where Department Store for the Mind began.

Jo - Designer of both the books

About ten years ago, I had moved to London to set up Supafrank with a friend. It was difficult to make money and fund our studio and homes so I found a large flat and rented out a room. Through a random advert on Gumtree, I met Jo. We ended up living together for a few years and became really good friends. Jo is an exceptional designer and art director - the way she can work with typography is incredible- a true master of her craft. We have worked together now for almost a decade - somehow, we just get each other - I think our friendship created a safe place for us to work to our best.

James - Photographer on Washing up is Good for you

In the London days, we worked with James Champion doing creative shoots – from a shed with confetti canons in the middle of a rave, to brownies on my kitchen table to a playden at Wilderness Festival. I have always enjoyed our shoots and feel total creative freedom to explore and experiment. James and I used the same kitchen table to do the shots for Washing Up is Good for You.

Ruth – Co-owner of Dept, psychologist and writer

Ruth and I go way back – before anybody even used Facebook or Skype. We met up north and shared a love of curry, dancing and people. The thing about Ruth, and the talent that I will forever admire, is her ability to find the fascinating sparkle in people – she would dig out the most interesting story whilst I would be wondering how I might escape. Even then, going back almost twenty years, Ruth taught me how important it was to act positively, to go for what you believe in consciously – something I still live by today. Years later, when Ruth was at a cross roads, I introduced her to Sophie, and now we own and run Dept together.

Veronica - Illustrator on Washing up is Good for You
You know some people really make you laugh, Veronica is one of those people for me. We met through a Meetup group that I started in our local area for creative people working from home. I had just moved from London into the rural hills (a story you can hear more about at the beginning of Walking in the Rain) and needed to meet human beings nearby. Veronica’s illustration has such a raw honesty and humor that I really connect to. We are often tickled by the drudge of everyday life so she was the perfect illustrator for Washing up is good for you. We have totally different ways of working - I’m a fast fire thinker whilst Veronica chews through ideas and creates draft upon draft until she has perfectly captured the character, story or idea.

Libi Pedder - Photographer on Walking in the Rain

We met out in the hills too – we both feel really at home wandering and have spent hours plotting our next steps whist getting thoroughly lost in the fields and woodland around where we live. We met at a tricky time - we both live for our work and were at difficult junctions. This closeness, and willingness to explore the harder stuff together, I think, brings a delicate beauty out when we work together. Libi is a phenomenal talent – the depth of emotion she can capture astonishes me. It was such a privilege to go and shoot the walks that we have so often done together and to now see them proudly in our books.

All of the relationships are strongly based on care – both for the quality of the work and most importantly for each other, something I am unbelievably proud of. I really hope you can feel this shining through the books as you read them.

Extra Credits:

Sarah Vickery for the best hand modelling you have ever seen.

Katrin for all the friendship, amazing website building and German practice.

Nell (the dog) for all the long conversations whilst walking.

Lou for putting my walks into words.

Tom for quite literally always being there for me.