The Freelancers: Whitney Badge details the inspirations and insights behind her creative practice
In our interview series, The Freelancers, we dive into the challenging world of self-employment; discussing the highs, lows, and day-to-day requirements of freelancing at different design studios and brands as a career choice. For the sixth entry in the series, we spoke to Whitney Badge. Working with Natasha Jen at Pentagram at the time of writing, the New York-based designer tells us all about her route to freelance life alongside the experiences that have shaped her perspective and practice so far.
PT Hi Whitney! How’s everything going?
WB Hello! I’m happy to be included in this series. I’ve been a bit busy lately, but I’m slowly finding a better cadence in my work. I would have never imagined being able to sustain work independently, but I feel very thankful that I have.
PT Who are you currently freelancing with?
WB I’m currently freelancing with Natasha Jen at Pentagram, but I’ve had an interesting journey getting here. I originally joined Pentagram last year to work with Emily Oberman and recently switched teams to support another project. Any freelancer will know that to freelance is to be flexible, and I’m excited to have made this transition while staying in the environment I’ve grown to love so much.
In my downtime, I like to work on things that don’t require a computer.
PT What does a typical day look like for you?
WB I don’t have much of a routine because I tend to shift my schedule based on who I’m working with at the time. At Pentagram, I’m basically a permalancer, meaning that I’m in the office most days working a full-time schedule. My time outside of Pentagram always looks different depending on what other projects I have going at the time. Depending on deadlines and time zones, I might take meetings early in the morning or late at night to keep things moving along.
In my downtime, I like to work on things that don’t require a computer (we can all only stare at a screen for so long). This could be something simple like cooking or exercising, or something a bit more involved like refurbishing Craigslist finds, catching up on reading for my book club, or watching a movie.
PT How did you first get into working freelance?
WB It wasn’t necessarily by design (pun intended), but I think it worked out exactly how it needed to. I felt a lot of pressure to have a full-time job right after graduation, so getting accepted to the World’s Greatest Internship was a big change in course – I left my job at the time, packed up my things and used that six-month period to reset my goals and intentions. I met so many amazing people doing such different types of work. That kind of exposure gave me an appetite for change.
When I got back to New York, I started freelancing at MoMA shortly after. Up until that point, I had never considered in-house or institutional work but I found it to be really transformative. Although I went on to work for other studios, big and small, I hold onto that experience closely. I always want to work with people who are kind, who want the best for others, and who share what they know.
PT Looking back, can you tell us about the World’s Greatest Internship? What was the experience like as a whole?
WB It really was such a surprise when I found out that I had been selected. I didn’t know what to expect, but I tried to look at each segment as a learning opportunity. Every city came with a new energy that affected the dynamic of each studio. I became more aware of my surroundings, seeing how a place impacts people, their outlook on the world and, ultimately, their approach to design. I’m really thankful for everyone who welcomed us into the fold and invited us to take part in their process. That exposure was invaluable.
PT What advice would you give to design graduates who perhaps can’t afford to travel for industry experience?
WB I did not pay for any travel or accommodations during World’s Greatest Internship, nor could I have. That was covered in part by sponsors and collaborators. You certainly don’t need to travel to gain experience! That’s one thing the pandemic hopefully taught us. I think it’s possible to build a design community wherever you are. Find people who you can learn from, ask them questions, share your resources. Most people are really happy to lend their time if you are open and earnest.
PT What does your work setup look like?
WB My apartment in Brooklyn has an extra room that I converted into an office. I always wanted a sprawling workspace, so I bought a butcher block counter and attached legs to it! I like to have books and reference materials on hand to scan in when I need, and I also keep a cabinet that’s stuffed with art supplies and paper samples for testing out ideas.
PT What led you to base your practice in New York?
WB I had transferred from a small liberal arts college in Michigan to finish out a degree in Communication Design at Parsons, and I’ve stayed ever since. I’ve considered other cities in the past, but I feel like New York is the place for me at the moment. My community is here, and there’s something to be said for making a place a home.
Being freelance has given me two things: independence and confidence.
PT Why does freelance suit your working style?
WB It truly depends on who you’re working for and what the ask is, and freelancing gives you more autonomy over both of those factors. I love working with others, but it’s important to me to have the flexibility to be remote when needed. In terms of design process, it changes from studio to studio. If you’re working independently, you get to establish how you want to work and interact with clients. Some studios are passionate about pushing their designers to take the lead. Other studios truly just need someone to do the work. Both routes have their pros and cons. You just need to decide which dynamic suits you best, and then determine which opportunities to pursue based on that.
PT What parts of freelance working do you enjoy the most? Why?
WB Being freelance has given me two things: independence and confidence. I can work remotely as needed and advocate for myself in order to do the best job possible. As a freelancer, you’re your own doer, director and timekeeper. I love the responsibility. It allows me to take ownership of what I do.
PT Who or what inspires you the most, creatively?
WB Found objects and films! I love scouring the internet for rare books and objects to use in my research. I’ve also found my movie-watching quota to be at an all-time high. I take note of form, colour and composition in different films, not only for their visual quality but also for their tonal impact. The most recent film that rocked my world was Seconds. The title sequence was designed by the inimitable Saul Bass and reveals the face of the main character through what appears to be drops of water.
PT What themes and topics within design are you most fascinated by?
WB The general themes I’m most interested in are within culture and entertainment. I feel especially inspired when the work has a sense of immediacy to it. Projects that feel conversational, interactive, and informed by something bigger than itself is really my sweet spot. That could very well manifest in the form of a brand identity, but it could also be a poster series for an architecture summit, title cards for a short film, a pop-up event somewhere in the city, or an exhibition in a museum.
PT Do you have plans to seek out a permanent role in the future?
WB Definitely! The quandary of being a permalancer is that you feel like a full-time employee without the benefits. When it all shakes out, there’s not much of a noticeable difference because while full-time creates an illusion of stability, freelance has proven to be more consistent than I ever thought it would be. It really just depends on how you want to invest your time and how you want others to invest in you. I really appreciate having mentorship, and I’ve come to realise a full-time role might help facilitate that.
Thank you again for inviting me to contribute to this series!