Louise Fili shares her words of wisdom from 40 years as a designer

Louise Fili (centre) with some of her team in a custom L'Arte Del Gelato car following her logo makeover for the brand.

Louise Fili is no stranger to the design industry. She's been designing book covers since the 70s as art director of Pantheon, and founded her own studio in New York in 1989, combining her love of Italy, food and typography to create Louise Fili Ltd, which specialises in brand development for food packaging and restaurants.

With a career spanning almost 40 years showing no sign of slowing down, Louise has endless wisdom and experience to share, which is why she enjoys speaking at events such as this month's Adobe Max conference in Los Angeles, and why so many fellow designers flock to hear her. She also uses her experience to mentor others at her studio, including Jessica Hische who we also interviewed during Adobe's annual event.

Louise used her session at Adobe Max to talk us through some of her favourite projects and the lessons she's learned from them. She described the enjoyment she gets from turning copyright pages into recognisable shapes and symbols and explained her passion for photographing and documenting signs from around the world, much of which can be explored in detail in her brilliant monographic book Elegantissima.

We spent some time chatting with Louise after her talk, to find out how she's adapted as technology has improved, how she feels about designing using mobile apps, what she enjoys about mentoring and what advice she'd give to aspiring designers.

Digital Arts: How did you manage to maintain your intricate, elegant and delicate style throughout your career, despite the technological changes happening in the industry around you?

Louise Fili: My approach always stays the same (which is to say sketching on a tracing pad), but the changing technology can work in my favour, making it faster and/or easier to realise my designs.

Louise's logo makeover for L'Arte del Gelato. "I love logo makeovers. I get enormous satisfaction cleaning up someone else's mess."

DA: How do you feel about using mobile devices for designs? Have you ever done so?

LF: No! [A short answer, but we feel the exclamation mark says a lot!].

Louise redesigned the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for its 100th anniversary.

DA: What do you enjoy most about mentoring others?

LF: I have had the good fortune to have some very talented designers in my employ. It is very gratifying to have the opportunity to nurture a young person and then watch them grow and find their own unique style. I have also been teaching at the School of Visual Arts for over 30 years, where I continue to learn from my students.

DA: Jessica [Hische] told us the brilliant story behind the photo of you in her book. Have you got a story about working with Jessica that you'd like to share?

LF: When we moved to my current office space we were all excited to have a full kitchen at our disposal. It gave me the opportunity to cook for my staff, for which Jessica was always an eager advocate. It is hard to forget the 7-hour slow-cooked leg of lamb with mango chutney, or the time I baked oatmeal cookies for inspiration while we were designing an oatmeal-themed restaurant.

DA: What would be your one vital piece of advice for aspiring designers?

LF: Follow your heart. Find something that you are passionate about, and combine that with design.

DA: What's next?

LF: I've published two books on European signs, which I have been photographing for over three decades. Last year Grafica della Strada: The Signs of Italy was published, followed by Graphique de la Rue: The Signs of Paris last month. In both cases, I felt a sense of urgency to document these signs before they would disappear forever. The next stop is Barcelona, which has a rich history of signage that is quickly vanishing.

Hear more from Louise Fili in our round-up of 20 inspiring quotes from designers, illustrators, photographers and filmmakers at Adobe Max 2015, which also includes quotes from Baz Luhrmann, Jessica Hische and more.

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