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Penny Hardy on running a design studio

July 31, 2018
BY Maia Welbel

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Penny Hardy is the founder of PS New York, a design studio with a portfolio as diverse as the clients they partner with. Specializing in brand identity, interactive, and print, PS New York has been creating unique, eye catching design since 2004.

After working at a number advertising agencies and design boutiques in New York City including Euro RSCG and Agency.com, Hardy decided to start her own creative agency. “I believe in the power of design to help people and communities,” she says. Whether she is partnering with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative or the Smithsonian Institution, her work reflects a greater mission to broaden cultural dialogue through design.

Images courtesy Penny Hardy

We had the chance to talk to Penny about running a design firm in New York and how she stays involved in creative work.

Sixtysix: What are the first few things you do when you get to work each morning?

Hardy: Making a cup of coffee is definitely the very first thing I do when I get to work. And then I slowly dive into what the day is going to be like. I go through new emails, and before I get sucked away into responding, I sit down and make a list for the day. I like an old school paper list. I started doing it in grad school, and it helps keep me in line so I don’t forget things that need to go out. Then I sit down with the designers and talk briefly about the day—any immediate deadlines, what meetings we have, and what we need to get ready for presentations.

How much of your time is spent in the creative work of designing versus more administrative responsibilities?

We have a small team, and one of the main reasons why I’ve intentionally kept it small is that I get so much pleasure out of the creative process. At least half of my time is spent on things like writing and responding to proposals, but since our staff consists of just myself and two designers, we are all responsible for both administrative and creative work.

I run top level project management, but my goal is to keep it fifty-fifty. Being involved in the creative piece is important to me and that can range from creative directing designers to actually getting in there and working on files.

I worked at a very small boutique design studio when I first got out of graduate school, and then from there I went to a large advertising agency running big teams. The higher up I got, the more meetings I sat in, and the farther away I got from the work. I realized I wasn’t happy at a certain point, I wanted to get back to being creative, so that’s why I started my own company.

Images courtesy Penny Hardy

Walking around the city, we are bombarded with examples of design, from subway posters, to book covers, to retail displays, to architecture. Is your brain constantly in “design mode?”

Thank goodness, I don’t have that where I see a design and think, “How could they do that?” But I am attracted to well designed things. I’ll pick things up when I go to a museum and think, “That’s beautiful” or “That’s so smart.” I respond to the good, but I don’t really respond to the bad.

In New York it’s just like watching a movie—the bad can be good too. It’s like you’re on a ride and you just kind of absorb it all. I’m probably the most hypercritical of my own work. I don’t judge other people’s work unless I’m inspired by it.

In New York it’s just like watching a movie—the bad can be good too. It’s like you’re on a ride and you just kind of absorb it all.

What is the most challenging part of running a design firm?

I don’t have a partner, so sometimes it can be challenging without anybody else at the top level. There’s no one to ask, “Do we want to take this risk, or do we not want to take this risk?” There’s no one to share the burden of trying to promote our work. Everything is a little less intense if you have more than one partner involved.

What are some New York design resources you can recommend?

There is so much amazing visual material that’s free to the public in New York. Pretty much everything from the New York Public Library Digital Collections is free for use, whether it’s literally using one of the images in something you’re working on, or for sketching purposes.

The Prelinger Archives has all these bizarre old government videos. You can find videos that were made in the 50’s for schools about how to protect yourself from bombs. There’s so much out there, you just have to do some research.

Who are a few of your favorite acting designers right now?

My husband is an architect and he has an industrial design studio with his brother called Moorehead and Moorehead. Of course i’m slightly biased, but they have a real range of what they do and I think their creativity is incredible.

Also my friend Alice Chung at Omnivore. I love her print based work.


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