Let's Talk Letters with Kate Key

Let's Talk Letters with Kate Key


Kate Key is a superstar when it comes to branding and illustration. As a freelance designer in Auckland, New Zealand, Kate works on wonderful projects creating logos, identities, illustrations, packaging design, collateral, websites and more! She also creates the most beautiful moodboards for her clients which I am obsessed with!

Tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do

I’m an Auckland-based freelance graphic designer + illustrator.

How would you describe your design style?

I think, while I’m naturally drawn to the clean/minimal side of design, I always like playing around with colour and adding a bit of “light heartedness” into all of my work. Professionally, clients do tend to come to me for a minimal style but when I create my own work, it’s normally a little more hand-drawn and colourful.

Some of Kate’s more hand-drawn and colourful work for The Silly Sausage Stories

How did you get into graphic design and branding?

I’ve always been drawn to design, and I think I took every art subject possible in High School because I was so sure that a creative career was for me! Luckily it seemed to have worked out. I got a Diploma in Graphic Design at Natcoll (now Yoobee) and from there started taking on little bits of freelance graphic design + branding here and there.

What’s the story behind your freelance business?

In 2015 I felt super stuck in my job. It wasn’t particularly creative, in fact I was mostly doing office admin work. I had been doing a bit of design on the side but the amount of work I was getting was becoming a bit overwhelming and I was finding it hard to balance both my full time job and my passion. It got to the point where I had too much freelance work coming in and I had to decide between my stable full time job and throwing caution to the wind to start my own business (something I’ve always wanted to do.) I ended up deciding to quit my job and just went for it and seriously, it’s the best thing I’ve done! I always figured, if I could be as busy as I was only a couple of hours extra a day, imagine what I could do with forty! Luckily I have a super supportive husband which has made the transition (and paying the bills) a lot easier.


An example of some of Kate’s branding work for Ninety Days

What does the branding process look like for you?

I always like to get as much info from my clients as possible. Even if it’s things they definitely don’t like, it just helps me to really understand what they’re about and how they want their brand represented. Sending through a brand questionnaire is my first step, followed by creating a moodboard that’s full of images/colours/type/design examples that I think really capture the essence of their brand. I find this super helpful because it gives them a wee snapshot of how I envision their brand turning out and I think it also reassures them that we’re on the same page.

From there, I’ll present 3 or 4 concepts for my clients to mull over, before we move forward with developing the concepts to reach that final logo design.

Why do you think it is important to consider typography in branding?

Oh, typography definitely makes or breaks a design. Especially when it comes to branding! It’s so important that type is used effectively as most of the time, it’s what will be getting the brand’s point across — whether through the logo name or content/marketing material. And often, companies just want to use a simple typeface as their logo so you have to make sure that it’s really nailing what the brand is all about.

Some more of Kate’s lettering work

How do you create the lettering that you include in your logos and branding design?

It really depends on the brand that I’m working on. If they are wanting something more organic/handwritten then I’ll always try and create concepts that use my own lettering as I feel a little bit uncomfortable using existing fonts — especially when it’s pretty obvious if it’s been used before! If they’re after something simple and minimal, then I’ll start off with a standard typeface and either play around with tracking or edit the letters so it doesn’t look just like a font.

When I’m creating my handwritten fonts or lettering, I always count on my Wacom Intuos and work in Adobe Illustrator to create the letters from scratch. I love the freedom of a tablet, and while I wish I could say that I sketch it all out first, I find it so much easier jumping straight in Illustrator and just relying on the old Ctrl + Z!

What is your favourite piece of lettering or typography that you’ve included in a branding project?

This year I created a logo for a travel blog called Little One, and I absolutely love how the lettering turned out. Usually I go for more of a handwritten feel but this time, there was a lot more structure and play between each letter which was a challenge but one that I really enjoyed. 


What advice would you give to other designers working with typography and/or lettering?

Really, I think it’s just about experimenting as much as possible. Play around with letters. Play around with creating your own type. Look at existing fonts and tweak them so they look completely different. I think the more you experiment and play, the more confident you get and the more you find how much you can actually do with typography and how much it can really change a design!

Most importantly, what’s your favourite typeface?

Ahhh that’s a tough one! I’m such a huge fan of anything sans-serif and rounded — Futura is probably one that I love using or am inspired by (to find similar fonts.)

Follow Kate on Instagram, and check out her website too!


Let’s Talk Letters? Tell me more…

Let’s Talk Letters is an interview series written by Hollie Arnett of Black & White Studios in which we discuss typography in relation to all aspects of creativity. If you’re interested in being featured or want to submit someone, get in touch via twitter!

About the author

Hello! I’m Hollie — a creative director and designer obsessed with letterforms! I spend my time working on hand lettering, typography, type design and branding, using the power of words made visual to tell empowering stories. Let’s be friends — say hi on Twitter! 🤘

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