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How Astrid Stavro makes her design team more collaborative

The former Pentagram partner shares her tips for leading a design team, encouraging collaboration, and the design skill that's underrated.

Illustration by Anita Goldstein. Image courtesy Pentagram.

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11.16.2021

2 min read

In a new series, we’re asking lead designers across the industry to share their work life advice, design do’s and don’ts, and secrets to effective collaboration. Consider it our design take on the Proustian questionnaire, with the aim to give you insight on how top designers work and think about design in a time unlike any other. (And they might just spill a few work-life secrets along the way.)


For the past three years, Astrid Stavro has been a partner at global design agency Pentagram. While there, Stavro developed a wide-ranging portfolio of work, from brand identities in the corporate and cultural sectors to award-winning magazine design. Now, she's embarking on a new path. Stavro is launching her own studio.


But first, she chatted with us. Here, she shares the her advice for leading a design team, how managing egos is critical to collaborating well, and that one time she threw her portfolio in the river Thames.


The key to effective collaboration is?

Trust.


The most surprising difference between in-office collaboration and remote?

Silence.


When is collaboration most important?

Always.


Your advice for leading a design team?

Kindness.


Your advice for making a design team more collaborative?

Nurturing relationships and managing egos.


The one quality you always look for in a designer?

Curiosity, passion and definitely a sense of humour!


What’s your proudest moment?

Winning a national literature competition when I was 15 years old.


What was your biggest learning moment?

Throwing my A2 sized portfolio into the Thames river the day after graduating from Central Saint Martins.


Your biggest realization from the past year and half of working amid a pandemic?

I love gardening and hate cooking.

What’s your work mantra?

Get on with it.


Best advice you’ve received? (From whom?)

“It’s just graphic design!”, Jess Willis, my former tutor at the Royal College of Art.


Who is your dream client?

A client that respects, trusts and challenges in equal measure.


Design you wish you thought of yourself?

The Goldberg Variations.


Design faux pas you’re secretly a fan of?

The Medium is the Massage.


Design skill that’s overrated?

Logos and posters that move.


Design skill that’s underrated?

Thinking.


Difference between a good designer and a great one?

Courage.


Your favorite question to ask during job interviews?

Listening.


Your favorite typeface?

If it works, it works.


How do you avoid team burnout?

Binge-playing video games with my son.


The song you listen to when you’re the most productive?

The Pixies (when I hoover).


Project from the past year that most excites you?

A trip to Norway in between lock-downs.


What keeps you up at night?

Red light, green light.


What gets you up in the morning?

My soprano singing neighbour.


What’s a piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

It’s OK.


Design is?

Something that works so well you don’t even notice.


Design isn't?

Art.


What’s a question you wish we asked? (And what’s the answer?)

What are you going to do this evening? Play Far Cry3 with my son.


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