Rocket Science: Cari Sekendur
Cari Sekendur is the founder of Butter Studio, where she serves as Principal and Creative Director. With an international background and non-traditional career path, her design practice is anything but expected.
What’s a design trend that you can’t stand?
When everything starts to feel the same. For instance, take a lot of D-to-C e-commerce brands. All their photos are super clean, shot on a neutral background that’s the same color as the product, and you can’t tell one company from another.
It’s not necessarily a trend, I suppose, but I feel like there are a lot of missed opportunities for differentiating when everything feels like everything else. It’s worth thinking about why that is happening.
If you look at who was making the design decisions, it’s often a lot of the same type of people. For example, I just learned a week or two ago that 0.1% of creative agencies are owned by women, which is insane. A shockingly low number. It speaks to a lack of diversity in the field, especially at the top levels with people who are making the final creative decisions. That plays a part in why they’re starting to look the same.
Who’s a creative person that you admire?
Céline Sciamma. She’s the queer French film director who directed Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which was an incredible film.
As a queer woman it is was amazing to see a romance presented from an all-female lens, which is very different than what we usually see in cinema and TV. She’s pretty amazing and her work is inspiring.
You can go back to school and teach any design class you want. What would the name of your class be?
Probably something like “The Business of Design,” because I feel like design students don’t really get an education in the business of design.
Half of the work we do is designing to serve a business or an organization. There’s a huge missing piece around client services, especially if you want to freelance or run your own design business.
You have a distinctive take on designing for sports brands. What is it about sports that you like the challenge of?
That’s another one that’s been super male-dominated historically. We’ve seen, even in the past couple of years, a big renaissance of women’s sports.
Female athletes are at the forefront of pushing cultural change forward, being politically engaged, acting with integrity, and using their platform for a real positive change.
I’m passionate about that aspect of sport, and its power to influence culture at large. Design is a tool to shape how people perceive things. It can bring a new lens to sport … how it looks, who the media focuses on, the stories involved … all of it. It’s an opportunity to be a part of a sector of our culture that shapes how people think.
What’s your favorite German word?
Oh my gosh, my German is so out of practice. The language is so specific, which is very reflected in the culture.
I think Zahnbürstenhalter = toothbrush holder. I like it because it was the first word I learned in German that exemplifies the specificity and granularity of the language. Also, the compound words!
Have you had a COVID deep dive?
Oh definitely. I’ve done a ton of work in the past year around shifting mindset and doing the hard work to undo negative stories that we tell ourselves.
Digging deep into what that is for me, and exploring different tools to work on mindset, has been amazing. Some of the tools are things like breathwork that can open you up emotionally. I’ve read a whole bunch of books and done all sorts of different practices like meditation and visualizations.
Also, I use a practice called EFT, where you reframe a blocker you have while you’re literally tapping on acupressure points on your body. It’s an intense mind-body connection.
I was working with a practitioner who only works with female entrepreneurs and small business owners. Her practice is very focused on dealing with all the sort of issues that can come up when you’re running a business. It’s been hugely impactful in helping me maintain a positive mindset.
What’s been your steepest learning curve since founding Butter?
My background was as a “technician.” I was a strong designer and art director. I had management experience and client experience, lots of it, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to go from doing that for someone else to run a whole operation myself.
That was a big learning curve, and I’m still learning every day, but I’ve invested in resources to help me learn and to continue to learn. That was definitely the hardest part of starting Butter and getting it to where it is now.
What are you listening to right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Jamila Woods and a Spotify playlist around her sound. It’s very chill. Lo-fi, low-key. It’s relaxing and I have it on when I’m working. Sometimes I use an app called Endel for its cool soundscapes, too. Check that out.
Do you have a favorite smaller museum?
So, so many. The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, which is the LGBTQ museum in SoHo, is pretty cool and not super well-known. Pretty amazing and worth a visit.