Artist Profile: Designing the written word with Anne Ulku

Anne Ulku in her home studio // Photo by Emily Winters

Anne Ulku just wants you to feel something.

As a designer and illustrator, she’s made a name for herself through her work with brands ranging from small local startups to national companies like Apple, HP, and Nickelodeon. Her deft use of bright color, eccentric design, and interpretive typography flows together in a way that lends a distinct sense of movement to her work, one that more and more she ties back to her early days as a dancer.

“I’ve been thinking about this recently—what does my past have to do with what I do now? This sort of emotion and expression that comes across in movement,” she says. 

Anne Ulku at her desk works in various mediums // Photo by Emily Winters

Since she graduated from MCAD in 2007, Ulku has more or less been working full-time as a freelance designer for brands and companies, which gives her the freedom to choose and have control over the artistic vision of projects that she wants to work on, she says. 

But as design software has become more available to the masses than ever, Ulku’s had to shape her process to offer something more than just a logo or piece of design.

“I’ve really tried to craft my offering and craft my process to be something more than that, so I’m not just hired because I’m a graphic designer, but I’m hired for the way that I conceptualize ideas or simplify complex ideas, or tell a story a different way and really dig in deep to a topic and figure out what makes it weird or different,” she says. “I’ve really tried to challenge myself to push certain projects that I work on to make my clients feel uncomfortable, and feel like it’s outside of what they’re asking for. I always feel like if they’re not shocked, I haven’t done my job.”

Her process often begins with a deep-dive into the history, culture, and workings of the company, and then she forms various visual mood boards, each defined with its own story. “For me, my work always has to have this storytelling aspect to it. It has to come from some sort of knowledge or research or scientific exploration, or exploration in material or sound.”

With her personal work, Ulku likes to create within the limits of a defining boundary or rule. For example, back in 2010 Ulku collaborated with writer Van Horgen on a yearlong project they fittingly titled Six Word Story Every Day, in which Ulku created a daily design around Horgen’s six-word statement. The following year, craving another challenge, she collaborated with her brother-in-law on a similar project called Haikuglyphics, in which she’d design around his weekly haikus. With both endeavors, her aim was to push the boundaries of typography and design to tell a visual tale of the written word.

Anne’s work spans an array of styles and mediums // Images courtesy Anne Ulku

“Even though the statement might feel non-specific and open-ended, I like to just go for it and do with it whatever comes to mind,” she explains. “A lot of times, the visuals that I might create for a written word are interpreted in such a different way to someone else.”

Whether it’s creative typography or an abstract depiction of the distilling process (as seen on this cover), Ulku wants the viewer to feel like they’re experiencing her work, rather than just looking at it. From her days on stage to her work as a designer, she’s always searching for different ways to tell a story.

“First it was movement, but now it’s like, visually how can I make something into this self-expression that still feels like it’s this experiential thing?” she says. “I always think about: how is someone going to interact with this? How are they going to feel when they look at this?”

Medium: Graphic design, illustration
Currently resides: Roseville, MN