When we are children, it is easy to feel the magnitude of the world. New mysteries unraveling everyday with only more discoveries ahead in the future. As time goes on, this sense of wonder seems to shrink. Our days become ritualistic, and the unknown and the strange are foreign. Adulthood makes our world seem small. This is something designer Kelli Anderson would like to change.
As studious and successful as anyone could be, Kelli Anderson managed to hold on to a childlike perspective of the world. This is what makes her work so wonderful and real. “There are mysteries imbedded within the simple things, like a piece of paper,” says Anderson. “On an intellectual level, things that seem magical but scientific consistently inspire me.” Because our daily experiences shape our reality, Anderson’s goal is to uncover the hidden talents of everyday things. “We all hold a lot of assumptions about how the world works. And these assumptions almost always oversimplify things,” Kelli says. “I think my best projects show that amazing things are often hidden in plain view. If I can make something handheld and humble that sneakily challenge these misconceptions, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
From her infographics for solar popsicle trucks to her incredible counterfeit news project around activism and democracy, Anderson delivers design projects that help uncover wonder in the commonplace experience. Her well of creativity overflows into personal projects too, including a seriously sentimental wedding invitation where she crafted a record player out of paper. “I do my best work when I have a hunch that can only be confirmed by making. That’s the definition of ‘experiment’, right?” Says Anderson. “I suppose I’m selfish—I really want to learn something new when I’m working. Also the determination to figure it out helps pull me through the tough parts of a project.” Her drive to expose and experiment with the wonders of life is what makes Anderson’s work so extraordinary.
Before embarking on a life as a freelance designer, Anderson spent five years digitizing photographs at the American Museum of Natural History. In their archives she held photographs of Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions in Antarctica and Charles Darwin on his deathbed. Even after she left the job to pursue design full time, it’s clear that the time spent at the museum time helped shape her attention to history and the legacy we all leave behind. You can see this in the immaculate detail of her infographics and her incredible branding work for clients like Russ and Daughters.
A fearless drive to create thought-provoking and shifting work has turned Anderson into a wealth of information. She documents her projects and creative tinkerings in immaculate detail on her blog. In her spacious loft-style apartment in Brooklyn, New York, Anderson becomes a wizard of reality. Amped up by indie-pop, she dives into her projects by seeking out new inspiration. Operating as a one-woman-shop, Anderson is constantly taking on new skills. “If you really want to force yourself to learn something new: raise the stakes,” says Anderson. “Being a designer differs from being a doctor in that—it isn’t an entirely crazy-irresponsible idea to learn on the job. I know that I often do my best work when figuring-stuff-out the first time—whether that is a new technique or technology or piece of equipment. It brings a lot of exciting energy to a project and forces me to think through the fundamentals rather than past-assumptions.”
Today, Anderson describes herself as a ‘a designer/paper engineer who uses humble materials to expose invisible forces at play in the world.’ Her latest project is This Book is a Planetarium, an interactive pop-up book of functional contraptions, including a planetarium dome, a musical instrument, a message decoder, and more. “I think it is exciting because it proves that a lot can be done with very little. Because each pop-up works despite exhibiting no apparent technology, the book enables an intimate, firsthand vantage point on invisible forces at play in our world,” says Anderson. “My hope is that it gets other people excited about building things and experimenting with materials.”