Designer and art director Helen Rabbitte creates designs that blend fluid forms with structured layouts, drawing on aesthetics and motifs from the 80s and 90s. Her work features soothing colour schemes, with palettes akin to calming blue skies that transition into warm sunset tones.
Working under the moniker Hello Rabbit, her clients include music labels such as Universal Music, Warner Music Group and Columbia Records, and artists including Peggy Gou and Nadia Rose. Beyond the music industry, she’s created uplifting designs for chocolate brand Islands and vegan meal service Allplants.
Rabbitte was drawn to a career in design due to the ever-changing nature of the industry – one that she knew she would never tire of (“and to be honest, I’ve never really been good at anything else,” she offers humbly).
She gained a BA in graphic design from Liverpool John Moores University, which helped her learn the fundamentals of design. However, most of her current practice comes from being self-taught. “I actually think that has benefited me a lot more as you don’t have someone telling you whether what you’re doing is good or bad,” she says. “That doesn’t mean to say I don’t see value in other people’s opinions – I absolutely do, especially when they have a ton more experience in the field. I just think, during those early stages, you need time to experiment and figure out your own likes and dislikes, without too much pressure to produce something your teacher appreciates. That said, I’d kill to go back now and make use of all the time and resources.”
Having grown up near Liverpool, Rabbitte often finds herself influenced by the city and its people, along with books, old magazines, films and video games. “Northern culture in general is steeped in so much history and character – from the music, streetwear and club scene. It’s really easy to feel inspired there.” Her practice also draws on 80s and 90s pop culture, which she fuses with a contemporary visual language. “Nods to old 80s film titles, rave flyers and video games can often be seen in my work, but then I’ll mix it up with a really modern typeface or arrangement.
“I try to stay away from the internet for inspiration, as everything is so recycled there’s always a danger of your work starting to look like everything else out there. But it is a great resource when you’re under a lot of time pressure, or looking for something really particular,” she tells us. “I’ve actually rekindled my love for Tumblr recently! There are some brilliant accounts with old 80s airbrush ads that I’m not sure I’d be able to find anywhere else.”
Rabbitte enjoys building her library of influences, a process that’s taught her the importance of restraint, to prevent her concepts becoming unwieldly: “I often get over-excited and end up with a hundred references which can quickly derail you from the original brief – so I’ve learnt to be really strict with myself and limit it to ten or so images.”
While her designs are made in Photoshop, she appreciates the freedom of working away from the screen in the early stages as “you can be more playful and make mistakes that may lead to something better than you originally set out to do”, and she’s happy to scribble or doodle over final designs that still feel a bit too polished.
Rabbitte always wanted to weave music into her practice, but found this was missing from her portfolio having only ever worked for brands and agencies in other sectors. She set about redesigning packshots from existing tracks she liked and posting them on Instagram, which started to gain traction and eventually led to being commissioned.
“The creative industry can often be more of a ‘who you know, not what you know’ [domain], but this exercise taught me a really valuable lesson in that there’s a way around everything as long as you put the work in,” she says.
The past year has been fraught for many creatives. Add to the mix the changing economics of the music industry – one that’s reached a state of near stasis in the pandemic – and it becomes clear that Rabbitte’s line of work isn’t for the faint hearted. “It’s obviously a very uncertain time for anyone in the music industry at the moment, but the biggest concern is for the clubs, as even once lockdown is eased, most don’t have the option of outdoor, socially distanced events,” she says.
“Most of the events I was doing work for have either been postponed or cancelled, but I’m lucky enough that I can stay flexible and adapt where possible,” she tells us. During the pandemic, she’s received more briefs for animated music videos than ever before, and she’s found that a lot of music artists, having had the time to “rest and rejuvenate”, have been reassessing their branding and coming up with merch ideas. “I’ve got a few dream projects coming up which I’m hoping won’t be postponed for too long,” she adds.
Rabbitte counts NTS, Boiler Room and Worldwide FM among her dream clients, but in the meantime, she tries to find time for personal projects at least once a month. “It’s a playground to experiment and learn without the time pressure, and can often help you break you out of a creative rut,” she explains.
Personal work can evolve from daydreaming to a YouTube tutorial she stumbles across. “Sometimes I’ll get lucky and create something I really like, but most of these projects don’t make it anywhere,” she says. “I think the importance lies in the process more than the outcome.”