Gradwatch 2023: Amaya Crichton, LCC

Designer Amaya Crichton is one of the art and design graduates we’ve chosen for our annual Gradwatch showcase, which spotlights the next generation of talent entering the creative industries

Amaya Crichton had only really learned about graphic design a year before she joined the graphic media and design course at the London College of Communication. It was a stroke of luck because she evidently has an eye for it, with a fondness for expressive type and an instinct for balance. Not only that, she has a critical eye that she’s unafraid to apply to the field of design and the kind of future she wants in it.

The Spanish designer says the course at LCC was more conceptual than a lot of others out there, and she was given a lot of freedom during her studies. She found this difficult to steer in the beginning but eventually came to value the opportunity to “make something out of nothing, out of an abstract brief”.

The impact of the pandemic could be felt during her studies. By the time her year in industry came around in 2021, studios were thankfully taking on interns again, though it was still difficult to find opportunities. The designer tries to see the positives though: “It meant that now, with experience under my belt, and thicker skin, it’s easier to navigate.”

She has noticed other long-term effects, however – namely the way it has impacted the sense of community and “sharing ideas and working together towards something. We’ve become so much more self-enclosed and limited, so I think that’s something that needs to be collectively prioritised and repaired.”

Throughout her studies, Crichton began to reflect on her ideals as a designer. “My dissertation unleashed a crisis for me last year, and I felt overwhelmed with the concept that my genuine interests of branding and packaging were huge contributors to consumerism.”

After grappling with these questions, and whether she would simply end up “convincing people to buy things they probably don’t need”, she realised she wanted to figure out how design could be used for good. “Of course, I understand now that not every project I participate in will change the world, or maybe even affect it that much, but there was a switch in my thinking.”

She put this philosophy into practice in her final major project, which involved creating new branding and packaging for Sal de Añana, a salt producer in the Basque Country that’s based near to where her family lives. “The valley was forgotten about for almost a century, and only recently reopened with government support, and it probably means nothing to most Basque people, let alone Spanish.”

She says the unique history and culture of Sal de Añana wasn’t being reflected in the current branding, and strived to create her own spin that would showcase “Basque mythology, typography, culture, and culinary roots”.

As part of the project, she created brand assets that draw on Basque iconography, a promotional publication, and clever packaging and collateral, including a 3D flower design that unfurls to reveal a mini salt shaker, and a business card that doubles as a container for a salt sample.

Crichton has already started to gain design experience outside of her course. “I’ve recently been commissioned to work collaboratively on an exhibition identity and publication in Albania for September, and it’s been pretty great so far,” she says, praising the collaborative nature of the project. She has also spent time at Design & Practice in Amsterdam, where she got “a taste of Dutch design”.

“It made me realise how it can be limiting to stick only to London design culture – there’s a whole world out there, and I really want to explore it!” she says. “Even just Spanish design culture, which I had naïvely dismissed because it wasn’t as mainstream, has got some really great things going on – so to build a community or to be part of something like that, a different design culture, in whatever form it takes, is what I want to aim for.”

Although Crichton is on the lookout for an internship or a junior position, her main focus right now is to satisfy her “intense hunger to learn”. She hopes that wherever she lands, she will be able to “design honestly and authentically, to dedicate time to social causes and navigate the industry a bit more consciously. I guess it’s something that needs to be nurtured, and it’s easy to get burnt out and not prioritise it anymore, so I hope I can stay true to that side of my practice.”