Esen Karol Shares About Design Culture in Istanbul and Her Work Creating It

I had a very inspiring chat with graphic designer, educator, cultural critic, and event organizer Esen Karol, who is based in Istanbul, Turkey. Esen shared her personal journey of becoming a type and graphic designer – starting as a young girl in Istanbul, getting her masters on a Fullbright at Pratt and teaching at Istanbul Bilgi University. She said she wanted to become a designer to be a “mediator” to help people communicate.

I was intrigued to hear about the thriving local Istanbul design culture Esen has contributed to. In particular, I Ioved hearing about her starting “Jeff Talks”, the name a parody of Ted Talks and inspired by a cheap IKEA chair she first used at the event. What started as a small design salon grew into an event in the hundreds. For Jeff Talks she began baking cakes (the favorite of each featured designer) and as the event grew she ended up making lots and lots of cakes (as documented in https://jeff-bakes.tumblr.com/.) Esen also founded Manifold, a platform for designers to write about design and culture in Turkish. Manifold is a cultural criticism journal featuring hundreds of contributors aged 17 to 70.

Esen is a graphic designer based in Istanbul, who works on both digital and analog projects in her one-person studio. Her current work focuses on designing books for art exhibitions and cultural institutions. Her clients and collaborators have included Arter, Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, Mavi, Meşher, and SALT. From 2003–2012, she taught typography and publication design at Istanbul Bilgi University. She is a graduate of Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul and received her master’s degree in communications design from Pratt Institute, New York, where she was a Fulbright Fellow.

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