Spotlight: Ria Roberts

Ria Roberts is a graphic designer based in New Haven, CT, currently completing her MFA at Yale University. She is founder of Medium Cool, a design fair in Chicago, and Leisure Press. She has worked with The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Yale University Art Gallery, The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, and Summer Forum, among others.

06Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I grew up in Chicago and now live in New Haven, Connecticut, where I’m finishing my MFA at Yale. I have a publishing project called Leisure Press—current titles are about exercise, contraception, and detox. I also founded Medium Cool, a design fair in Chicago. My work is focused on social life—considering ways that design can live in and create networks and economies.

Top 3 favorite or most visited websites and why?
Susan Miller’s AstrologyZone

This month she suggested I take a trip to the French Alps.

Net-a-Porter
I really admire founder Natalie Massenet’s innovation. Her explanation of how pashminas marked the beginning of globalization has stuck with me.

Annie Lennox’s “Money Can’t Buy It” video
Once a day.

Winter Detox

Winter Detox

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? goop.com, weather futures, and Design Within Reach

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I just finished a project about 3D printed pessaries with Richard Espinosa. Pessaries are devices that are used to treat pelvic organ prolapse, which affects about a third of women. They’re totally overlooked in medical education, and consequently medical practice. We worked with an amazing Yale nursing school student named Helen MacGregor and had a lot of fun developing a new language to talk about women’s health issues. It’s also my best voiceover performance to date.

Relatedly, I’m currently putting together the second issue of Methods with Erin Knutson. We’re really excited about the group of contributors and the fact that we’ve opened it up to men—it takes two.

Right now I’m working with the Yale MFA photo students on a project called Solstice. Everyone contributed a photo taken on June 21, and now we’re publishing them as a set of postcards, which will be available through Leisure Press in December.

I’m also working on a conference called The Legal Medium: New Encounters in Art and Law, which is being hosted by Yale Law School. It’s happening on February 28, 2015 and panelists include Mary Ellen Carroll, Liam Gillick, Kenneth Goldsmith, Tehching Hsieh, and David Joselit. I’m really excited to be involved in these conversations and to see some meaningful cross-disciplinary exchange take place.

Video still from Pessaries.

Video still from Pessaries.

If you were a drink what drink would you be? When I was living in Chicago, I bartended at a family-owned Italian restaurant called Mart Anthony’s. There were lots of regulars, many of whom drank Dewar’s White Label on the rocks. I found that people’s choices in drinks were often a perfect allegory, so I’ve thought about this a lot. The jury’s still out but my initial impulse is the detox cocktail (beet juice and tequila) at the Standard in LA. Dionysus and Apollo at the same time.

How did your interest in your work begin? I think it all has to do with growing up in the context of commercial photography. My dad is a photographer and my mom was a model. When I was twelve, my parents’ studio was rented for a three month long Crate and Barrel catalog photoshoot. I was totally fascinated by the idea of lifestyle branding, though I didn’t know the name for it at the time. Seeing the construction and styling of these room sets, replete with art books and high end groceries, resonated with me. I would also go with my dad when did he photoshoots at the legendary Johnson Publishing headquarters and being in that environment was totally influential—interior design as politics.

Video still from Horoscopes

Video still from Horoscopes

Who would you ideally like to collaborate with? I really enjoy collaboration and feel so lucky to constantly be working with people I admire. One of my favorite aspects of graphic design is that it’s implicitly social.

How has living in New Haven affected your work? I’ve lived in on Yale’s campus in New Haven for the last two and a half years because of grad school. When the Neo-Gothic campus was built in the early 20th century, acid was poured on the facades to create a Cambridgian patina. Being in the ivory tower provides a lot of hilarious examples of the construction of power and privilege in America.

The Legal Medium ad

The Legal Medium ad

What’s your absolute favorite place in the city/the world to be? Grand Central Oyster bar, hotel lobbies, Terminal Five at JFK

What are you really excited about right now? Barbara Kasten, melatonin, and angel investors