The Bold and the Beautiful: Behind the Colorful, Striking Designs of Swoon Studios
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 06/14/2021 | 5 Minute Read
Adey Efrem, Founder and Creative Director at Swoon Studios, isn't one to shy away from vibrant colors or thick, personality-infused fonts. The work she does speaks for itself—and what it says is big, bold, and bright.
Back in high school, Adey actually thought she might want to pursue architecture. She felt like the various rules of the discipline blocked her ability to be her best creative self (plus, there wasn’t enough color) and decided instead on an internship at an interior design studio. Again, it didn’t quite hit the mark, so she went to Mississippi State University and majored in graphic design.
“I knew pretty much off the bat that it was exactly what I wanted to do,” Adey said. “That first semester was a lot of drawing and very little using the computer. Everything was by hand to get you to learn the absolute basics of design before jumping onto the computer. It was very organic, very free-flowing, and not so structured. I got an assignment, and whatever idea I came up with, I could go with it.”
That creative freedom is what attracted Adey to graphic design and the program at Mississippi State, and it's something that guides her work today, as not getting boxed in has always been important to her. Earning her degree, though, gave her the structure she needed to thrive as a designer.
“I benefited from having structure within that freedom,” she said. “Instructors were adamant about craft and quality. There was a bar I had to meet, and that was helpful for me. If I didn’t go to college and tried to go the design route by myself, I would have felt a little lost.”
After graduating, Adey landed a job at a digital marketing agency, where her work centered around creating posts for clients’ social media accounts. While she recognizes that designing posts for social media is a legitimate design job on its own, it wasn’t for her as the work was mentally, emotionally, and physically draining.
“It was really difficult for me to enjoy only spending a short amount of time on something and never feeling like I'm fully creating something that I love,” she said. “It's not about making it the best post ever—it's not efficient to do that. People are just going to scroll past it after a few minutes. I like the longer process and putting more into something.”
When the company she worked for was moving its headquarters, she chose not to relocate with them and instead took some time to work on personal projects. That allowed her to apply her graphic design skills in different scenarios—she also had an Etsy shop where she sold her prints—and she ultimately found the type of design that felt right. That included a few personal packaging projects and posted them on LinkedIn, and shortly after, she got her first freelance client. In January of 2021, along with the encouragement and guidance of her business coach Anquida Adams at A.L.A. Consulting Firm, Adey started Swoon Studios.
“After the experience of my first job, I was feeling pessimistic about being able to find a job that I actually love,” Adey explained. “One that didn’t make me feel physically exhausted and one I’m not upset about going to every day. So I thought if I’m going to spend my energy searching for something to make me happy, I might as well redirect that energy into making it exactly the way I wish it were.
“Going through the process, putting the energy into starting a business, hoping that it works, and putting my time and effort into it is so that I'll be able to be a happy person. It’s not easy to find the exact job you love, so I just ended up doing it myself. Now I get to do the work I love to do.”
Starting her studio hasn’t been without its challenges. As a proclaimed introvert, Adey has learned that a certain amount of her time and energy has to go into activities that can be a bit exhausting—writing emails, sending contracts, and client check-ins. These are things she can’t ignore, so Swoon Studios has also been a valuable lesson in learning the most efficient ways to communicate, how to put herself out there, and how to speak about her work.
Adey’s also faced challenges as a Black female designer in the space. “There were times, especially when I was applying for jobs, that I felt like I was the odd one out as far as demographics, and that maybe was the reason I didn’t get a call,” she said. “But at the same time, having that rejection pushed me into deciding that wasn’t working out and then putting energy into my own thing.” She encouraged other BIPOC and female designers to pursue the work they’re passionate about, even if the landscape is still primarily white and male.
“If you have the skill and talent for something, don’t worry about who else is not there that looks like you. Do it anyway. I know that sounds really simple, but that’s what I would tell myself.”
Swoon Studios strives to give consumers an experience through the work Adey does for her clients—and it's one of the big reasons she loves color, and her portfolio encompasses all hues in the rainbow. Colors instantly evoke feelings and emotions; no words necessary.
This approach shows up in Adey’s work for Kinky Mane, a natural hair care line tailored to women with type 4C natural hair. Not only does the bottle feature a thick, bold font, but the packaging pops with a rich red and soft accent pink. It looks confident and gorgeous, and a Kinky Mane product is unmissable amongst a sea of other hair care products—and these are all qualities a consumer would want to feel when using it.
“If I’m scrolling on social media and I came across a post and saw this explosion of pink and red, it would make me feel almost euphoric,” Adey said. “It’s like musicians love to give that experience. It’s the same thing as that, but instead of music, it’s helping somebody feel something through visual art.
“That’s why I love color. That’s why my designs look the way they do. I’m trying to pull a feeling out of somebody.”
L&E International Ltd.