Creative Director at Contra
Erin
Horner

Erin is a designer focused on reimagining the future of work, and building a career around the life you want.

Boulder, United States • June 25, 2021

What led you into design?

I always loved art and puzzles. Design felt like the perfect chance to be creative and solve problems. I'm fascinated by and admire winding career paths, but for me it was very straightforward: an art teacher introduced me to design and I never looked back. I was in awe at the possibilities. I studied at Savannah College of Art and Design, and then moved around the country following design jobs until I realized I could freelance remotely and moved somewhere not for a job, but for a life.

What does a typical day look like?

I wake up early with my 1-year-old and bike her to school here in Boulder, Colorado. We point out the ducks and mountains on our ride. It's a really fun way to start the day. Then it's back to my home office where I work alongside my husband Jak.

I spend my working time collaborating in Figma and Slack with the Contra team. It tends to be a mix of working with our product, engineering, and community teams to plan and design new features that bring value for independents, video calls with our agency and freelance partners collaborating on a new video or landing page drop, interviewing talented (seriously, so talented) new designers, and jumping into anything else that needs attention. With a startup, it's key to stay flexible and open to jumping into new things.

Around 4pm I bike back to school, and my day switches to family time for a few hours. Then after my daughter goes to bed, I'm usually back on my computer to wrap things up for the day. My team is global so there aren't really "off hours" and we've become great at async work by default — everyone's respectful of each others chosen working hours. I can't imagine being a parent without all that trust and flexibility.

What’s your workstation setup?

  • erin-workspace-6-1.jpg
  • erin-workspace-7-1.jpg
  • erin-workspace-b.jpg
  • erin-workspace-c.jpg

Where do you go to get inspired?

I'm endlessly inspired by the people I get to work with. I consider myself really fortunate to be able to learn from such creative, smart and kind folks who honestly inspire me daily.

I also find it really important to spend time outside everyday. It helps me feel refreshed, clear-headed, and inspired. Access to inspiring outdoor spaces is one of the main reasons I love living near the mountains.

  • erin-outside-2.jpg
  • erin-outside-0.jpg

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I love seeing more collaboration products and features emerge to make it even easier to not only collaborate remotely, but also earn together. Making money online with your friends is the best.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

In designing things for the internet (which I've spent most of my career doing) your work can sometimes be fleeting. So I take pride in the journey.

I started my career art directing for Target in Minneapolis where I was lucky to have some incredible mentors. There I was introduced to building ad-hoc teams of independents to bring campaign ideas to life. It brought me to New York a lot, where I ended up moving a couple years later.

In New York I worked at agencies for a while: first at Huge designing digital products for Fortune 500 companies, and later at Red Antler designing for startups like Keeps, Supergoop, Brandless, Boxed, Burrow, Hinge, Curology and lots more over 3 years. Then I dove headfirst into my independent career. I freelanced directly with founders and small teams mostly (aside from a stint with Google).

For me, going independent felt like a breakthrough and really opened my eyes to a new way of working and living. I was fortunate to choose how I spent my time and who I worked with. It quickly became all about the people I loved working with, and the missions I was most passionate about. This led me start collaborating with Ben on Contra in late 2018. The mission of building the future of work and the opportunity to shape a platform that made this way of working and living more accessible to others really spoke to me. We partnered to build the brand and design the initial product. I eventually went full time with my favorite client: spoiler, it was Contra. It's been amazing to watch the growth of the team and the product as both a freelancer and now as a full timer leading the design team.

About 2 years ago my husband and I relocated to Boulder, Colorado, and last year we had our daughter. Ok I take everything else back, my daughter's the piece of work I'm most proud of. But in all seriousness, this past year's journey of bringing a life into this world during the pandemic, brought a lot of clarity for me on what I value and how I want to spend my time. I feel very fortunate to be growing with an incredibly smart team I really respect, and building a product we believe in.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

At Contra, we're building a new professional community that allows you to work the way you want with zero commission fees. We give you all the tools needed to create your ideal flexible career. There's a lot that's broken in the freelance industry, and it won't be easy, but we're on a mission to build a better freelance platform to empower and do right by independents. I tweeted here about some of the features I'm most proud of.

All that to say we're facing a lot of challenges! But they're all challenges I'm excited to tackle.

Here's our latest video drop (in collaboration with the dreamy motion team Jill & Willie Russell) to learn a little more about what we're up to.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

I used to teach Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and I very often got asked some version of "what's better: in-house or agency?". Designers feel a lot of pressure to make the right decision with their first role. My advice has always been to just jump into whatever's the most exciting to you right now and relax knowing that you can always change your mind. Your journey as a designer is a marathon, not a sprint. And it can be a winding one! I've learned so much from each role: in-house, agencies, start-ups, freelance. With each, you'll discover new roles you didn't even consider before.

Embrace the unknown, be kind to everyone you work with (it's a small world, so you'll likely cross paths again), and try to have some fun along the way.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

My team at Contra just released the State of Independence Report. It's the culmination of a ton of research we've been doing over the past year, surveying over 10k of the best independents in the world. We’re seeing a big shift happening in the way we work, and with this report, we’re giving a peek into Contra’s “why”. We partnered with Li Jin and the team at Green Chameleon to bring the site to life. Check it out 💛