Born in Warsaw Poland, and based in Toronto, Karolina has been a designer for the past 20 years. She previously founded a design studio called the white room from 2008 to 2020, and now works as an independent freelance designer, creative director and art director. Karolina aims to fill the void for clients with compelling stories to tell about exceptional products and services that improve our world. Her inspiration comes from arts & culture, nature and human psychology. She works with writers, photographers, and stylists to meet the specific needs of a project. She has experience working with clients big and small, local, and global. Her mission is to create with passion and purpose to help clients grow their business through poetic design.
When I was in high school in Hamilton, I took a multi-media course and drafting. I knew then that I wanted to be in the arts, but I had no idea what graphic design was. So, after digging deeper, I decided to take a graphic design course at Dundas Valley School of Art at age 17. The course was taught by graphic designer Mark Tharme. He was a fantastic teacher of typography, branding, theory, etc. The first time I applied to the graphic design program at Sheridan College, I got rejected. So I enrolled in a double-degree Art/Art History program at the University of Toronto. After attending for a year, I reapplied to Sheridan and transferred to the three-year graphic design program (graduating in 2001 at the top of my class).
The first office I worked at was called Concrete Design (to this day a studio whose work I highly love and respect). The talent and pace of the studio was intimidating, and I was very quiet in my early 20s; so it was hard to adjust. Graduating during the recession, I opted to work for myself building my portfolio until the dream job came along. I branded myself under my own name KLOBODA Design, and worked for my own clients ranging from publishing to corporate. By nature I am more of an introvert. So going from working alone to working in an office environment was an adjustment.
I am a coffee addict. I head straight to my lovely, classic, old-school Rancilo coffee maker and make a nice, long, double-shot Americano. I add a shot of Collagen Creamer and follow up with Evive Smoothie Cubes. If I can squeeze in some Mindfulness Meditation (I use the Calm App) for 10 minutes, then that’s a bonus.
My design process starts with strategy and research. I always start with an in-depth client questionnaire, followed by more research. Understanding the market is crucial, and making sure you define the project intelligently is key to that project’s success. I find blogs are a great reference point for a bit of inspiration but generally I feel we are so influenced by each other. When I’m in the middle of project, I prefer to not look at anyone else’s work because I don’t want to be influenced.
To always keep an open mind is vital. I love Japanese minimalism, and I strive for every brand/project to be timeless. Other talented designers are always an inspiration both locally and internationally. Naturally, looking at what others have achieved (which I do during down time between projects or on vacation) is my inspiration and goal to want to achieve even more.
Since my early days at The White Room, I have worked with mostly start-ups and, coincidentally 90% of the clients have been women founders. It makes me proud to see some of my earliest designs endure unchanged after more than 9 years. Biko (a Toronto jewelry brand by Corrine Anestopoulos) is a great example of this: When we started working together, Corrine was designing and operating out of her house. Biko is now a huge Canadian label that’s carried in a lot of large fancy retailers such as Nordstrom.
Don’t be a sheep.
Quit my design job at then Oxygen Design Agency at 27 and never looked back.
1. Balance: For years, I worked crazy hours, and my 20s are basically a blur. I knew at the rate I was going, burnout was around the corner. If I was going to work this hard, I knew that it would have to be toward the success of my own business.
2. Freedom: Love to have control over the creative work I do and the clients I work with. Creative freedom is important, that is why I started a side passion project, By The People Magazine.
3. Financial Security: So that I can provide for my kids.
Very honoured to also have won many awards over the years.
We women are generally hard on ourselves, since most of us want families and careers. Now that I’m a mom of two (Girl 4 and Boy 9), I know this all too well. I never had a paid mat leave; so I worked through both pregnancies. I had postpartum with my first child. I basically came back home with the baby and was working, breast feeding, not sleeping. I did a number on myself and learned the hard way to slow down. We need to realize that, as much as we want it all, we can’t sacrifice our own health and mental well-being. Now I take time for meditation and more self-care.
There are tones of kick-ass woman designers; we just have to work harder to stand out in the boardroom and to be taken seriously by male clients. Since running my business I have developed more masculine traits as a result of having to be tough at times. You have to have tough skin to succeed in this industry. We are currently experiencing a feminist movement, there is much more support for women now, more then ever in history.
I started my company prior to having kids (which I recommend to all). I had to build my portfolio from scratch and took on jobs more for the cool portfolio factor than the pay. This was strictly to build the portfolio I wanted and grow the business to attract the clients I wanted the company to have. Financial sacrifice was the biggest hurdle. Sometimes the best projects have little budgets, and, when I started at 27, I had lots of cool-ass women hire me to design for them.
I have now started a side-hustle passion project called By The People Magazine. In the very, very early stages but I finally took the leap and followed my “ikigai” to take this one. Lot’s of work ahead of me, and it is basically a start-up with no funding at the moment. Would love your support: IG @bythepeoplemag
My mentors are my parents, especially my mother. Both my parents are very gifted artistically. My father painted my entire life, coming home from his factory/welding job and paint for hours. He would wake me up around mid-night to show me his work and ask for feedback. Our house was filled with art. My mother is the artisan; she can make just about anything with her hands. As an immigrant coming to Canada at age 8 from Warsaw, Poland, I had hard work ingrained in my blood. To this day my husband calls me “the dreamer” in the relationship, and he is right.