Anita Merk - flyleaf: Be a Patient Listener

President and Creative Director of Flyleaf Creative, Inc.

by Elizabeth Lavis


27 Feb 2024

Design for Social Change of the Year 2023
“I’ve always been interested in people’s stories and how design can puzzle out understanding and build visual bridges to empathy”

Officially, Anita Merk is the President and Creative Director of Flyleaf Creative, Inc., but unofficially, she is a Client Whisperer, Chaos Coordinator, and Chicken and Egger driven by design, teaching, and cooking, which she finds incredibly creatively satisfying. Flyleaf Creative, Inc.’s primary objective is to seek creative partnerships with visionaries in arts and culture, working with organizations like Apollo Theater and Bard Prison Initiative. “What I love most about my work is the collaborative, life-long creative partnerships that come from it,” Merk says. “I love the continuous requirement for learning and that I get to share all of it with my staff, students, and friends and family.” 

Merk also has sage advice for her students and up-and-coming designers. “We are the luckiest people in the world,” she says. “We have superpowers and can communicate complex ideas through visual language so others can understand. Plus, we get to learn new things for the rest of our lives! My pro tip is to be a patient listener. All of the answers are usually found in what people don’t say.”

A native New Yorker with German roots, Merk always wanted to be a designer, and her budding talent was recognized and encouraged by her parents from a young age. Her foundational aptitude and love of design were complimented by regular trips abroad with her parents. “Some summers, we would go to Germany for six-week periods. While I didn’t speak the language fluently, I learned to become a great listener and observer to figure out the conversation. I think I always straddled those two worlds, which has greatly influenced how I approach my work and the kind of clients I like to work with,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in people’s stories and how design can puzzle out understanding and build visual bridges to empathy.”

"Barrier "Breakers: From Jackie to Pumpsie" and "Negro Leagues Béisbol", Flyleaf Creative, Inc.

Merk approaches new design from a research-heavy angle, looking for patterns and trying to get to the emotional core of what the design should evoke. “I view strategy and creativity as symbiotic partners,” she says. She also heavily involves the client in her day-to-day work. “I have an incredible team and we like to collaborate,” Merk says. “So our hope, and expectation with a new client, is that they be as involved as they have the bandwidth to do so.”

Merk’s meticulous research skills and active listening help her quickly establish rapport with new clients. “I start by coming into our first meeting or call really prepared,” she says. “I read everything I can on their organization and area of focus. For me, understanding a place's culture and their relationships with others is paramount.” 

She also deals with the inevitable pressure of the design industry in a straightforward way. “I stay creative under pressure by finding my way into the problem organically,” she says. “The pressure is usually in your mind.” This approach also works in dealing with client criticism. “I take it in and reflect on it, but if it’s truly unfair, I’m not afraid to be honest with that person and hold true to my own values,” she says.

Patience, active listening, and remaining true to her values are all instrumental to Merk’s success as a designer and why she’ll be a future force to watch.

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