Listening In: Mete Erdogan’s Eavesdropper Project

ADC Member's social typography project to be exhibited tomorrow

Aussie-born, Brooklyn-based designer and ADC Member Mete Erdogan has been listening in on people’s conversations and turning it into typographic art. What started as a hand lettering exercise has morphed into Eavesdropper, a popular Instagram page that illustrates the interesting things people say when they think nobody is paying attention.

Eavesdropper will be on display tomorrow evening at Sweatshop in Brooklyn. As part of ADC and Monotype’s Typography Month, ADC caught up with Mete to shed some light on the project’s beginnings and where it has taken him.


Mete-bio1How did this crazy journey begin? You’re relatively new to the New York design community.

Well I’m from Melbourne, Australia, and I arrived in New York as a design graduate in April of 2013. Now admittedly that wasn’t the easiest thing to do, moving to a city where nobody knows you and where agencies and shops have pretty much their pick of talent when it comes to employing creatives.

Fortunately I got to meet some renowned designers who were very generous with their time, if only for a conversation. I met people like Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister and Chip Kidd, and they all gave me some very useful pieces of advice. “Stay away from Google Images!” “We have no idea what we are doing, but that’s the key.” I jotted these bits of wisdom down in my sketchbook and started turning them into illustrative type.

Eventually I landed a job at Saatchi & Saatchi, I thought to my self “now what?” I needed to do something for myself, and I looked back at my sketchbook and remembered these quotes. Now I can only gain so much inspiration from these things or from “You can do it!” quotes in white type over a sunset (not that there’s anything wrong with those) so I tried to think of another way to do something similar.

When did the idea finally hit you?

I was eating with a friend, and she gave me her own blistering piece of advice, not about careers, but eating. “You can’t just eat octopus from a fucking buffet in New York!” And bam, there it was. It was such an outrageous statement, and both in and out of context it was such a weird thing to say. I wanted to see what a statement like that would look like if I illustrated the text, capturing the tone and feeling at how enraged my friend was.


And one thing led to another…

Exactly. As a means of gaining more attention for my work and as an exercise in improving my typography, I decided to do one of these a day and publish them on Instagram. I figured that if I was public with idea I’d be more likely to actually do it than if I kept it to myself. And even today it’s still an exercise in getting better with my design.

How do you decide what statements to bring to life? You’re not just working with design, but with words with their own meaning.

First and foremost, when I’m selecting what to do next, the statement has to strike me as evocative: funny or insightful or sad. If it gets that kind of reaction from myself, I assume that it’ll get a similar reaction from other people.

This isn’t a conscious decision, but looking back at my work, food, love and relationships have been very popular topics. I guess I am drawn to more human thoughts and ideas, which makes the project relevant to people beyond the design or typography communities.

Have you ever shown anybody their statements in illustrated form? Has anybody reached out to you from your Instragram feed and say “Hey! That was me!”?

(laughs) It’s one of the most common things said on my Instagram. Somebody will tag a friend and say “hey, this was you!”, or someone else will say “did this guy wire my house, how did he hear that?”

There have also been ones where I’ve illustrated something that a friend said when he or she didn’t think I was listening. We work on a long communal table at the office, and somebody will be talking and I’ll be pretending to be working while listening in. If I do end up publishing that one, I’ll show them or tag them in it.

The Eavesdropper Project got a huge spotlight this past fall from places like Buzzfeed and Fast Company. Has the attention changed any aspect of what you do?

The Buzzfeed article was the catalyst for getting a lot of attention on my project, and for introducing it to people outside of our creative community. While I am appreciative of that attention, at the end of the day, this is still a project for me. Some of the posts can be offbeat and not get a lot of like from the world at large, but that’s me. I do work that identifies with me before I worry about identifying with others. Fortunately it’s been very reassuring that for the most part, people like what I’m doing.

This started as an exercise to improve your lettering skills. How has its success affected your professional work?

It has definitely had an impact on people’s expectations on what I can do. I am getting a lot more requests for lettering projects over straight design ones. This can be a double-edged sword, because lettering may have got me attention, but it’s not the only thing I like to do (laughs)

More info on Eavesdropper exhibit

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