Worldly, multicultural experience and an education in architecture give artistic depth to the creative and media director behind the weekly layout of the AJT.
Joining the staff over a year ago, Deborah Herr Richter brings a breadth of knowledge to the paper far beyond her years. It was partly gained from teaching, in English and Spanish, low-income fifth-graders in the Bronx and East Harlem, having a mother from Colombia, and losing her father when she was 11. Not to mention living in several countries and speaking a handful of languages.
Originally from Baltimore, she attended Jewish day school and lived in Israel for a bit, where she mastered Hebrew while also speaking fluent Spanish and English. In addition to traveling around Europe, she studied abroad in Florence, Italy.
Of all the languages she speaks, she said, “Italian is probably my favorite language because it’s so emotive and sounds almost like music.”
Talk about a creative background broader than what meets the eye. “I’ve been singing since I could talk,” she said. From a young age, she sang with the Peabody Children’s Chorus in Baltimore, performing classical and folk music. And in college, she joined an all-female a cappella group, the Washington University Greenleafs, “where I sang, beat-boxed and got to help record our ‘50 Shades of Green’ album. The whole album is available on Spotify, but my song, ‘The Fear’ is marked explicit for language!”
Her initial goal after college was to “save the world one classroom at a time. I saw a need and I wanted to help,” she said of her position at Teach for America. But she became too disenchanted with New York public schools to continue teaching. “They needed superstar teachers and not fresh-faced, hopeful college kids who aren’t experienced.”
After living in New York, Herr Richter and her husband decided to come to Atlanta with his company. “It’s a happening city with a great food, arts and culture scene, but not on a New York budget. The weather also drew us. I retired my snow boots when we moved here.”
At the AJT, she combines her love for the written word with a passion for décor and graphics.
Knowing how to assemble the pieces that make up the polished visuals is a skill that may stem from her early desires to be a graphic designer and her studies at Wash U to become an architect. “I always loved design. At the time, I felt like it was cheating to go into graphic design. Architecture seemed more serious and a better career path.”
Herr Richter remembered scribbling and doodling as a child the interiors of rooms, such as a living room perspective drawing of a couch below a painting. “A lot of fashion too.”
She believes she uses all the skills she learned in college every day at the AJT. It’s “design on a scale that’s more enjoyable to me. To design on the scale of a building feels less personal.”
Having minored in English, Herr Richter started a local women’s book club in Atlanta. She also writes occasionally for the paper. One artistically detailed article was about decorating, so I had to ask whether she thought her Chamblee townhome might be the subject of a future Chai Style Homes? Maybe, on her modest budget, though, she said. “I love seeing new trends in interior design.”
To peek into the innovative psyche of the talented designer, I asked Herr Richter about her favorite AJT covers. The Passover design was the first that came to mind, with its modern interpretation of the parting of the Red Sea.
A young male with a backpack walks on a dry passageway with waters rising on either side, revealing the Atlanta skyline stretched before him. As he steps, you can see the footprints he leaves behind in the moist sand.
“It was a little bit of challenge,” Herr Richter recalled about the April 19 cover. “It was actually the combination of four different graphics.”
She disclosed that her first instinct for the cover was actually to re-create the traditional seder plate or a Judaica graphic. Instead, she produced a modern and local take on the classic Exodus story.
Another fave was the Rosh Hashanah cover. It combined traditional holiday symbols with a photo of a beekeeper, illustrating the cover story about a Dunwoody woman who raises the buzzing pollinators in her backyard to produce honey. The story included bee graphics dispersed within the content.
Herr Richter admits she consults with the managing publisher on every cover and it’s often that collaboration that produces the final design. Otherwise, it’s “cerebral and what feels right, like assembling a puzzle.”
The AJT’s Chai Style spreads are good examples. “There is a lot of arranging and rearranging. I try to look at the order of things … and place it on the page in a way that makes sense.”
Beyond the layouts and creations, Herr Richter said she is “acutely aware of my life’s opportunities.” As much as her experience is an accident of birth and circumstance, she also believes her background colors her thinking. It certainly shades, tones and embellishes our pages. And that’s a good thing for the AJT and our readers.