Making Her Mark: Franziska Erlebach

To highlight the contributions of women who innovate every day and dare to break the rules, this article is part of our portrait series on some of our inspiring creative leaders.


Franziska Erlebach has an easy elegance to her. She’s poised but not tense, and her composure is occasionally challenged by bursts of excitement that widen her eyes. It’s clear that her thoughtfulness has guided her well on the path to becoming a Design Director, and that her aptitude for strategic and creative thinking is what led her to make her mark at Sid Lee. 

Growing up in Germany, Franziska wasn’t particularly interested in design; in fact, she wanted to be a veterinarian. But art was all around her, quietly—her mother is an interior architect who teaches ceramics at a nearby university, and her grandfather, a psychiatrist, was often drawing or working on creative projects. She first came across the concept of design school at a job fair and thought she’d give it a try. 
Franziska Erlebach and the Toronto skyline
Franziska began her design career in Berlin, where she landed a few Anglophone clients. She had about ten years of English at school, but knew that she’d need more to stay competitive, so she opted for immersion. “Nobody was talking about Canada,” she notes, “and that really intrigued me. So, I came to Toronto, and I fell in love with the city and the culture.” She went on to do her undergraduate degree in Berlin before returning to Toronto to earn her master’s degree at York University and later teach at the city’s prestigious OCAD University.  

She describes her European design education as “rigid and grid-based,” explaining that when she came to Toronto to do her master’s, she was looking to broaden the horizons of her work. When she arrived, she left most of what she learned at the door and began prioritizing bridges between print, digital and manual work. This intersection of pragmatism and play is where her art lies, and what informs her work at Sid Lee.  
Franziska Erlebach in front of a wall mural
Franziska is both deeply creative and a strategic thinker. When asked if there’s tension there, she laughs and says she’s able to integrate both sides. This idea of combining the creative and the strategic underpins her master’s thesis on what she calls the play state, a concept that advocates for a moderate underlying structure/strategy in creative processes to create space for experimental and free thinking and making. “It’s about setting parameters so you can explore more deeply, instead of just scratching the surface. When we are under intense pressure to create something great, our brains will revert to knowledge we already have, instead of exploring new territories and connecting the dots in innovative ways.”
Franziska Erlebach surrounded by post its on the wall brainstorming
Her aptitude for strategic creativity leads her towards cultural and community-driven projects. “Most of the time,” she says, “these projects have a really robust research phase where you interview a lot of people. You observe and you listen. It’s a crucial part of immersing yourself in the minds of every stakeholder involved. From there you can create something that’s not only unexpected, but that people truly feel rooted to.” 

Design will always intrigue Franziska, who describes herself as a lifelong learner. The work always offers something new: different industries, processes, people, perspectives, and problems to solve. It’s never the same, and to her, that’s inspiring. 
Franziska Erlebach reviewing project materials
Read more articles from this same series: Marie-Elaine Benoit, Isabelle Allard