Original Interview: September 2016

Hardhat

We get the chance to pick the brains of the talented duo, Jen & Nik of Hardhat. Jen & Nik split their time between Auckland and NYC, livin’ the dream! They share with us how they believe the design community needs to adapt for the future and they give some great advice for students and fresh grads. 

What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. Keep an open mind, avoid prejudice, assume nothing, and expect the unexpected.
2. Be kind & do good.
3. Clear, honest communication is crucial to building trust.
4. Get it in writing.
5. Learn when and how to say no.
6. An old favourite – but it really is quite true! good, cheap, fast. pick two. Design something quickly and to a high standard, but it will not be cheap. Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality. Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a relatively long time.
7. Don’t be afraid of self belief and confidence.
8.Having wonderful clients & creative jobs is far more fulfilling than a fat paycheck. (although we all gotta eat!) 9. If you’re not having fun something ‘aint right.
10. Keep an eye on the donut not the hole.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt? / What do you think the design community could do more of to give back?
We think these two are intertwined so we’ll answer both at the same time! I [Jen] have been doing a lot of reading around sustainable and slow design, and how design is going to have to adapt as we move towards an economy where we are less reliant on dwindling natural resources; where more and more goods & services are produced with zero waste and a far less negative (perhaps even a positive) impact on society and the environment. Look at what companies like Patagonia, or those involved in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, are already doing. The design industry has to step up and take responsibility for integrating sustainability into its practice, designing products that can be repaired or recycled, producing print work that uses ethically produced and environmentally sustainable techniques and materials etc. There’s also a lot to be said for dedicating time to using design to help support your local community, working for things other than money; trading time for time, or contra.

I think it’s also important as we become more experienced in the industry to give back to the design community itself; sharing insights, lessons learnt, mistakes made, doubts fears, hopes, whether it is with portfolio reviews, teaching, public speaking, taking on interns… it’s great to share, and it’s not just about giving, we’ve found it is often a two way street, we learn new things in the process too.

HARDHAT - The Design Kids

HARDHAT - The Design Kids

How do you deal with non creative clients that don’t see your vision?
We’ve found the best way to engage clients in the design process and our vision is to work very closely with them at the very beginning of a project, at the initial moodboarding, in creating a clear design direction. This tends to help them understand where we’re coming from & to feel invested in the process. We won’t move forward until everyone is happy and on the same page. The other thing is having – and showing – confidence & passion in our ideas. Clients often just want us to be able to sell them our idea, to convince them, so that they can sit back and relax in the knowledge that we have things under control, know where we’re headed, and are confident we’re going to do a great job. If we’re not fully behind that idea, the client won’t be either.

Whats your take on internships? and do you take interns now?
We think internships are really important but adamant that they should be paid. While we really would love to take on interns, we’ve never felt in a position to be able to give give them the quality and quantity of input and work that they would deserve; Hardhat is only the 2 of us, our workload is pretty erratic and unpredictable as well as incredibly varied in the skills required. Budgets are often small, and we travel often so aren’t necessarily in the studio 9-5, 5 days a week, for months on end. Maybe one day!

HARDHAT - The Design Kids

HARDHAT - The Design Kids

What advice would you give students starting out?
Don’t stick to the traditional routes, think outside the box, look for experience and inspiration in unexpected places… it will make you more versatile, hopefully make you stand out from the crowd, and make your work more interesting. We aren’t originally from design backgrounds, our paths weren’t predictable, ie working our way up the chain at big design firms, in part because we started working in the industry in the 90s during the dot com boom, but it has stood us in good stead moving forwards. Secondly, start building your networks from the very start, and make it a key part of your working life. Don’t be afraid to reach out, nurture relationships with the kind of people you want around you and who you want to work with. And avoid doing anything from a place of fear, it rarely turns out well!

What does a typical working day include for you right now?
We have had a funny year as far as routines are concerned, and like to shake up our routines now and then as it helps us get a new perspective on things. The end of last year saw us working more often than not in an old farmhouse surrounded by 2 feet of snow in the Catskill Mountains in New York. There weren’t too many client jobs on, so Jen spent time focusing on reading and writing about design, and we both planned our year ahead. Feb/Mar saw us on our annual trip to the New Zealand studio. The days there were all very varied; we could be out of the city for a couple of days speaking at the Design Assembly Autumn Conversations, in the studio for the day, or running around town with back-to-back meetings. We’re back in Brooklyn now, back to a more predictable routine: get to the studio around 11, emails over coffee for an hour or so, review our day’s to-do lists, work on client projects through until 7ish, with short breaks when time allows to focus on personal projects & collaborations. Evenings can sometimes be taken up with skype meetings to UK or NZ clients. End of the day is re-writing the to-do list for the next day. And repeat!

HARDHAT - The Design Kids

HARDHAT - The Design Kids

Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months? As Hardhat has only been running for a year here in New York, building our networks and clients here is the focus for the next 12 months. We’re planning a series of collaborations with other cross-disciplinary creatives we admire and would like to get to know better. And Jen would like to dedicate more time to writing on design and public speaking. We also bought 11acres of land in upstate NY and plan on building a small off-grid cabin on it during the summer months, in between the paid jobs!

Website: hardhatdesign.com
Instagram: @hardhatdesign
Twitter: @hardhat

HARDHAT - The Design Kids

HARDHAT - The Design Kids