Original Interview: October 2016


Ian Clarke is a Graphic Designer who runs a blog called HeyThere – which is dedicated to highlighting the best of Canadian Design & Creativity. Ian tells us why he doesn’t believe in UX and UI and why its important to get out and meet people from all industires!

When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?
When I was 7 I had gotten an art kit for Christmas and immediately I knew art or creativity was for me. Later I collected stamps simply because of their design and coins from around the world. I was soaking up design without knowing it. The first time I truely became aware of graphic design was when I picked up a copy of RayGun in Tower Records in Dublin. It blew me away. I didn’t know who Dave Carson was at the time but it set me on a path towards a life of design. After that I started collecting flyers and posters and began to notice the difference between good and bad design, and to a certain degree I began educating myself about this industry. It wasn’t until my 2nd year of college that I committed full-time to being a graphic designer since the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Ireland runs a multi-disciplinary 1st year, after which you choose your area of speciality.

What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
The plan was to graduate somewhere near the top of my class and then get a job in a design studio right away. Part one worked out OK, as I graduated with 1st degree honours. Part 2 however didn’t quite pan out. When I left college it was just after the Dot Com crash. Agencies were really reluctant to hire new people. Of the 25 or so who graduated from my class only 2 got employment right away. To this day I think only about 5 of us actually succeeded in getting into the industry. To bide my time I took a job at an educational CD-ROM developer who’s creative department was located in Dublin at the time. I lasted one day. My job entailed copying and pasting for 8 hours. I felt it would kill my spirit with little personal growth factor. Instead I went and took a job designing a newspaper in UCD, probably Irelands biggest university. It was a student run paper. Although the pay was terrible (€200 a month I think), it allowed me to continue my student lifestyle for another year and learn a ton about print design / production. While the students were on their Christmas break I reached out to Dynamo, a top Dublin studio, and offered to work for free over the holiday. One of their creative directors had come into NCAD and ran a project with the students, afterwards I’d remained in contact with him. Instead Dynamo gave me a small cheque at the end of each week and then offered me a full-time position at the end of my stint there. If I had of accepted the position and started right away I’d probably have shut the paper down as they wouldn’t have been able to find someone to replace me. The two other employees would be out of jobs. Instead I asked if Dynamo would hold the job for me until I finished my term at the paper… and thankfully they agreed. It worked out magically. I played the long game, and it worked.

Any passion projects you would like to share?
My passion project is HeyThere.ca. In all aspects it’s a side project. Often I have to neglect it if I get busy with my day to day design work. But the idea behind it is simple. I want to promote Canadian design internally in Canada and to a larger global audience. When I immigrated here in 2008 there was no real way to get a feel for the Canadian design landscape. I found it hard to find people and see what they were up to. One good resource was the Canadian Design Resource but that didn’t focus on graphic design. I decided to build it once I had the skills to. It’s nice to get studios here sharing and talking about their work. So often we get over shadowed by whats happening in the US. Canada has a really talented pool of designers doing world class design, I just wanted to shine a light on them. Recently I’ve started hosting HeyThere.ca design events where we get 3 local studios or freelancers out to talk about their work. We try make it as cheap as possible so everyone can attend. The more dialogue we have about design the better it will get. Seeing how your peers approach work is a great way to up your own game and learn something new. HeyThere isn’t about me though, it couldn’t and wouldn’t exist without all the people who’ve agreed to participate.

HeyThere - The Design Kids

What role does digital design play in your studio in 2015, and how to you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age?
It plays a massive part in my day to day work. I’ve always loved to mess with computers and I got pretty good with Flash when it ruled the world. Nowadays I’ve switched gears and I design and code a lot of websites. Most of my websites are built using WordPress. I hand code my themes to be lean and mean. Each one is tailored to the clients specific needs. So in a way I design the system they use to maintain the web side of their business through a WordPress interface.

I honestly don’t see that much of a difference between print and digital. The process of design is still the same. You still need to develop hierarchy, layout and typographic rhythm. Clients also need to be guided through the steps. On the digital side of things there is a lot of hyperbole about certain aspects of it. I don’t believe in UX and UI… it’s all design. It’s all your job. You can’t have one without the other. What I do find frustrating about digital design is the homogenisation of the web. It seems everyone is buying the same few themes, the side effect being that the internet is now becoming less expressive.

But all this can be solved with better tools. Once the tools for developing websites catches up with what designers need, you’ll see things begin to bounce back. For the vast majority of websites, you shouldn’t have to learn how to code. It seems archaic. A bit like pasting up type or setting letters by hand. Give it a few years and I can see designers wrestling back control of web work from developers.

What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?
Get out and meet people. Like ALL industires, design is build on relationships and trust. Say hi. People will pick up on your interest and remember you when you come knocking on their door for a job.

Whats the big goal in the next five years?
Become more stable financially. Freelancing is full of ups and downs. Grow Heythere to really cover all of Canada.

Email: info@heythere.ca
Blog: HeyThere.ca