Original Interview: September 2016

Kristian Hay

Kristian Hay was always pretty analytical and academically driven as a kid up until he was in eighth grade or so, it was skateboarding that exposed him to a whole new mix of creativity. Making money from design at the tender age of 15, Kristian was already stocking shirt merch in retail stores all around Vancouver! Kristian tells us about the new Vancouver Mural Fest, some great podcasts, 5 current design crushes and also while most hate dealing with social media, to make the most of what it has to offer us as creative!

What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?
It’s kind of funny when I get asked this question, because growing up I was far from an artsy or creative kid. I never grew up as one of those prodigies who just couldn’t help but draw on whatever surface was in front of them – quite the opposite actually. If you could see any of my artwork from when I was a youngin’, you’d probably cringe. I was always a pretty analytical and academically driven kid up until I was in eigth grade or so. I got into skateboarding around that time and that’s where things took off for me creatively. Putting together skate videos with my friends and creating title slides / DVD covers was all I wanted to do. I had friends doing photography, video, graffiti… I had suddenly been exposed to a whole new shit mix of creativity. Design just snowballed from there for me.

When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?
During my skate rat years – around the age of 15 – I ended up starting a little t-shirt line with a buddy of mine. Somehow, it actually ended up in retail stores all around Vancouver – which stunned me about as much as the retailers when this teenager came by to drop off the products. The feeling of seeing something you had created in a tangible form was amazing, and I haven’t looked back since. I had no idea what I was doing or that I could make a career of it, but I was having so much fun at the time that it just didn’t matter. That’s what I wanted to do.

Once I had figured that out – I started looking for schools in Vancouver that offered design programs, and the pickings were slim. I ended up settling on Kwantlen Polytechnic University, which has a great design school funded by Chip and Shannon Wilson of Lululemon fame. I was just grinding all the time at that point – creating things for shits and giggles and posting them online for no other reason than pride. I’ve been pretty lucky along the way, having had people take notice of that and reaching out to work with me. I don’t think there’s one “correct” path that takes you into design, it all happens a little bit differently for everyone.

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids

What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?
At this point, podcasts have almost become as important to me as books or blogs have. It’s funny, because it can really makes you feel like you “know” somebody despite the fact that you’ve probably never been in the same city as him or her. I’ve found them to be a constant source of inspiration and insight, and there’s definitely a few I’d say are must-listen-tos.

Adventures in Design was the first design podcast that I’ve ever listened to, and I still do to this day. They describe it as a “daily morning talk show for creative’s” which is just what it is. Every episode is always entertaining and interesting – whether it be interviews with creatives, advice for the listeners, or just shooting the shit about the industry – you’ll likely never be bored listening to this one. There’s also a massive catalogue of episodes so…I doubt you’ll get through it all anytime soon.

StartUp by Gimlet Media is one of my favorite podcasts despite it not being directly design-related. I love that it gives you an inside look at the trials and tribulations of a company’s startup (for lack of a better word). I find that you can pull so many parallels from that in terms of developing as a person and professional. The story that’s weaved throughout each episode sucks you right in, and before you know it you’ll be waiting for that next season.

Creative Pep Talk by Andy J. Miller is also one I really enjoy. I particularly dig the interviews that he does with guys like Mikey Burton. As I said before, these put a “face” to the name while giving you kickass insight at the same time. He also has some great advice for how to make it as a freelancer, so get on it.

Who are your top five design crushes right now?
That one’s super tough but I’ll just go with the first that come to mind right now. David Rudnick, Steve Wolf, David M. Smith, Jesse Draxler, and Daniel Forero. They’d probably be a bit different if you asked me tomorrow though, hah.

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids

What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in?
Vancouver’s kind of a funny place for design, because the community here is so very small despite the city being relatively large. It feels like everybody knows everybody, and the pool of designers isn’t terribly deep. That being said, I do feel like the design landscape here is growing pretty quickly. More and more people are starting to recognize the talent that’s coming out of the city, and I think that’s helping to put Vancouver on the map. You see creatives from the city like Meg Robichaud just crushing the illustration game, or Andrew Kim who was a big part of the Xbox One S design team and it all starts to make sense.

Just recently there was the first ever Vancouver Mural Fest, which was unlike anything I’ve seen happen here. It was something really rad to see – people of all walks of life swarming one area of the city to celebrate these huge murals that local artists and designers were putting up. I get that this happens in other cities around the world and has been for a while, but it’s the first of it’s kind here and it was really dope to see the direction that the city is heading.

As to how I fit into the design landscape, who knows. I’m still trying to figure that one out haha.

Whats the big goal in the next five years?
Ah, thinking about the next five years is such a scary thing to do – if you’d have asked me what I had planned for next month, I’m not sure I’d have a very good answer. Things change so quickly that it’s hard to think about these kinds of things. That being said, I think there’s definitely one big “goal” I have.

At this point in my career, I’ve only lived and worked in Vancouver. It’s a small sample size, but you can’t help but feel a sense of curiosity about what’s going on in other cities around the world. If you look at places like San Francisco, New York, Austin… there’s such an interesting mix of creatives there that it’s hard to not want to be a part of that. So I’d say, it would be really great to have the opportunity to live and work somewhere else within the next 5 years – we’ll see where things take me!

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids

What advice would you give students starting out?
If I were to give new students one quick piece of advice, it would be to leverage social media to your advantage early on. I know a lot of people are very anti social media for one reason or another, but if you look at it as another platform to put your work out there, it really is great. I’ve been pretty lucky on social media, having people take notice of things I was posting, and then proceeding to share them in various places. This has lead me to numerous gigs, a little bit of press, and so on and so forth.

A couple years ago, I read a book called “The Click Moment” by Frans Johansson, and the main idea is that if you place as many meaningful “bets” as you can, there are that many more chances for one of them to win and lead you to a “click moment”. I took this to heart, and realized that not every single thing you post or put out there has to be perfect, or even your best work. I’m not saying to post crap you’re not stoked on at all – but things like work in progress pieces, sketches, or one off graphics are all great to show. It’s a lot of work to manage all your social streams and I get that it can be pretty exhausting, but I think if you take the time to build your online persona and become an active part of the “community” that you’re involved in, the payoff can be huge. You make your own luck these days.

Being active on the interwebs also gives you a chance to put a voice to the person behind the work. This seems to be an ongoing theme that I’m bringing up, but I think people are as interested in the human as they are the work themselves. Feeling some sort of personal connection might be the difference between getting that next gig or not, y’know?

Website: kristianhay.com
Instagram: @kristianhay
Twitter: @kristianhay

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids

Kristian Hay - The Design Kids