Nathan Hill from Nh.d talks to us about contracts with clients, designing for design’s sake, what he looks for in a portfolio, the joys of interns and a passion podcast project!
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? I’ve always been surrounded by creative people in one way or another. One of my earliest memories was helping my mom prepare for craft fairs she would participate in. She focused on floral arrangements and since I helped her she encouraged me make my own pieces to sell at the booth. They were often made from things I’d find at the craft store: miniature framed pieces, sewn objects and other knick-knacks. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. Looking back, this type of stuff added to the idea of running my own shop. I always knew I would be doing my own thing. It just took hard work, motivation and persistence.
What’s your take on internships? (do you take interns now?) Yes. I always have at least one intern helping me in the studio. Internships are a great way to get help and have fresh perspectives around me. Because I’m a small shop we do it all. Interns at Nh.d are exposed to so many aspects of running a business. They interact with clients and get exposure to how a small business operates. They get first-hand experience with business development and client interaction including crits, feedback, and anything else comes along with running Nh.d.
What do you look for in a great portfolio?
I look for concepts. It’s great when a portfolio has striking work, but you need to be able to show me that you’re a thinker too. Anyone can learn to use programs. What grabs my attention is when designers can explain the ideas behind designs and think outside the box. The artifact can always be tweaked and refined at the studio, but I’m really looking for designers who can contribute in intellectual and philosophical ways. This is where design gets really interesting.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice? Yes. I teach third-year design studio in the BFA undergraduate program at George Washington University’s Corcoran College. I’ve been teaching for nearly six years now. I’ve also spent the last five years serving as an Education Director for DC’s AIGA board of directors. Working with students keeps me on my feet. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to approach design. It’s an ever-learning field, and talking to students who are eager and new to the practice helps to keep me engaged.
Any passion projects you would like to share?
For a little over a year now I’ve been producing a podcast called Design Intercourse. It’s a series where I talk to designers and artists about their creative process in interviews and casual conversations. It’s a resource that I felt the DC community was looking for and needed.
I’m also excited to say that the studio is working on a publication about experimental design in which it highlights a variety of national and international artists who push design boundaries. We’ll be launching this soon, so keep an eye out!
What have been some of your biggest disasters and how have you learnt from it?
Having agreements and contracts in place. The worst disasters have almost always come from not being prepared. It’s so important to be clear and have upfront communication with your client about needs and expectations. Students and new designers ask me a lot about how to price out projects and negotiate with clients. Contracts make it clear who’s responsible for what. Designers need to cover themselves – especially if they’re doing work at a reduced rate. For students and others just starting out, it’s not uncommon to do work for a reduced rate to help build clientele and a portfolio. Beyond costs, clients also need to know what the designer requires, what the deliverables will be, and what the payments terms will be. It’s all part of being diligent and professional.
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?
Be patient. I was always in a hurry to see things develop quickly. Hard work and determination will get you there. However, I would tell my 16 year old self to have more patience and faith that my hard work would pay off. It always does in one way or another.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. Use contracts. I say it again because it’s important!
2. Experiment with new mediums. Don’t just play with things you’re comfortable with. Always be open to new ideas and ways of creating work.
3. Read critical writings about design. Essays, journals and monographs are great ways to understand how others think and approach design.
4. Design for design’s sake. Designing for a client’s needs is necessary but at the end in the day you need to be inspired yourself. I’m a designer because I love it. I don’t wait for a client to come along with the perfect project. If there’s something I want to design I simply come up with self-initiated project and I do it. Many times these passion projects are what other designers and clients respond to anyway!
5. Collaborate with other creatives as much as possible. Work with photographers, developers, artists, etc. These relationships will help greatly when you’re coming up with new projects for yourself and clients.
2016 for you in a sentence.
2016 has thrown up challenging assignments that have helped me expand my vision for the studio and push it in new directions.