We get to shoot the shit with independent designer Tina Hardison from San Francisco. Tina tells us her design story, from growing up in North Carolina to working at Apple and everything in between, plus her fake projects, her favourite rapper is and what her five year plans are.
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?
I grew up in a weird town in Eastern North Carolina where no one knew of “design.” My two sisters and I are all creatives (designers, sign-painter/illustrator) and I know it’s because we were raised by a super crafty Mom and a business savvy Dad. My Mom teaches Early Childhood Development, and so she raised us to be creative thinkers. We never used coloring books, and we had a super rad tupperware “art box” full of different mediums of coloring and painting tools, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, construction paper, feathers…you name it. During Summer breaks, my Mom gave us projects like write and illustrate your own book. My sister and I both run our own creative businesses in the Bay Area. Back in North Carolina, my Dad runs his own Real Estate business, Hardison Realty. His independent anti “the man” mindset and business savviness definitely runs in my veins.
I fell in love with design after I learned that “design” meant “applied art”. It was a way I could use my creative power for good, and could get a job while doing it. North Carolina State University has an amazing Design School that I was lucky enough to attend. They have an amazing studio environment there, where the students move into a studio space for the semester, and it became our new homes. A rotation of Professors would come into our studio and teach a variety of design courses, and in the evenings and weekends in the studio we would work on our projects, collaborate, party, nap, and get up and do it all over again. I made my best friendships there.
I got started by interning while still in school at a tech company called Red Hat in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a corporate company full of the funnest NC State Design School grads. I don’t think I really understood what the company even did at the time, I just had fun going to work every day. I would be type-setting the most boring collateral one-sheeter but I would be doing it with people I had looked up to while I was in school who suddenly became my best friends.
The Summer before my Senior year of college I got offered an internship at IDEO in San Francisco, so suddenly I had to pack up my bags and move to San Francisco. My internship at IDEO is why I live here today. I realized the world was bigger than North Carolina. And that California was fucking beautiful and magical. So when I graduated, I left my friends at Red Hat, and moved permanently to San Francisco.
What does a typical working day include for you right now?
I get my best thinking done in the mornings. So usually I wake up, make myself a coffee, and do some internet-off thinking. If it’s not a school day, I’ll then bike to the Mission where my studio is from my apartment in the Sunset neighborhood, about a 25 minute bike ride. I’ll do some e-mails, grab lunch with my studio-mates, and then get design work done in the afternoons into the evening.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice?
I teach at California College of the Arts, right now I’m teaching a class called Transition to Professional Practice. It’s a classroom full of Seniors in undergrad Graphic Design. They remind me how fun it is to be a designer.
Any passion projects you would like to share?
Yes! I created this side project called thebrandedproject.com—where I design fake identities for brands I wished existed. It’s still in the development stage, but it’s a place where I can exercise my brand identity chops sans client. My first project was an Action Bronson (one of my favorite rappers) Ramen Shop.
What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in?
I love this question because it’s an important one for San Francisco. San Francisco is a very tech-centered city, so a lot of the work here is for large tech companies and start-ups. Before I started my own design practice, I was working at Apple. It killed my soul. So when I started my own design practice, I knew I didn’t want my work to be 100% tech projects. So where I think I fit in here, is that I get a lot of the unconventional San Francisco work. I still work on book design projects and art exhibition work, right now I’m branding a marijuana company. I still do work for tech companies like Facebook and Pinterest, but I like to keep my work fun and try not to pigeonhole myself in tech.
Whats the big goal in the next five years?
I’d love to start bringing in interns and a Junior Designer within the next five years. Working for myself is a dream, but there’s definitely moments where I know my work could be stronger if I could collaborate with another designer. Or moments when there’s a project I really want to take on, but don’t have the bandwidth. Or days when I’m straight up lonely. I’d love to slowly start growing into “From the Office of Tina Hardison.” There will be pizza.