Interview with Chris Young – GDC Member Since 2014

Meet Chris Young - "Looking through BMX, skateboard and snowboarding magazines as a kid turned me onto design..."

Name :  Chris Young
Member Since :  2014
Specialty :  Brand development,  environmental design and packaging design
Describe yourself in three words :  Passionate, determined, diverse

What do you feel is the value of being a certified graphic designer (CGD)
I feel it differentiates professional designers from the many other people out there calling themselves designers. Studios and clients can feel confident in hiring a CGD because they have gone through a professional review process. With design schools cranking out students at an unprecedented rate, and anyone with a copy of Adobe’s Creative Suite calling themselves a designer, I want prospective employers and clients to be assured that I’m working at the top tier of our field and am connected to the design community. I want to work with companies that appreciate my passion and understand how invested I am in the field of design. 

Tell us about your design practice or areas you specialize in.
While I’m not a ‘jack of all trades’ designer, I do have a broad range of skills. I’ve been doing web design since it began; definitely the last 15+ years, and love how much it continues to evolve. In addition to web design, I do a lot of print work and have done large international projects in packaging, environmental design, and brand development.

How do you define creativity and apply it in your design career?
I’d say creativity is finding a solution to a problem — it might even be an alternative solution to what you (or the client) originally envisioned. I see my job as a communication designer as being a problem solver which sometimes requires taking a step back with the client to discover what the actual problem is. With this approach a client may come to me requesting a brochure, but through my process I discover that they have an objective in mind (examples: sales targets, building awareness, generating leads) and a brochure might not be the most effective tool, or the complete package to meet their goals. With my wide range of experience I can implement solutions across a wide range of mediums. My creative process also involves looking down that path as far as possible, trying to spot potential problems or opportunities that may arise. 

 Do you feel living in BC has influenced your designs? 
Yes, but perhaps not directly. Living in BC has made my quality of life richer, which helps clear my mind and allows me to think more creatively. My wife and I are outdoorsy people, so we like to step away from our computers and get out into nature as much as we can. There is nothing we enjoy more than throwing our canoe in a lake in the middle of nowhere. We get out camping often and totally unplug; one year we spent more than 30 nights in a tent. This is one of the main reasons I moved to BC from Ontario. I always have my camera with me, which is another creative outlet. I shot this photo around 6AM from a site that we had canoed to; a beautiful still morning on the lake with the herons squawking away in the distance.

What first sparked your interest in design?
Looking through BMX, skateboard and snowboarding magazines as a kid turned me onto design. A BMX rider that I knew who was a few years older than me went to college for graphic design (same one I ended up going to), and moved out to California (from Ontario) to work for my favourite bike company. That changed my view of how small the world is, and what possibilities there are in design.

What is your favourite project you ever worked on?
The Windset Farms interior design and wayfinding job was easily my favourite job. It allowed me to make use of many of my interests in one project. I’m interested in architecture and interior design, and I have experience designing real estate sales centre environments, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to design the interior space for their office at their new greenhouse facility. Working on a project like this, there’s a lot of moving parts, endless choices of materials to pick from, and the challenge of working with a space that doesn’t yet exist. I started with nothing other than some floorplans and a few in-progress construction photos and just had to go by feel and trust my experience. The greenhouse is down in Santa Maria, California (north of Los Angeles) so I wasn’t able to see it and get a sense of the space, I just had to trust my gut and map things out with a tape measure in our office so that I could approximate size and distance. Planning the multi-language wayfinding and thinking through how people would move around the facility from site plans, renderings and construction photos was an interesting creative challenge. We kept the job as local as we could working with Colorific (for the backlit LED panel outputs), and had a few visits with Michael Batty and his team at Fine Arts Framing who custom-built the oversize frames that contain the LED panels and power supplies. It was great working with trusted suppliers because you can lean on their wealth of experience.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to see the office in person, but I was in Los Angeles this summer and got to tour and photograph it on my way to Big Sur. It’s hard to wrap your head around the size of this place; the greenhouse is 3 million square feet, so when you’re looking out from the main office tower, it’s glass as far as you can see in three directions. It was really rewarding to visit the office in person and see that everything turned out exactly how you envisioned it.

What's the most recent thing you learned (big or small)?
I just learned how to set up MAMP on my computer in my home office. MAMP is a combination of applications so you can run a virtual web server on your local machine. Now I can work on WordPress sites locally instead of working on them live. I was talking shop with Mike Cober at this past GDC Festivus Holiday Party, and he shared some information and links with me that taught me how to do it.

What practices, rituals or habits contribute to your design work?
When I start a new project, I like to look over all the materials I can get my hands on so that I can deeply understand the company and project. If it’s a web project I like to dig into the analytics and see why people came to the site and where they might be dropping off. If it’s a large enough project, I like to take a couple days before I start, and just do some low pressure thinking about it. I can even do this while I’m working on another project. Then I’ll dive in making notes, researching and then move into the sketching phase before I move onto the computer. Reading Eric Karjaluoto’s book ‘The Design Method’ last year has helped formalize my process. It’s reinforced establishing solid habits that keeps you more efficient as you move through different stages of a project. I’d highly recommend every designer read that book. His methods are rigid, so I don’t go all the way with them, but I work smarter than I ever have.

Lastly, what is currently the most played song on your iPod?
The band Nothing’s ‘Guilty of Everything’ album has been in heavy rotation.

See more of Chris' work at his GDC profile.