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Designer Spotlight with Kaitlyn Chai

Get to know designer Kaitlyn Chai as she shares her inspiration, musings, and creative path

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Kaitlyn Chai (蔡佳伶), 24, and currently based in Melbourne – but originally from Malaysia. I’m also blessed enough to be working as a multidisciplinary designer and illustrator. I used to work as a freelancer but have since found a home at Date of Birth and have been with them as an Associate Designer for about 9 months now. I’d say my practice is pretty broad and I don’t really think I have a particular “style”. I like to keep an open mind and I’m always experimenting with different tools/techniques across print and digital mediums. I don’t like boxing myself into the traditional role of a “Graphic Designer”; to me design is first and foremost storytelling and exploration, it’s not always about a predetermined material outcome. It’s exciting to see how far we can push the potentials of design, using methods and mediums that might not always be conventional or expected.

Which design topics are you most passionate about?

Not sure if this is a topic exclusive to the design world, but I'm passionate about advocating for greater equity and diversity in our industry, as well as in design history and education. Graphic design has been built off of western influences and knowledge for far too long, and it's about time we broadened our perspectives by acknowledging and celebrating cultural and design influences from other parts of the world. The work we put out has an impact on society and culture; our messaging, the images and models we use, the aesthetic we assign to our work. Being aware of what we reproduce, where we draw our influences from and questioning what we consider to be “good” design is something I think every creative should be asking themselves. These aren’t issues that can be solved overnight, it takes collective work and it's not a perfect journey, but small steps are still steps forward.

What do you like to do in your free time?

With the free “me time” I have, I usually like to have coffee by myself and just wander the city or around random shops although I have nothing to buy. I find spontaneous inspiration also hits me when I'm just wandering aimlessly and find small book stores filled with indie publications or cool typography on signages. It might also sound slightly workaholic of me, but when I clock off my day job I usually take that time to work on personal projects.

Share a project / exhibition / creative person / anything that you found recently and sparked your imagination.

I came across Anna Mills (@annam.lls) on Instagram a while ago, but I’m still so enamored and inspired by their work. They do some incredible stuff with motion and typography, using analog and print mediums combined with digital tools to create beautiful frame by frame animations. Makes me really inspired to incorporate more hand drawn and analog ways of making into my design work.

What’s the hardest thing about being a designer?

I think the hardest thing I learnt after getting out of university was the reality of making a $ living $ as a creative. Being in university, I had so much creative freedom and flexibility with the work I produced, I got to be as wild and experimental as I wanted. But working with clients, you don’t necessarily have limitless creative freedom. Sometimes clients are open to letting you go as wild as you’d like, but some clients can be more conservative about their approach based on their tastes and what they think might be more commercially successful. We don’t all have the privilege of picking and choosing the work we do, but I think at the end of the day projects like these build you up to be a better designer. Looking at a brief from a different perspective and accepting that your work isn't always for you, although hard, can be a great way to learn how to break away from your personal biases and agendas.

What’s the best thing about being a designer?

Nothing beats the feeling of seeing my work outside of the computer screen and in the real world. It’s an extremely surreal feeling walking down the street and seeing the poster you did or watching a brand identity concept come to life on print and digital media. At Date of Birth, we do quite a bit of packaging work for clients who are stocked at major supermarkets/retailers, and it's wild to just be running errands and seeing our work on the shelves, knowing the hours of labor everyone has put into making that product a reality. It never gets old!

Who would you love to collaborate with?

I think every designer at some point has fantasized about doing a collection for Ikea–or is that just me?

Describe your dream project.

I have so many, it's hard to name just one dream project. I would love to design a book for A24 or for the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) though–they’re publications are stunnnning!

Share the last photo you took for inspiration and explain why.

I took this screenshot while shopping online for Asian groceries. I’m a sucker for Asian food and drink packaging (I always feel like a kid at a candy store)! The colors, the illustration, the (i think) hand drawn type, all beautifully, “haphazardly” placed on the packaging just does something for me. Fun, colorful packaging isn’t just for kids!

What do you do when you feel stuck and uninspired?

I used to spiral when I was working on a project and had a creative block. My approach used to be to keep working until an idea sparks, but that didn’t really work. I figured out later on, that it helped when I just stepped away from my laptop and got my mind off the work, at least for a little while. I’d do something else for a couple hours, like reading a book or being around my friends. I noticed that most good ideas also come to me when I’m in the shower as well, not sure why but, it’s worked for me so far. However, if it’s crunch time and you work in a full-time role like me and can’t really step away from your job, moving on to a different task or area of the project and coming back to what you're stuck on later helps heaps too.

Recommend a book / movie / TV series / podcast / playlist to our readers

If you’re a horror film/series buff like me, definitely watch From, I'm counting the days till the next season. But I’d also highly recommend the book “The Politics of Design” by Ruben Pater. It's a super easy to read and concise book that explores the socio-cultural and political context of design and the impact it has on our society. It’s an amazing way to get started on critically thinking about our roles as designers.

Thank you Kaitlyn!



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