Interview with Kwantlen Design Student and Rising Star Kristian Hay

Photo of Kristian HayThe first time I noticed Kristian Hay was on Behance. That’s saying a lot because you’re completely inundated with talent on that network. Kristian’s a Kwantlen GDMA (Graphic Design for Marketing) student, and he’s only in his second year. I knew this guy had a bright future ahead of him, so I had to snag an interview with him before he became too drunk on fame.

He’s by all accounts an enthusiastic guy. He tackled every question I threw at him like he’s done it a hundred times before. Some creatives, including myself, find it hard to answer certain questions. What’s your favorite font? Try answering that in 3 minutes or less. I also asked him to dig up some of his oldest most embarrassing pieces of design work!

This is Kristian Hay’s POV.

Kristian Hay PhotoTell us a little about yourself. Where are your from, how long you’ve been in Vancouver? 

Well, my name is Kristian Hay, born and bred in Vancouver (actually, Richmond, but same thing!). I love hockey, skateboarding, design and food. I’m a month shy of 20 and have been around computers my whole life. Naturally, one thing led to another and I ended up messing around with Photoshop, Illustrator and other like programs in high school, which led me to where I am today!


I’m seeing so many talented grads coming out of Kwantlen GDMA (Graphic Design for Marketing) program each year, what’s in their water?! Can you give me your take on what it is you think that makes a Kwantlen GDMA grad unique? 

Haha, the GDMA water is actually pretty frightening as it comes out of a tap with paint splatters stained on it, so that probably isn’t it. I think one thing that makes Kwantlen’s GDMA program so different than others is the fact that they incorporate marketing into every aspect of our learning. Instead of simply viewing things as the elements and principles of design, we have to look at projects logically as well. This gives us a huge advantage over other programs in my opinion as it is another skill to add to our toolboxes.

Another thing that I think makes GDMA so unique is the people in the program. The students go through a lengthy procedure in order to get into the program, and more often than not – the students are awesome. We all push each other and help each other and it provides an excellent learning environment, unlike any I’ve had before.

GDMA Faculty  on Facebook

GDMA Faculty via Facebook

Lastly, I would say the professors. All of the professors come from a background where they have worked in the industry, often for extended periods of time. They are totally accessible and help with student development by sharing their wealth of experience.


What kind of advice would you give high school grads looking to get into graphic design as a career? 

My main piece of advice for high school grads looking to get into graphic design is simple: practice. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. To a hockey player, their skills and practice are what lead them to success. Graphic design is no different. Learn your programs and master them.

It’s cliche, but it’s important – don’t give up. There will be people out there who try and shut you down and tell you you’re not good, but take the negatives and turn them into positives if you can.

Lastly, promote yourself as much as possible. Create a web presence for yourself and let people know who you are. If your work isn’t the first thing that shows up when your name is Googled, you’re doing something wrong.


We’re a multicultural city, not as much as Toronto or Montreal, but we are in every sense of the word “multicultural.” We have a vibrant street culture and art scene. We have huge income disparity that’s visible in almost every area of the city. Then of course there’s the awesome nature that surrounds us, and a ton of other things that can influence someone’s creativity. How has Vancouver influenced your outlook and design work?

Living and growing up in the greater Vancouver area has influenced my outlook immensely. Our large, urbanized city contrasts greatly with the nature that surrounds us and I’m truly thankful for this. It’s not everywhere that you get the luxury of enjoying both, and having the contrast makes you appreciate each of them even more.

The street culture in Vancouver is fantastic – it’s amazing how easy it is to just take a stroll downtown and get lost in listening to the music, admiring some street art or just taking the diversity within a crowd. All in all, if you need inspiration, it’s pretty much a sky train ride away.


Are there any individual creative people or agencies in Vancouver that have blown you away recently? Care to share anything in particular that impressed you?

I recently had an opportunity to visit Cossete in Yaletown and I was pretty blown away by that. It’s a huge ad agency, and seeing the inner workings of the company was a pretty eye opening experience. Whilst there, I got a chance to meet Gae Wakabayashi, one of the creative directors there and she gave me some amazing information and advice on making it in the industry.


Who or what are some of your biggest design Hero’s and influences? 

There are a lot of great designers out there who inspire and influence me. Jeff Staple of Staple Design and Reed Space is a big one for me. He seems like a down to earth dude who has a great sense of focus on what he’s doing, and he does it so well. If you don’t get what I mean with that, this video kind of sums it all up.

Johnny Cupcakes LogoAnother big one for me is Johnny Cupcakes. Knowing his story of how he got to where he is is pretty outstanding, especially when you see how spectacular his stores are. It’s amazing how well he connects with his fans and again, he seems like a really cool dude. Jon Contino, 123Klan, Benny Gold, Shepard Fairey, Bobby Hundreds – there are way too many to list!


In a previous Vancouver POV interview, Georgia Straight Senior Designer, Marc Atomos, mentioned he gets his best ideas while taking a shower. Others keep a notebook next to their bed. Have you found that you get some of your best creative ideas a certain way?

 In memory of Steve Jobs PosterMy creativity really comes at random times of the day, I don’t really know how to define it. I might be listening to music and a lyric stands out to me, or watching a movie and a message from the film really connects to me and I’ll try and get that down on paper as fast as I can.

My mind is always going in a hundred different directions and doesn’t seem to stop – I’d say some of my best creative comes when I’m trying to get to sleep, probably because there are no distractions aside from me and my ideas.


I think all artists and designers have things they’ve made in the past that they’re not too proud of. Is there a piece of work you’ve done a long time ago that you’d like to share with us for, say, educational purposes? Maybe explain how you’ve evolved since then?

Kristian Hay Old WorkHaha why not. I did this (left) back in 2008, when I was around 15?  It was one of the first things I did when I was trying to learn Illustrator, and as you can see it’s pretty bad. All the lines are super jagged, I couldn’t even seem to get the mouths right!

Since then, I’ve pushed myself into learning as much as I possibly can about all the Adobe programs. By no means do I know everything there is to know, but I’m working on it. I’ve developed a much better sense of the elements and principles of design and have started to develop my own style as well. If you compare my work now to that piece, the difference is pretty ridiculous.


Tell us about getting into apparel design, and your Validus Apparel line. What’s the status of that now? I could imagine your pretty busy already with school and freelance work, so is that something you’ll be continuing again during the summer break? 


When I was 14/15, I spent a lot of time doing shirt designs for fun. I frequented Emptees, now Mintees, which is a shirt design web community and it inspired me to start Validus. Validus was an invaluable learning experience – from getting into retail stores to designing pieces for print. It had a good run but I think it’s pretty much run it’s course, especially with how busy I am. If I were to pursue something similar, it would be completely from scratch!


Are there any other local apparel lines from Vancouver that you like?

Hamburger Disco guys brain food shirtI had an opportunity to work with the guys over at Hamburger Disco not too long ago, Marc Atomos was working with them at the same time as well! They’re a bunch of super motivated and rad dudes and I’m pretty stoked on their line. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to work with them!


Favorite typefaces at the moment?

That’s a hard one actually, there are way too many. Maybe Futura, Wisdom Script and League Gothic?

Favorite Pantone colour? 

Pantone 2975 U – I find myself using blue a lot as of late.

Favorite food?

Probably a nice, rare steak.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink?

I drink a lot of water so.. water!

Beer or wine?

Beer for sure.

Star-Wars or Star Trek?

Use the force.

Milk: Skim, 1%, 2%, or Homo milk?


Best invention ever made? 

The internet!

Anything you’d like to ask me?

Drinks on you?

You got it buddy ;-)


Thanks Kristian, are there any events in Vancouver you’d like everyone to know about? Shout outs? Cool websites? Words of wisdom? 

Shout out to everyone who has ever given me a chance and supported me along the way! Coolest website to visit is probably my portfolio, haha.

Words of wisdom: Follow your passion and do what you love – life’s only so long so live it with a smile on your face!


Is there a inspiring student, rising star, or talented veteran within Vancouver’s creative scene that you’d like to see interviewed? Please contact me at You can also find me and give me a shout on twitter at: @Rosger

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