Behind the Scenes with Studio Faculty

Studio Faculty, Photo by Justin Chung, Jennifer Hail Design

There are two ways to survive college when we are ready for life after graduation. The first is to surround ourselves with inspiring people and amazing work from our respective industries. Not only does this set a high bar for our own course projects, but it also transitions the thought of ourselves from students to professionals.

The second survival tip is to make connections with people who are where we want to be, doing the jobs that we would love to have, and working with our dream companies. These relationships can occur through networking opportunities, workshops, or, my favorite, Twitter.

As I countdown the days until my own graduation in December, I find myself digging deeper into the search for a job and finding inspiration from professionals who are a few steps ahead of me. Earlier this year, my searching led to Faculty, a two-man design studio based in Vancouver, Canada. Their beautiful work and minimal aesthetic quickly won first place on my list of favorites.

I recently had the opportunity to ask them some questions about their work and lives in the studio. Introducing Faculty, founded by Alvin Kwan and Vince Lo, two designers and friends who share complementary skill sets in divergent creative thinking, art direction, and detailed execution.

How did you get started as graphic designers? What’s the story? (Feel free to include your educational background, personal interests, first jobs, etc.)

Vince: I was always interested in album covers and little tags from clothing brands when I was young. I loved to personalize everything I had, like paint my own shirts etc. I wasn’t a great illustrator, but I always enjoyed it so I kept drawing and took art classes in high school. Afterwards, I went straight from high school to Emily Carr University of Art + Design where I studied Graphic Design. Yet I didn’t really realize there was this field called graphic design until my first year or so. When I look back, I guess this has been the best fit I can imagine for a career.

Alvin had a similar interest from young, but he took a different route and didn’t realize his interest in design until after one year studying a different field.

We met during the second or third year of the degree.

I know that you are both native to Vancouver. What’s the weather like there? Your favorite things about the city?

Most people here complain about the rain all the time (it rains pretty much half of the year if not more).

I think the best part about Vancouver, besides being so close the mountains and the ocean, is the food. We’ve been blessed with different ethnicities and there’s just a lot of variety.

Describe a day in the life of Studio Faculty.

We don’t really take breaks and sometimes we forget to each lunch, haha. When we do eat lunch, we’re eating a few bites along with a few clicks, working away at a project. It’s not a good habit at all!

Work can get stressful, but we always do our best to maintain a really easygoing atmosphere in the studio. I think sometimes you just have to step back and laugh and not take yourself too seriously. We love our jobs, so we get a bit too deep into it sometimes.

Is there a value or philosophy that guides your design decisions throughout every project?

There is. I think for every project, our goal is to create the most honest and sincere representation of our client, where we find the most effective and basic solutions to their needs. I guess you can say our work isn’t as bold and loud as others, but I think that’s in many ways a representation of our own characters as well. In the end, we want to create work that feels honest to us and honest for our clients where we both feel confident to stand behind.

Faculty recently turned two in September. Congratulations! For such a successful studio, it seems hard to believe that you’ve only been around for two years. How did you decide to become business partners? How have things changed since you first started the studio?

Thank you! We have a long, long way to go. We went to the same art school, so evidentially we had group projects together and shared the same group of friends from school. After graduating, we got separate jobs at different studios, but we always kept in touch and I think we always shared the same desire for design work. There just came an opportunity when we both felt a push for something of our own. We saw that we had similar visions for design and the same commitment to it.

I would say we’ve actually grown closer as friends since starting the studio. We of course know more about each other’s personalities and understand each other better. Most importantly we’re really honest with each other, and everything we talk about is to make each other and the studio better.

What advice would you give to new graduates who are deciding to start their own studios, or applying for jobs?

We’re quite young too haha, but if there’s anything we can share, I would say, really dig deep into your craft, immerse yourself in the field of design and learn to articulate what you like in design and what things you don’t prefer, or how can certain approaches be useful. I think something that gets overlooked a lot in design is a designer’s taste. You might be introduced to different areas of design in school, but taste is something you’ve developed over time. Design definitely requires rationale, but the taste you have will greatly inform your decisions as well.

For starting a studio, it takes a lot of work. A lot. We’re still learning along the way, but just make sure you’re in it because you really love it, it can be a tough road, but treasure the good people around you and help others because they will often find ways to help you when you need it.

For grads just starting their first design job, I’ve learned that I should’ve been asking much more questions. The worst thing you can do is to assume something. Be as detail oriented as you can and try to cultivate your own thinking, reasoning, and vocabulary to articulate your work. This will definitely give you greater confidence and ability to put your input into the work you do.

Let’s talk about web design and development. Who does it? What is your work setup like? Would you mind to share your process for building websites?

We try to work with talented developers nowadays as they can bring much more to the table than we can. I (Vince) often do the development work when we’re developing the site as well. Alvin always impresses me with his ability to design websites, so he tends to do most of it. In general, in all our work, we seem to look at it together and decide together when it’s good enough.

Our process is pretty similar to most processes. We like to start off getting to know the specific needs of our client online, and we work out a site map outlining all areas of the site. Once that’s good to go, we dive into the wireframe, which sometimes includes a bit of the initial design already. Once that’s good, we jump into the layout design of the site and from there, once approved, we go into development.

If your computers crashed and you had to purchase new ones, what kind would you buy and what would you immediately setup or install in order to hit the ground running (i.e. your favorite/essential tools)?

It’s so funny you asked because that’s exactly what happened to me a month ago (Always back up). This time, I decided to buy a 13" MacBook Air and customized the storage and ram a bit. The Air has come a long way and it’s really an incredible machine. Though, I would use a cinematic display with it.

Things to install would be…

  • Email accounts on Mac Mail
  • Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat (and maybe Dreamweaver)
  • Font explorer
  • Wunderlist
  • Cyberduck or Fetch (FTP)

And maybe Spotify haha.

Where do you see the field of design, specifically relating to the web, going in the next 10 years?

We really have no idea to be honest. I don’t think print design is going anywhere, as in print is not dying. I think people are really coming full circle to enjoying being able to interact with design tangibly, and both print and screen devices have a role in that. The world is becoming more and more able to customize their own design, choose their template etc, but I truly believe there’s still a place for designers.

How do you continue your education and keep up with, or beat trends?

We do our best to keep updated I guess. Both Alvin and I are pretty hungry to grow all the time, so we often come across things that inspire us and we share it within the studio. It’s important to acknowledge trends as a designer I think, and there’s ways to avoid or use them effectively in the right scenario. Yet I think we just try to stay true to who we are and do work that accomplishes what we want to say, and the rest will handle itself.

Who would you most like to have lunch with and why?

I think we would love to have lunch with Kenya Hara (MUJI). We would need a translator perhaps, but we just love the way he thinks in design, and really in life.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for the questions, they’ve been really fun ones.


Studio Faculty, Vince Lo, Alvin Kwan, Photo by Justin Chung

This post was originally published during my internship at Imagewest.