Andy Hau is an Architect exploring the unexpected results created from the interface between Architecture and Graphic Design. His ambition has led him to open up A.H.A. Design Ltd was established with the intention of creating a more tailored design experience that offers a closer collaboration with his clients, who are involved from concept stage through to delivery. In a short time since the companies inception, he has already worked with some high profile clients including Imogen Heap, Photoshop Creative, Bottleneck Gallery and Hero Complex Gallery, which he showed work this past weekend. We talk about a variety of topics! Read the full Q&A below…
Growing up in a small town you told me you had some insecurities about who you were. Did that bleed over into becoming a designer in your early years? Was it a struggle to branch out?
I think growing up in a small town in England is difficult for most people of Asian descent, certainly for people of my generation, not because of any deep-seated prejudices (which I certainly didn’t experience whilst I was growing up) but because you are almost caught in a cultural limbo – a participant in both societies yet belonging to neither. It always makes me laugh when I’m asked “Where are you from?” because when I respond “England”, the response is always, “No, but where are you REALLY from?” – as though being born and raised in England isn’t quite enough to give you the cachet of calling yourself English. On the other side of the coin, despite appearances, it is sometimes difficult for people of your own heritage to relate to you because your cultural ideals are so at odds with their own. Rejected on both sides, you end up forging your own culture – a set of ideals pieced together from the fragments created on the battlefield between both societies. As a creative person, I have an almost masochistic propensity to over-think but despite this, I have never had a crisis of identity – I always knew who I was and what I stood for – it was more of a conflict between how both cultures could be redistributed to sit harmoniously with each other.
Has your ethnicity played a role in your work over these years?
My ethnicity has certainly helped to shape my work ethic. When my parents came over to England in the 1980’s, there were many prejudices (both real and self-perceived) against people of different ethnicities. As a result, I was always taught to believe that in order to get the same opportunities as everyone else, I had to work twice as hard. My parents never entertained the concept of “entitlement” or “that’s not fair” and we were always told that trying your hardest in something didn’t necessarily get you what you deserved. We live in a very different world now but it is this strange oxymoron of migrant self-pity empowerment that still motivates me to action. Being exposed to two different cultures has also given me a very different sensibility on aesthetics and has helped me to question what good design really is. However, I have never made a point of marketing myself as a designer of a different ethnicity because I really don’t feel it’s necessary. A designer should be chosen because they are the best person for the project, not because their nationality happens to fulfill a certain quota.
What did your late mother think about your career as a designer and how do you think she would feel about your progression 10 years later?
My mother was a very creative person and picked up new things impossibly quickly. She famously learnt how to knit just by watching a woman for a few minutes whilst she was waiting for the number 73 bus. As children, we were always encouraged to be creative and to make things around the house and so she was always very supportive about my desire to become an Architect. 10 years on, if she were still alive, I have no doubts that she’d be beside herself with worry about me starting my own design company (as all parents invariably are) but also – I hope – extremely happy to see that all her hard work paid off.
Looking at what you’ve learned in your 20s it seems it mostly dealt with growth, maturity, and a stronger mindset. As someone who has grown as an individual do you look to migrate away from group shows and collaborations and start showcasing your work solo?
One of my favorite things to do as a designer is to collaborate with other designers. I find the whole design process and culmination of different design visions incredibly exhilarating and rewarding. I have been very lucky to have been able to collaborate with a whole host of designers, from illustrators to animators, and I love the fact that the end product is always something truly unexpected which neither party could have produced on their own. It’s true to say that I have also had collaborations that have ended in complete disaster but that hasn’t put me off the process of collaborating – just to collaborate with better people!
As much as I love collaborating and group shows, there is something undeniably gratifying about showcasing your own work too. I think all designers have an ego – you have to have one, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to design and advise clients. It’s a case of keeping your ego in check, whether it designing on your own or with other people. Ego is not necessarily always a bad thing, it gives you the power of conviction and a belief that you can do anything – which good design requires. The creative industry is often seen as being somewhat frivolous but actually, inside every designer beats the heart of a soldier. When you design, you expose a part of your soul and you reveal your core beliefs. To willingly open yourself up to a baying arena to be judged and criticised takes an incredible amount of guts and the courage of cavalry charge.
You are a creative with multiple disciplines. It seems independence is an objective of all accessibility and inclusion design strategies. Do you think architecture knowledge can help a designer with his form and function?
I think a creative vision transcends the media and the discipline that it is created in. In many cases, there is also a very practical synergy that exists between different creative disciplines. For example, Architecture and Product Design relies on the designer being able to be understood through visual representation even when they are not there to explain the idea and this is where the Graphic Design element is crucial. In my mind, these design disciplines are not mutually exclusive and I chase Architecture, Product Design and Graphic Design with the same amount of passion and vigour. Architecture has provided me with much of the technical knowledge that I have needed to become a multidisciplinary designer but has also no doubt informed many of my life choices, from the way I dress to the core values that I have as a designer.
Homeowners remodel their houses for a myriad of reasons. Andy, in your opinion, what is the meaningful force beyond a substantial renovation?
The mistake that most people make when remodelling their house is that they do not understand why they are doing it. Remodelling a house to live in personally and remodelling a house to rent out or sell are very different prospects and affect the design decisions that are made. Too often, people who are trying to make a profit from their properties treat their renovation project as almost a showcase of their own personal style and tastes when in fact the property should be trying to appeal to a wide demographic. Equally, I have also seen people who are building a life home who try to cut corners and compromise on critical design decisions, which heavily impact on the way that they use the space. Each type of renovation brings about its own challenges but you need to recognize the reason behind the renovation in the first place in order to resolve those challenges appropriately and successfully.
What has proved to be a defining watershed moment for yourself which was a direct result from your artwork?
I think the most pivotal moment in my career so far must be when the Financial Times called our design for Gabby Young and Other Animals’ album packaging “this year’s most beautifully designed CD packaging”. As designers, we are often doomed to a life dominated by doubt (is this the correct design solution for the brief, will my client like what I have proposed, will this colour pallette work?) but there are rare fleeting moments in our career when all the uncertainty is temporarily anaesthetised – this was definitely one of them.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
I know this might be an old subject but I was quite fascinated with the whole Imogen Heap fiasco. As a designer, did you feel stuck in the middle, or was the whole eBay reselling out of your hands? Did this experience sour yourself working in the entertainment industry?
I was 25 when it happened and at the time, I remember feeling strangely honored that this promo CD that I had designed was being sold on eBay for £10,000,000. I think if it had happened now, I would have reacted very differently. Fortunately, every promo album had been specifically numbered so they managed to pinpoint the responsible party very quickly and the item was taken down. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Imogen, someone who I admire profoundly and I enjoyed the experience immensely.
Lastly, you planning on going back to Japan soon? And if so how will this next trip be different (also, take me with you!)?
[Laughs] I seem to suffer from a strange form of selective memory whenever it comes to Japan. I am a self confessed Japanophile and I absolutely love everything about Japan. Yet if you talk to my friends and family about it, apparently whilst I was in Japan, all I did was moan about the weather! In any case, I definitely hope to go back in the next few years to see what has changed since my last visit and to try and venture away from the more metropolitan areas. I’ll be sure to make some space in my suitcase for you!
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