We had reached out to Annie for this collaboration back in February and are excited to post our conversation now in a different way than we were at the time. The ability to virtually connect had always been an amazing ability that our series capitalizes on.
As we remain indoors, we are revisiting this and past conversations with even more appreciation. To speak with creatives and artists across industries and physical spaces feels more connecting now than ever before.
Read below for our conversation.
Annie Nguyen - creative director, photographer, and graphic designer - truly embodies what it means to be a multi-faceted person. Her commitment to keeping an open and curious mind has led her to develop a career that does not limit her to just one type of work - she is able to work through several different platforms and mediums, making her a jack-of-all-trades.
We found Annie's work via her Instagram and instantly felt drawn to her personal work and style of imagery - sharp, crisp images that play with shapes, silhouettes, and shadows. We knew we wanted to reach out to her for this series to learn more about her work and her career, something that she titles as a "problem solver" above anything else.
Read below for our discussion and conversation about her vast professional and personal background (from dabbling in radio station hosting to BMX), her ability to work creatively for such a wide range of clients, and how she finds the right balance within her work.
M: We’ve titled this series “Women and Their Craft” as a way to highlight different women across industries beyond our own and to speak on their personal talents. How would you briefly explain your ‘craft’?
A: I would briefly explain my craft as a creative problem solver. It’s difficult for me to say I am a “blank-er” because I work across multiple platforms and through various mediums. Saying one thing wouldn’t encompass all of what I do on the day to day. In short, what I do is solve creative needs for clients.
M: Can you tell a bit about your background? You are from Honolulu, where you received a design background as well. What prompted your move to Los Angeles? How long ago? How well have you adjusted to LA?
A: I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. I studied graphic design with a plan to pursue it as a career. I knew from a very young age that that was what I wanted to do. I moved to Los Angeles roughly nine years ago for more job opportunities and because of my love of music. I know, it’s a little out of left field but I got really into music in college. I worked at the radio station with a 3 hour time slot every week. I eventually had to forfeit the time slot due to school and work getting too busy, but it never stopped me from doing alumni shows and never slowed down my interest in music. After graduating, my friends and I would pool our money together and fly musicians down and promote shows. It was my foray into marketing before I really knew what it was, as I was the one in our group who did all the collateral for each show. We were doing video promos, radio promos and sending out press kits without fully understanding what we were doing. (We learned as we went along!) It was so much fun and further motivated me to move closer to what inspired me.
M: Your website itself is such a fun and immersive experience to navigate. I noticed from browsing your work that you have balanced such a wide range of projects from music to makeup to directing concepts and art within physical spaces. Each of these realms have their own unique market audience - how do you go about directing the concepts and art for such widely different audiences?
A: Thank you, I really appreciate that you took the time to look through my work. I’ve definitely been fortunate to work with many different clients across many industries. I think design allows you to do that. No matter what the client needs are, the core fundamentals of design still apply. There is always a need for thoughtful communication, composition, type and visuals. I think what has really allowed me to speak to a wider audience with my work is on a professional level, I never limited myself to a style. I mean, there definitely is an aesthetic that I like and work within for my personal work and I guess you can say, a minimalism that I am more inclined towards. However, I always go back to the fact that my job is to fulfill a client's needs. I think having a sense of empathy and an open mind allows me to tune into what may resonate with the viewer.
On a personal level, I have always been a very curious person. Growing up in Hawaii, I was always looking beyond the islands at what was happening around the world. I definitely had too many hobbies and have gone through many different phases in my life thus far. (Hello BMX phase! Yes. That’s true. It happened.) I never grew up with a core group of friends but rather friends with very different interests from each other. It just caused me to be very open to new experiences and what I would learn, I would bring back into my work.
M: What are some areas/industries that you would like to explore through your design work that you have not yet explored? (Ex: technology, architecture, etc)
A: I would really like to explore motion graphics and video. I’ve dabbled a bit in video, with regards to client work but not so much in my personal work. With motion graphics, I’ve tried to make something in After Effects years ago and I think and the only thing I could do was make text explode ha! I would love to be able to learn more and am interested not only in creating animations but also being able to do it through coding for the web.
M: Before you create and dive into a project, how and where do you find your inspiration?
A: I really focus on what the project goal is and what needs to be communicated. At this point, I am away from the computer. I try to come up with concepts first by searching through the archive in my mind. I know that sounds very pretentious but that’s not my intention. What I mean by that is I try to recall through books, magazines, movies and overall media that I’ve ingested over the years as to what could be the possible solution. If this is for work, I will also think intuitively about what might be right for the client. Once I find a direction that I’m excited about, I then use the internet to research. I’ve had much better results this way which is why, again, I stress the importance of being open and curious.
M: Fashion seems to be a very apparent focus in your work - as you’ve worked with brands like Gucci, Chanel, and Nike - what and who are your own personal style influences? (I loved your recent shot of Issey Miyake on your Instagram; we’re huge fans of Miyake.)
A: My personal style influences are varied. I have a list of brands that I’ve been following for years and I think the vision of those brands have definitely influenced the way I dress. For me to really invest in a brand, I have to love the brand’s story. The ethos and the designer’s intention is very important to me. It’s hard for me to name a single person because I think my style influences stem from a myriad of brands. I think I always look at what Comme des Garcons, Raf Simons, Issey Miyake, Acne Studios and Maison Margiela are creating. The common denominator amongst all these designers is their unique perspective. There is always an excitement to their collections each season that keeps me continually interested and inspired.
M: A friend of mine recently talked to me about trying to find the right balance, as a freelance graphic designer, between advertising your work as one’s own personal style/brand versus marketing oneself as a sort of chameleon - a designer that can form to each client’s needs and ideas. As a creative director and designer yourself, have you considered this dichotomy? Or is it more of a unique blend rather than one or the other?
A: This is a great point. I think it’s a unique blend. I was having a very similar discussion with my friend recently as well. It’s really tough because with graphic design and advertising, you have to realize you’re not an artist. You’re providing a service. But it gets tricky because you put a lot of yourself in the work. It’s your point of view after all. I was taught in school that you never want to limit yourself to just one style and in a sense, you really need to be a chameleon. However, I have seen many designers become very successful with their unique style but at the same time, I also see these designers work only within certain industries and clients.
I think it really comes down to the work you want to do and where you think you will find fulfillment. I would definitely say I am on the side of being more of a chameleon. I used to beat myself up about it. I often look at my portfolio and feel stressed at how varied my work has been over the years. It makes it so difficult for me, when meeting with companies to explain my background. In fact, I found it at times to be a deterring factor when trying to win jobs. I feared that my wide set of experiences painted me as someone who would moonlight in different industries rather than as someone who is well versed in design. As I mentioned earlier, I believe the foundation of design is the same, just the application of it varies. All the things I gain through a project ultimately informs the next, whether personal or for clients. It’s all a very symbiotic thing for me.