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Hayley Burns

"When collaborating with multiple artists it’s important to be fluid and not hold on to any one element or idea too rigidly, because then other elements will either have to work around that, or the project will feel out of sync."


hayley burns


Hayley Burns in a graphic designer based in Vancouver (soon Toronto again). Hayley pulled all the different elements together, the poems, the archival documents, and the artwork into the bold, clean and lyrical final product.


Here is Hayley's process in her own words ...

I grew up in Greek town in Toronto, and have been living in Vancouver for the past 10 years. I’m an independent designer and art director, and the core of my practice is visual identity and website design, although I enjoy working on many different types of design. Being a business owner means my personal life and work life are often synonymous, but if I’m not working on client projects I love creating in all capacities — printmaking, bookmaking, photography, and collaging, to name a few. I’m also a huge animal lover, a loyal friend, an admirer of anything vintage, and reality TV is my guilty pleasure. 


Graphic Design

I’ve always loved drawing and painting but never wanted to make that my career — I didn’t think I was good enough to be a fine artist, but I also found the open-ended nature of making art daunting. I thrived with parameters to work around, or a problem to solve. I also enjoyed too many different creative practices to specialize in one. 

I went to an arts high school where I was introduced to digital art and design at a pretty early age for the time. Graphic design wasn’t really a mainstream career path that many high school kids were exposed to as an option — advertising maybe, but that never appealed to me. I was lucky to be introduced to graphic design around grade 10 through my teachers and some family members, and it just clicked for me. I knew I wanted to go to university for design, and worked towards that goal. It took me a while to understand how I wanted to learn design, and in what environment, but I got there in the end.




Visual Style & Inspiration 

My taste is for bold design — confident use of messaging, imagery, type, and colour, with open layouts and unexpected elements. I’m always drawn to 1960s and 70s graphic design with gridded layouts, very expressive type, flat shapes, and vivid, sometimes dissonant, colour combinations. 

But in my own work, I don’t have a really defined aesthetic because the projects I work on require their own visual approaches, rather than applying a certain look or style. I also think visual style should be driven by concept, whether it’s something quite delicate or bold, sparse or dense, vivid or monochrome — it needs to tie in to the central idea or positioning of the work. This is why I enjoy visual identity work, because when the process is done right, the look has a foundation that it can always refer to. 

There’s a roster of design studios and type foundries internationally that I admire and love to see what they’re creating. Seeing the work of other designers is always great encouragement to keep pushing the limits with every project. Also just poking around the internet on Pinterest or design sites like Type in Use, Awwwards, The Brand Identity. And looking beyond graphic design at art, architecture, film, photography, sculpture, fashion, etc., fuels my creativity. 

I usually start by familiarizing myself with the field that the client or project is in. I also look up the competitive landscape and see what the common threads are (usually to try and avoid). This search is usually done on the internet, but sometimes I may call up people who are connected to the industry to pick their brain, or look into books, films, exhibitions, and other sources for inspiration. Just depends on the project really.


The Design Process

I start every project by listening to the story that exists so far, and the wants and needs of the client and any other parties that are involved, not as a prescription, but to gather intel. 

The next stage is to get ‘stuck in’ with the problem at hand, the content and materials, and get my head around what is really needed to communicate the work. It’s a process that looks a bit different for every project, but generally once I start iterating in sketch form, paths to the solution start to appear. There’s often multiple concepts or solutions that are working and I follow those leads until they hit a wall, or something else outshines it. I often think that the solutions uncover themselves, I just need to do the work to clear away the noise. 

Once a concept is found, presenting to the project stakeholders is a crucial step — I must illustrate that it will work in different applications, and inspire the clients to see what their project could become. It can be challenging because people start out saying they want to be bold, but when it comes to committing to something new they often start trying to compromise certain aspects. The designer’s role is to encourage bravery and prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it is the right way forward (and it can feel like a court case at times! haha). 

That’s not to say that feedback won’t be accepted — revisions are inevitable, and help strengthen the work — but the integrity of a concept must be upheld. Once the client signs off on the direction, then the process of executing it can begin. The balance of ironing out the details and maintaining the conceptual vision continues as we design each touchpoint and roll out the project.


angelpoise page


Making anglepoise & Collaboration

When collaborating with multiple artists it’s important to be fluid and not hold on to any one element or idea too rigidly, because then other elements will either have to work around that, or the project will feel out of sync. Continue to respond to ideas that others are putting forward with concepts that create stronger connections between the works, and let go of the ideas that are no longer finding a fit within the project. 

With so much creative output to bring together in this project, I found my role became both curator — having an editing eye and only infusing more design ideas if they supported the works — and composer — allowing certain elements to be louder than others so that it wasn’t all one volume, and creating a visual rhythm of peaks and valleys.

Working with Margot’s writing and Oksana’s paintings, it was a dance between respecting the intention of the artwork — not manipulating it in ways that change the meaning — but also exploring and experimenting with unexpected treatments. Lots of iteration is needed to feel out the spectrum, looking at treatments that are quite minimal and simple, as well as pushing it to abstraction, and then find the balance of what feels right — what is interesting but not distracting from the work.


Organizing and Editing Process

I kept folders with all of the original assets I received, and then combed through and made copies of things that I wanted to start working with and editing, and created new folders with them. I’d go back and pull out more as needed, but always keep the originals untouched so I could reference back anytime. And keeping notes during my conversations with all of the contributors was important. 

It was a practise of adding and removing ingredients, playing with it until it felt right, and ensuring that the elements weren’t competing with each other. Editing was about keeping a critical eye, and asking if the element supported the rest of the piece or was an unconnected addition, and simplifying whenever possible. 

I think Aaron and I had a good balance for this project because he crafted most of the nuanced details, and I helped the high level visual storyline with solutions for connecting different ideas. Together we were able to cover a lot, and it felt like a relay race at times — working on an aspect and then handing it off to each other, and continuing to evolve it. Aaron is great to work with because he has so many creative ideas, but isn’t precious about them. 

It was a different type of project for me because it was so layered with meaning and visual elements to work with, and it evolved through many different phases. At times it was a very challenging puzzle, and I loved that because it goes back to what I love about design — problem solving. It exercised different parts of my workflow than a typical design project. It was a cyclical process, more fluid, and it strengthened that ability to let ideas come and go as it evolved. I certainly learned a lot about creativity from working with the materials from the other contributors. It was a really inspiring journey.




Dream Project

I’d love to do an exhibition design — the branding, environmental graphics, wayfinding, catalogue, microsite, and everything else that would go with it. I’d also love to do a big, hardcover coffee table book. And I’ve always thought a food truck would be fun to design. 


Purchase a copy of anglepoise at Daed’u Books https://www.aflaflafl.com/store/anglepoise  


Connect with Hayley @hayleyburnsdesign and www.hayleyburns.ca

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