John Thai Interview

Because of FITC 08 being in Toronto this weekend, I have caught up with a young Canadian designer ready to take the world by storm. John Thai has been nominated for Best Canadian Designer at this years FITC . So please welcome John to the Inspiredology community with open arms.

First and foremost Welcome to Inspiredology!
Please introduce yourself? Where are you from? Give us a brief bio? And how you got started in the field?

St. Catharines was a pretty vanilla town to grow up in. There’s very little to do outside of shopping at big box stores, tasting wine, and drinking until you forget that you’ll probably end up like most of the people around you: Pregnant at twenty-one working at the mall. I feel blessed that i’ve managed to find a home in Toronto, never mind in graphic design.

I’ve always been genuinely stimulated by brand names. I think my first taste of branding was at the beginning of grade six when I walked into the classroom for the first time and noticed that every single kid had given themselves a makeover during the summer; Swooshes and three stripes across every eleven year old’s chest with matching tear-away pants and the latest air max. This is when I caught the brand bug. From that moment forward I always wanted brand names. I always devoured every commercial like it actually offered physical nourishment. I needed it on my body, in my hands, and violating my eyes.


I discovered art and typography at an early age. My doodles were never elaborate, laser-wielding robots with impenetrable shields and forty five heat seeking missiles mounted on each shoulder. No. Instead I was happier choosing a word and drawing it 10 times, every time with a different treatment, in a different perspective, and with different line weights. Of course, I had no idea at the time that what i was subconsciously kerning, leading and practicing good typography.

Luckily, I was given the opportunity to intern at Helios Design Lab on Queen St. West in a beautiful loft on the top floor of a run-down building. It was here that I discovered how much -fun- I was going to have in the future as a designer, and also how much work it was going to be trying to invent and create for eight hours a day. After my internship, I was basically unemployed for a full year before finding my first job as an in-house ‘all-around-do-everything-graphic-web-and-motion-related guy.” This place became my personal hell, but I regret nothing. Admittedly, that experience is something that everyone must endure and it truly prepared me for what was coming. Everyone must pay their dues as a bitch somewhere, sometime.

Congratulations on the nomination for Best Canadian Designer at FITC! How does it feel to be nominated for something like that?

Honestly, my first reaction was that they picked me by accident. But once reality set in I was definitely honored to be considered. I don’t really even like telling people what I’ve been nominated for. I just tell them “Best Canadian Anime Hair.”

Picture 1

With so many great pieces in your portfolio. What inspires you? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I think every image you see, every interaction you have, every sound you hear, every word that you read is inspiration. I think something can come from nothing as long as you’re consciously looking for an influence. A man flicking a cigarette butt can spark the best idea you’ve ever had. Inspiration to me is always around you. You just have to look for it. If I ever need inspiration I just walk around the city for the day and soak.


Could you tell us about your career? Favorite project you worked on? Any current or future projects you’d like to share with us?

My favourite projects are definitely the ones that allow me to sleep like a baby at night. I love the feeling that you get when it’s 5am and you’ve just killed a design. All you want to do is sleep. The first thing you do in the morning is open up your design and study all that you accomplished the night before. It almost always looks better in the morning.



Are most of your projects freelance or working for a studio?

It’s actually right down the middle. I think the majority of projects that I have completed for studios are much larger in scale, scope and longer in timeline, but I think it’s insanely important to do work on the side that keeps you stimulated just in case you aren’t getting it at work. Does that make me promiscuous?

What is the best advice you can give to other young designers?

I think it’s important to stick with it, but only if you enjoy it deep down. I know that I was often discouraged that I couldn’t be a great designer in the early stages of my career, but I’m really convinced that nobody is. Oh, and put down the drugs. It turns out you don’t need them -after- college.

Thank you for your time! Any last words?

Drop shadows, not bombs

Head on over to vote for John at this years FITC.