Matt Kay is a talented Durban-raised and New York-based graphic designer. Currently plying his trade in the East Village of Manhattan at design agency Original Champions of Design, he’s also an alumni of acclaimed local design agency Disturbance. On a continuous quest for creative inspiration, Matt has spent the last 2 years of his career growing his portfolio and experiencing the famed creative culture of the Big Apple. We caught up with the proud Durbanite to discuss his latest work and everything else there is to know about his approach and future design work.
Tell us about your background. How did you become a Graphic Designer?
I grew up drawing. My schoolbooks were full of drawings of whatever I was interested in at the time. I don’t know why I did it, but I used to painstakingly draw logos at a young age, like the Bad Boy logo and the Nike swoosh, until I got it right, trying to work out where the lines belong on the page. I did this throughout whether I was trying to draw the ideal wave or perfect a cartoon character. I realize now that that early sense of iteration is part of my natural process today. I often just draw the same thing over and over again until I feel it’s right for the final execution. Also, my older brother started graphic design and the work he was doing at Tech blew my mind when I was in high school.
Being a local Durban boy, how did you land up at Original Champions of Design. Did anything specific draw you to their work and portfolio?
I’ve always been drawn to the strategy and thought processes that great branding and identity achieves. The few times I got to dip my toes into that in Durban made me want to do it more and at a larger scale. OCD and New York was the perfect ‘next move’ for me. Designing successful identity systems is a challenge that approaches a problem from all angles and stretches the mind more than any other area of graphic design I’ve done so far, and it feels damn good when you get it right. I think it can only be a good thing to add some New York structure (sometimes fucked up structure) to the ‘no rules’ Durban approach.
Lettering, typography and posters. Your work seems to fit somewhere in between that space. What do you find interesting about this way of expressing your creativity?
Language is an incredible tool for graphic designers so why not use it? Although, I wouldn’t say I have a set ideology behind my work. I just try communicating in a simple, pragmatic way. I see words as an image that can get the message across. I love posters because you have the challenge of coming up with something that makes the brain work a bit in one confined space. I suppose you could suggest that a graphic designer’s life is about embracing the challenges.
What is the main difference you find between the creative industry in South African and that in Manhattan, New York?
South Africa is so different to the rest of the world, where New York is very global. Some things come out of SA that you just can’t find anywhere else. It also has so much talent doing incredible work that’s easily up there with the best. But, from a personal perspective, a big difference is the sense of reward you get in New York. The stage is bigger therefore the appreciation is bigger. Although I do feel South Africa’s stage is growing rapidly and it’s really exciting. The other big difference is the pace, if you’re not sprinting in New York you don’t make the cut. Simple as that.
What was the objective behind the “Free Posters” work?
We were part of the Image of the Studio exhibition, a cross-section of more than 75 graphic design firms in New York City. The assignment was to create “something from nothing to represent your studio’s philosophy and aesthetic; a visual portrait of your studio. It could be typographic, photographic, collage, illustration, whatever you’d like, but it should be something specifically created for the exhibition.”
We decided to rebrand America. We agreed that we would listen to the Presidential address on 4 July 2013 (Independence Day) and take that as our brief in rebranding the country. So many of OCD’s ideals overlap with Obama’s ideals that we had faith we could find ourselves in his words and deliver an icon that would say both OCD and USA. Other cultures are really fascinating to me, so it was a great to delve deep into the one I’m living in now.
“Small business owners are the new American revolutionaries. Willing to lay down our lives, our fortunes and our honor* we strike out for freedom. We lead a movement toward a stronger, more stable union that functions on a more human scale. All heart and guts and grit, we find a way to do what we love, our way, everyday.”
Excerpt from Presidential remarks July 4, 2013
How important do you think technology and software has become to design?
Everyone can do fancy and great looking things using technology these days. So I’d say it’s been good, because now more than ever, your work has to be smarter than the next guy’s. That bodes well for the state of design.
Who are some of your role models or designers who inspire you?
My role models are the people I get to work under. I don’t see how it could be anyone else. I’m fortunate to say that I owe so much of the years in high school and Tech to the guidance of my brother Warwick, the first important years of my career to Richard Hart and now Jennifer Kinon and Bobby C. Martin Jr. at OCD. Without these people I wouldn’t be half the designer I am today.
Describe your dream project?
Something that involves community, travelling and hands-on work.
What are your other interests outside of design?
In New York it’s hard not to be interested in a little of everything, but mainly surfing, football, music, riding bikes, hiking, reading (and buying) books, my fiancé and dog.
Any chance you’ll come back and work in South Africa in future?
I miss South Africa every day, but we’ll have to wait and see how long my ‘unfinished business’ in NYC is…
What’s next for Matt?
We have some nice new projects coming in and it’s summer time in New York.