RYAN HUBBARD IS A GRAPHIC DESIGNER focusing primarily on identity design, print and digital. He’s currently working as a senior brand designer for Intercom. He grew up in a small town in Central Iowa, loves baseball, questions and over-thinks almost everything, and is pretty bad at writing bios.
WAS CREATIVITY PART OF YOUR CHILDHOOD?
Creativity was a big part of my childhood, but neither of my parents were in creative fields. They were both super supportive of my interest in the arts from an early age, though. I give a good bit of credit to my aunt and uncle on my mom’s side, who were both art teachers. I was always really close with them and their kids, who were about my age. Family gatherings with them usually included some sort of drawing session, or we’d go out and try to make our own paint out of stuff we found around outside. We were always making something.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START?
I WANTED TO BE A STUDIO ARTIST THROUGH MOST OF HIGH SCHOOL, but decided I’d go into graphic design in college because I didn’t want to be a starving artist, or whatever. However, what I imagined graphic design to be was nothing like what I was being taught in school. Thankfully, though, I really loved it. Turns out most of the “art” I did growing up had a solid graphic design bent to it. I always loved drawing letters, mixing different mediums, and using shapes & bold colors, and that translated pretty well to a formal graphic design education. Professionally, though, I got my start at my summer internship between my junior and senior years. I moved to Philadelphia for the summer and worked for an advertising & branding firm called 160over90. At the time, they had this incredible crew of designers. Dan Blackman, Bobby McKenna, Chelsea Brink, Jenny Tondera and Chris Muccioli were all there at the time, and Mikey Burton and Adam Garcia had left just prior to me showing up. I’m 100% leaving people out, but I can’t make this list 20 names long. Everyone there at that time was so good, and the things I learned and the connections I made during those few months led directly to my first job, which then led directly to where I am now. I was SO fortunate to have been there at that exact time. Also, a fun fact from then: My fellow design intern was a dude named James Alex, who had just graduated from the University of the Arts in Philly, but has since started a band called Beach Slang who are great and have kinda blown up over the past few years. It really is nuts the group of people who were in that building, at the time.
You attended Iowa State University. How has Iowa and the Midwest influenced you as a designer?
I THINK MORE THAN ANYTHING IT’S MOTIVATED ME TO PROVE THAT YOU CAN DO GOOD, PROGRESSIVE WORK in a place that’s not traditionally associated with that sort of thing. Iowa State’s got a great design program, but it seems like so many of the alums who’ve found success or made a name for themselves have done so on the coasts. I want to do my best to bring something new or different to the region where I grew up.
Do you have any favorite books that have been particularly inspiring or encouraging to you?
I JUST FINISHED “THE HIKE” BY DREW MAGARY, and I wouldn’t call it inspiring, but it was so bizarre and fun. I hope people feel about my work the way I felt about that book. Exhilarated, energized, surprised, and maybe a little like “WTF?”.
“Having rules is important, but I’ve found that getting too prescriptive can be limiting.”
Would you consider yourself to be creatively satisfied?
I don’t, and I hope I’m never satisfied. I’d say the closest I can get to being creatively satisfied is by being in a working situation where I’ve got the ability to explore and a mandate to push myself, creatively. I think getting too happy or satisfied with your work leads to stagnation, though. That obviously doesn’t mean everything has to be torture, but I prefer to not get too comfortable.
What makes Kansas City a special place for creative people?
Opportunity, more than anything. Kansas City and much of the Midwest are blank canvases, in a way. You really have an opportunity to contribute and do something new in places like this, compared to places like New York or San Francisco where there are SO many people trying to do the same thing you are and where it’s just more difficult to break through, establish yourself, or contribute in a big way.
“One of my favorite things about working in design is the ability to help others accomplish their goals while you work to accomplish your own.”
Has there been a time where you were presented with a project that really intimidated you? How did you overcome that intimidation?
EVERY PROJECT IS INTIMIDATING TO ME, to an extent. New ideas are hard, and I always try to push myself to do something new with each project. I try to just recognize that what I’m doing isn’t easy and I’m probably going to fail more often than not. I do my best get comfortable with that, and just jump in.
Describe your process and what you're working on now.
I don’t have a set “process” apart from making sure I take the time to understand what I’m working on before I put pen to paper. When I do start designing, I try to work loose and fast early on and then work with the stakeholders involved to refine, step by step, until we get to a good place. That’s it, though. I’d say it’s more of an approach or framework for how I work than a rigorous process, or something like that.
Did you have any mentors? how did they influence your work today?
I’d include everyone I mentioned from my internship, and I’d call out Dan specifically from that time. The things I learned from him were maybe more valuable than half of the stuff I learned at school. Really, though, I’ve had a “mentor” at pretty much every place I’ve worked, and they’ve all influenced me in different ways. The crew at Fuzzco helped me to learn what it’s like to actually work professionally in design. In my brief time at Hufft, the people there taught me a lot about how other design disciplines operate and how how graphic design fits into that mix. And now at Intercom, my mentors, specifically my director Stewart Scott-Curran and design lead Justin Pervorse, are helping me evolve and move past the early phases of my career pushing me to continue to grow creatively and as a person.
Describe the process involved in developing some of the recent Intercom event identity systems you have worked on.
Well, our events and specifically the tour we’ve gone on for the last couple years kind of naturally lend themselves to experimenting and trying some different things. It’s our opportunity as a company to peel back a few layers and be honest about what goes on day-to-day at Intercom. The year leading up to our 2017 tour was a crazy one for us. We grew faster than we ever have, and that definitely lead to some awkwardness here and there. Some folks refer to it as the beginning of our adolescence as a company.
So, with that in mind, and working with this idea of peeling back layers, we developed a system that had a bit of a DIY, punk vibe to it. We were particularly inspired by things like the stickers that have been accumulating on a wall at a club or wheat pasted posters lining an alley wall. Things that were raw, textural and change over time as layers are added and peeled off, rearranged, and scribbled on by passers-by.
Do you have a mantra or saying you live by?
THIS IS EASIER SAID THAN DONE, but I like this mantra or idea about when you should worry or stress about something. It’s better shown in a flowchart, but basically it goes like this:
1. Do you have a problem in your life?
2. Yes. Can you do you do anything about it?
3. Yes, you’re in control. Don’t worry
4. No, it’s out of your control. Don’t worry.
Basically worrying about anything is silly. You can either do something about a problem or you can’t. Either way, you shouldn’t worry about it.
What is the process like working for a tech startup in SF? Challenges? Positive aspects?
I’ll start by saying that I think Intercom is a pretty unique company in the startup world, and that’s what got me interested in working there in the first place. Historically, the tech / startup world is pretty homogeneous. There are a few companies who set the tone (Google, Facebook, etc), and then everyone else just kind of follows along. Everything winds up looking the same, and no one wants to take risks or carve out their own space. Intercom is not super concerned with those things. We’ll take risks, and my team has basically been given a mandate to push the boundaries of what a tech company looks like. That’s exciting, but it’s also difficult at times. Challenging what people are comfortable or familiar with is never easy. When you get it right, though, it’s so fulfilling and can be really valuable to the company.
DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT LEGACY? WHAT KIND OF LEGACY DO YOU HOPE TO LEAVE BEHIND?
Pretty simply I just hope that wherever I’ve worked or whatever I’ve contributed to is at least slightly better off for having had me involved. You know, that whole leave something better than you found it sort of thing.
“worrying about anything is silly. You can either do something about a problem or you can’t. Either way, you shouldn’t worry about it.”
Where is the best BBQ in Kansas City?
FOR MY MONEY, IT’S Q39. Their brisket is insane. I know it’s not, like, a “traditional” KC BBQ place like Arthur Bryants or Joe’s, but damn is it amazing.
UNIQUE TO KANSAS CITY, WHAT IS ONE LOCAL RESTAURANT, STORE, OR SPACE YOU LOVE?
The West Bottoms are a really uniquely Kansas City thing that I tell almost everyone to visit, when they’re in town. While you’re there, go grab a frozen painkiller from the Ship, then just go wander around and try to not get run over by a train.