Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Khoa Hoang is an oracle. Gifted and burdened in equal measure with an extraordinary observational sense about human behavior and dynamics, he has a way of seeing through the societal stage dressing of any situation to what's really going on. He also has the confidence to speak his mind about what he sees; this is just one of his superpowers. Voraciously creative and creatively ambitious, he tackles any new medium with gusto, rapidly making it his own. From a young age, he's been a mental health advocate. In the time I had the pleasure of working with him, he taught me a lot about setting personal boundaries at work, and why I should set them. Like Captain America, Khoa pours his heart and considerable strength into the plight of the underdog, aspiring to help everyone discover their own superpowers. - CC What did creativity look like for you in childhood? Like most folks the first thing that pops into mind as a creative is probably an image of Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo. But for me specifically, the images that pop are cartoons, anime, and animation. Art to me was what I saw on screen versus what would traditionally be referred to in a museum. Being able to entertain people, and bring happiness to people's faces, while relating to them using the characters you see was such an impactful thing for me. A lot of my art now pays homage to basically the things I saw on screen and how they made me feel. For the first time in my life I'm able to translate the memories and designs I would have as a kid onto a computer screen. It's been very therapeutic.
Ilustrations by Khoa Hoang | inkmh How did that relationship change in adulthood? The definition of creativity changes vastly as an adult. I didn't realize that anything that had a visual identity was created by a "creative". From the music to the B rolls in film, to the typography on the screens, there are so many creative disciplines at work that were not often talked about. It's easily forgotten that the entire world is created by the hands of creatives and every functioning product was as well. As a creative professional, what do you see as the greatest opportunity for creativity in your day-to-day worklife? What do you see as the greatest impediment to creative thinking? I think creatives have way more power than they think. (I agree. I've long felt part of my mission here is to help other creatives realize that for themselves. We definitely share that. - CC) People come to us with ideas to execute because they can't do it themselves and over time we start picking up on the strategies and thinking of these other experts within the field. We have the ability to change the world through our work and inspire so many people. (YES! Creative direction is a powerful tool — use responsibly! - CC) Inspiration is one of the most underrated experiences because it's usually the start of something, the seed. Now whether that seed becomes anything or not it still needs a fair chance to be planted and nurtured before making a judgment on whether or not it will work out. What hurts me the most is when people smother this inspiration before it can become anything. Group brainstorming sessions are a great example of this because it eventually coerces people to choose a direction and oftentimes good ideas get smothered out by the loudest voices. As creatives, we need to learn how to harbor these ideas and create safe spaces for them to grow as well. We need to understand that we are too experts within our field and that our knowledge matters. It's good that you can create wonderful visuals, but if there was another skill I would recommend you hone on, it would be your negotiation and communication skills. (I completely agree here, too. Being able to advocate for your concepts, negotiate compromises between ideal design and client/stakeholder needs, and ultimately, have the confidence to challenge those 'loudest voices in the room' when they need to be challenged is a must-have skill set for any creative professional. You have long impressed me with your ability to do all three. - CC) You and I are both multidisciplinary creatives, and in my experience, the value of being multidisciplinary is only beginning to be understood in our industry. Has it been difficult for you to gain understanding of the value your various creative skill sets bring to an employer? Why or why not? I think a good creative is someone who can invoke their vision on multiple mediums. When we're hired, we are asked to focus on only one aspect of the business and often are limited to what we can do for it. Understandably we are only asked to focus on one aspect due to how fast the business wants to scale, which is a bummer in this fast-paced world. I feel like if, given the proper time to strategize and execute, a lot of creatives can bring a lot to the table in terms of ideas and execution. It's always hard to convince your employer of your skillsets, but almost 99% of the time that requires you to go outside your project scope to show them yourself what you can do. Motion graphics and interaction design are great examples of this. Often times no one thinks about adding motion to a project because it takes so much time to produce, but if it can push that project over the edge it's so worth that extra effort to do so. Now getting your employer to give you more time to execute this in the future is always a struggle. You have to learn to pick and choose your battles with what projects need that extra umph and what just needs to be pushed out.
Ilustrations by Khoa Hoang | inkmh
How do you recharge your creative batteries? As with many creatives my original hobby became my day job, so I had to find new hobbies to keep my creative muscles flexed. I turned to areas of my creativity that I've always wanted to pursue and thought were weak and started nurturing those as hobbies. Illustrations and writing have always been subjects that intrigued me but never thought about dabbing into them because I thought I was never good enough or was wasting time practicing something I'd never use, but I couldn't be more wrong. These "hobbies" ended up being super impactful to the way I communicate and enhance my designs at work. Being able to add cherries on top of designs with original illustrations for interaction purposes has been huge to my role as a product designer.
Ilustrations by Khoa Hoang | inkmh You're a pretty tireless mental health advocate. Is there a relationship between creativity and mental health for you? Do you see creativity as a potential support mechanism for mental health, in general? Absolutely, mental health plays a huge role not only in creative roles but every role in existence. For most people, their creativity IS their mental health escape. But for us creatives, well we have to be a bit more creative in how we maintain it. Burnout is a huge problem for us and we need to be more cognoscente of it. The art of doing "nothing" needs to be more spoken of. We can't continue producing when we are constantly overstimulated. The idea of hustle culture and productivity needs to die with the Model T Ford that it was invented with.(AMEN! - CC) As creatives like empty walls of a gallery, we need time and space to process between bodies of work we create. We can't continuously keep moving from one painting to another and expect to maintain that level of execution and productivity. Eventually, our quality of work takes a huge hit. As for art and therapy? Absolutely the two comes to hand and hand. Even if your work is not considered up to par for your standards, you should absolutely try to visualize your turmoils and confusion on a canvas or whatever medium you choose. Art and creativity gives organization and answers to uncertainty and chaos. It allows you to manifest an emotion in a visual so others can understand it and by letting others understand it, you feel less lonely in your endeavors. It's a beautiful thing to be able to express yourself through being a creative and I highly recommend it whether you believe you don't have a creative bone in your body or not and believe it or not, illustration was never my forte. It was a learned art through years of beating my craft.
While I'm a fan of all Khoa's work, I have a special affinity for his jack-o-lantern series. They are so expressive, and speak to moods and emotions so many of us have experienced while struggling with our mental health. Sometimes, all it takes to ease the struggle is a little support (from a friendly ghost). - CC What's inspiring you in this moment? Healing my inner child my friend. That is what's inspiring me at the moment. I'm creating ungodly amounts of Power Rangers and it's been the most traction my design Instagram has gotten. The coolest part is I'm getting to work with some of my childhood heroes! Little Khoa would be so enamored and have a hero to look up to knowing that the 30-year-old Khoa is now working with the same heroes he used to see on screen. It's been very surreal how choosing yourself can lead to what is yours and yours to claim. I can only advise other designers to be true to themselves and be true to who they are. We can only do justice to the world if we are honest with ourselves and therefore be the best versions of ourselves.