Haley Stark is a multidisciplinary art director and graphic designer who loves hand-crafted, art-driven projects in print/digital/interactive. Haley is currently the Associate Art Director at ELLE (previously the Art Director of NYLON). We discussed her love for neons, design aesthetics, and future plans.
You were born in Seal Beach, CA and now you're based in Brooklyn, NY. Cali style is very colorful, vivid and adventurous, while NY style is all about 'black is my happy color'. So there's that backroom battle going on. To me, it looks like you've managed to mix these two worlds together. On the one hand, your work is very bright and straight-out; on the other hand, you tend to lean towards minimalism and simplicity. How did you and your work change when you moved to NYC?
I started playing around with graphic design as a kid back in California, and I was obsessed with neon – I wore neon colors, I studied neon lights, I used eye-pain neons in my designs. My technique was very undeveloped, and cheesy Photoshop effects were my playground (posterizations and Gaussian blurs, and all neon). I was essentially saying, "My designs aren’t great enough to catch your eye, but these colors definitely will!" When I moved to New York, all of that fell away. I matured as a designer, the details became as important as the impressions, and I started exploring a collage/'three-dimensional' aesthetic. At NYLON, I created libraries of real-world textures (cat fur, dirty Scotch tape, charcoal swirled in glue, you name it) and warped them into the digital world with scanner techniques and bitmapping. I was essentially taking something vivid and reducing, reducing, reducing until I had something less tangible, more abstract. My work at ELLE is even further from my high-school self: it's very minimal, and I focus on the typography so that the words take the spotlight.
Having a major in Media, Culture and Communication, you've worked at Alexander Wang, NYLON and many indie magazines. You’ve been a part of NYLON for a long time, now you're an associate art director at ELLE. How do you feel about that recent transition?
In high school, I figured studying at NYU was the safest way to move to NYC and explore my career. I came here without ever visiting, just packed my bags at 18 and jumped right in. Luckily, I got a job on my very first day in NY, and I worked in a small fashion studio designing run sheets and steaming samples. Then I hopped over to PAPER for a while (pre-Kardashian booty fame) where I designed invitations, signage, and blueprints for events. I didn't have a focus yet, so I took any design job that showed up on Craigslist: retouching, interning at Alexander Wang for their market weeks (which was a lot of fun), designing books/logos/posters for essentially no money. I ultimately tried to duck out of the industry for a while and figure myself out – I applied to retail jobs, and I got rejected from them all. It burned a bit, but I'm so glad that they didn't want me, because it drove me to apply to NYLON and the rest is history. Thanks, Urban Outfitters!
Art director, graphic designer, photographer, writer, owner of design studio – that's quite a list! So far, what was the most memorable or the most challenging project and why?
It's probably the very-ongoing project of developing my style as an art director. I have a handle on my passions and influences, but I'm still nailing down something that I can call my own. I know that it'll happen eventually (and slowly).
Where do you see yourself in, let's say, five years? Are there any other areas you'd love to step in?
There are so many trajectories I'd love to explore! Creative direction, editing and writing, furniture design, fashion design, opening an event space. I'm interested in creating a total package – experiences that incorporates images, words, environments, moods. I have a few ideas that will hopefully take shape soon.
Working at NYLON, I'm sure you've encountered plenty of celebrities. Was there anyone in particular you were dying to meet and what was that experience like?
I haven't met any of my biggest inspirations quite yet (FKA twigs, give me a ring!) but I have had the occasional celebrity run-in at work. In general, everyone has been really kind, down-to-earth, and just excited to be on a creative set. There was a certain rapper that snapped my office chair while spinning in it, though. Hah!