Cultural Creators: An Interview with Nick Ng

One of my favorite ongoing blog series is LifeHackers' How I Work. Simple questions about how people in a variety of workplaces get stuff done. As I read more and more of these, I kept thinking about wondering about creative people I know and what their answers might be. That got me thinking. Why not host an interview series at my own blog with Christians who are working with excellence, who I admire, and who do creative stuff? I was concerned about getting enough people to host a meaningful series, but the yeses kept rolling in. So here we are.

Who is Nick Ng? Hailing from Chicago, Nick resolves to make lives around him less iffy and way more spiffy. He is a designer at Roosevelt University, a metropolitan institution founded on the ideal of social justice, and was the senior designer at Trinity International University, which also houses Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. A higher ed designer by day, he dons his freelance cape by night and weekends to join forces with small businesses, startups, and organizations to fight ugliness. When not creating or shaking a fist at pixels, he spends time with his wife, four young kids, a compost bin of worms, and two annoying parakeets. You will find him being among friends at Redeemer Anglican Church, hunting for tasty gyros, and whizzing by (and snickering at) traffic on his bike.

Mathew B. Sims: What kind of computer do you use?
Nick Ng: 1st gen Mac Pro, iMac, and Macbook Air

MBS: What kind of mobile device?
NN: An iPhone 5s
MBS: One word to describe your workspace? (photo)
NN: Focus (work). The standing desk allows me to be alert and as a bonus, to dance while working.

Homely (personal). Simple and cozy.

MBS: What music do you listen to while working?
NN: Oh, I have too much listens. They correlate to the kind of project I’m working on. Some recent ones:

  • Logo design or illustration:

Spacey or experimental music (Brian Eno, Jon Hopkins, Tyler Finck, etc.) and jazz (Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Blossom Dearie). Music with few or no words.

  • General design:

Indie electro-pop (recently, Pink Feathers’ Invisible Lines on repeat) and folk (Over the Rhine, Alva Leigh, etc.)

  • To get me started and going:

The Ramones, Shout Out Louds, and the good ol’ Wilco.

MBS: What’s your best creativity hack?
NN: When I’m stuck, taking a walk is my favorite. There’s something about allowing your mind wander and make connections that couldn’t be forced.

MBS: What are you currently reading?
NN: Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher, The Icon Handbook by Jon Hicks, Everything I Never Told You, a novel about an interracial family (white-asian) in 1970s midwest small town, and plowing through The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics volumes by Hans Urs von Balthasar which explores the role of aesthetics in Christian theology. (I’m looking for a reading buddy. Anyone?)

MBS: Would you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?
NN: An ambivert, which I suspect most people are too.
MBS: What tools are invaluable for you? (Think tablet, Evernote, Moleskin journal, etc)
NN: Adobe Creative Cloud, Wunderlist for task management, Field Notes for note-taking, VSCO Cam for photo editing, Rdio for music listening and staying forever young, and Fujifilm X30 camera.
MBS: What’s the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had?
NN: Anything from Intelligentsia, a Chicago-based roaster. Amazing pure, fierce flavors.

MBS: What makes good design in one sentence?
NN: Frank Chimero says it aptly, “Good design is all about making other designers feel like idiots because that idea wasn’t theirs.”
MBS: How would you describe your artistic/design sensibility?
NN: Simple, functional, and approachable.
MBS: Besides your computer or phone, is there another gadget you use daily?
NN: Does a hearing aid count?

MBS: What one design trend makes you cringe?
NN: The fashionable, hipster-ish crossed ‘X’ logo trend that was oversaturated for a while.

MBS: How does your faith inform your work?
NN: There is a prayer for musicians and artists in the Book of Common Prayer that I love:

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In a society where beauty is highly prized, whether it be a fashion model or an Instagram shot of a splendid pie you made, we are far too pleased with beauty being constantly churned out like a machine, resulting in a sense that is hedonistic and utilitarian. And as a designer, I often get caught up in this idea of aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics.

However, the prayer brings me to remember the source of beauty, which is God himself. And in his goodness, not only does He permit people to encounter beauty, but He also gifts them the grace of causing beauty. The prayer then closes with “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” in which we’re reminded that through him, we’re empowered to turn outwards. In my case, design is a tiny hammer chipping away ugliness that is self-serving.

MBS: What current projects are you working on?
NN: Besides what I have now at Roosevelt and several client work, I’m working on icon sets and illustrations of Chicago landmarks and Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Another project is the Deaf Velo Alliance, which is a new organization where my friends and I educate and advocate for cycling in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Seeing that the cost of automobility is high, we hope to see more deaf embracing cycling as a viable transportation, and not just recreation, like something kids do.

Late this year, I hope to launch a personal project, an online collection of in-depth interviews with deaf professionals in creative fields, education, and technology. Asking them the joys and trials in the process of getting there, how they address barriers and challenges in the hearing world, the risks they take, etc.

MBS: Early bird or night owl?
NN: Night owl. Powered by quick day naps.  

[Editor: Interesting side note. Nick created the cover for A Household Gospel (which is amazing by the way!). He wrote an in-depth retrospective. Check it out here.]

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