Meet Hovie Hawk – Owner of Design Hovie Studios ( He’s worked overseas, only to return back to Ballard to do design on his home turf. I’ve never met a designer more integrated into his community. Although I suspect it’s because he’s afraid to cross the bridge, he’s done everything you’re supposed to do to keep yourself top of mind with potential clients – Business 101 for the rest of us. Hovie is a member of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, and started his own website ( about the neighborhood and its retail business community. He then sold the site to the retailers themselves, he’s on the board of directors for the In Ballard Merchants Association and doing work for many of them. Listen up kids: This is not international design for Fortune 500 companies – Hovie’s already done that. The Ballard is fertile ground for design, just like any smaller neighborhood in any metropolis, city or two gas station town.

Studio Gypsies
: How long has Hovie Design Studios been around?

Hovie Hawk: Since the spring of 1998.

SG: What’s the best thing about Ballard?

HH: The ability to take a break from the office and go to any a number of restaurant and bars – there used to be galleries and shops, but they can’t stay in business because the rents keep getting hiked up. Also, living five minutes away always helps. Ballard Ave. was full of galleries, which was great – and we were associated with them. There was a nice creativity going on there. That has gone away, but there’s another energy going on now – different, but still very cool.

SG: Is there anything about Ballard you don’t like?

HH: The condos – I miss the innocence of when Ballard was first starting to become cool.

SG: All the artists establish a place and make it cool, along with the younger people and the DIY spirit. But then they get priced out and move on to establish the next place. But you wouldn’t move there, would you?

HH: Unless it happens to be north, like Shoreline or Crown Hill, I’m there.
SG: You’ve worked out of Italy for about two years. What was the best thing about that?

HH: The best was being inspired every day without even trying. By walking to work, or biking to work, by just being in the city, there’s so much going on there. It’s so cool. I rarely found myself like now looking to periodicals or books trying to get inspired. There, you just walk to lunch and you’re inspired – by the windows , the fashion, and everything you see. I miss that immensely.

SG: And the worst?

HH: The worst part was the bureaucracy of the Italian system and having to deal with everyday things that didn’t have to do with design as much as just living – where you think “boy, that’s a lot easier to do in America.” Here, you don’t have to wait in line all day, and then when you get up [to the front], the guy takes a coffee break and just shuts the window on you.

SG: Was it hard to reestablish in Seattle after returning from Milan?

HH: No because I kept in contact with people, and you (Kurt) took care of them. That helped.

SG: If you had to choose, Seattle or Milan?

HH: Milan. Just because of the creative aspect. And that’s why I’m planning on heading back in 2011 for at least a week to get re-invigorated.

SG: You’re now teaching type design at Seattle Pacific University, what are you seeing from the designers of tomorrow?

HH: They are always rough, just because that’s how students are. But they are getting better and better. I’ve noticed a huge leap over the last three years, partially due to the Seattle Pacific University’s program getting better. They have better students applying but, in general, I think students are starting to understand type a little better and paying more attention to it.

: Do you enjoy the teaching process?

HH: I don’t enjoy the grading – I hate that. But I enjoy talking with the students, so I can see the different ways they come up with ideas that I hadn’t thought of yet. We get jaded being in the business for so long that we don’t even think of certain things, and it’s nice to see [a young designer] think of something, where you might say, “That could never be done.” But I like that, it’s cool.

SG: It’s obvious you’re a fan of Helvetica. What about it works for you?

HH: Just because it’s so clean. It just has a fresh look.

SG: But there’s thousands of other typefaces that you might say were “clean.”

HH: There’s just something to it. I don’t know if that’s because it’s used a lot in fashion and style, and that I was heavily influenced by that in Milan. It does remind me of that. I don’t like Helvetica for body type, though.

SG: Do you make all your students use Helvetica?

HH: No. But there are a couple of projects where I make them use either Helvetica or Univers. I like Univers for that because I want them to understand how to call out something on a page and not use some crazy typeface to get it noticed.

SG: When did you realize that you wished you could design as good as me?

HH: It must have been around ’97 Back at Ted Mader Associates.
(Note :I feel I must disclose he was laughing while answering this question – although I can‘t imagine why, because I’m sure it’s true.)

: Name some other designers, besides me, whose work you enjoy.

HH: David Carson –I’ve always loved his stuff, I’m not sure what he’s been doing lately, but he was a heavy influence early on. I like the philosophy of Stefan Sagmeister; the way he thinks. I heard him talk once and it was really inspiring. His work , though, is kinda hit or miss with me. And, of course, I love the stuff that Giorgio Galli creates in Italy. I worked with him there and he inspired me a lot. Going back to the “Worst of Italy” – which I had totally forgotten about – the one big thing was when they made me change my design style. . When I got there I was all about doing David Carson layered design and crazy stuff. And they said, “that’s cool but it’s not going to work here, so you need to design more in the Swiss school.”

DG: So you evolved for them and it stuck.

HH: After I hyperventilated. But luckily we had a lot of that at the University of Washington where I went to school. I just had to pull back a couple of years and look at that.

SG: What is your dream design job?

HH: Football Uniform for an NFL team.

SG: I sensed you might say that, so do you have some favorites?

HH: Favorite all time is the old San Diego Chargers – the old classic one, not the more recent one where they tried to use the powder blue. But as far as designs, I like it when they don’t just slap a logo on the side of the helmet. Good examples would be the horns on the St. Louis Rams or the Cincinnati Bengals with the tiger stripes. Something that takes it beyond a nice logo.

SG: If you couldn’t be a graphic designer, what would you be doing?

HH: I don’t’ know. Maybe managing a restaurant? That’s what I did before, and I loved bartending, but I knew that wasn’t going to be conducive to being a good husband and father. But I loved bartending, it was just a fun gig.

SG: Where do you draw inspiration from?

HH: Communication Arts and that type of thing. Fashion magazines. Just walking around and looking at buildings. I learned this early on.

SG: Why is Ballard a good place for design?

HH: It’s close to home, which is important to me. Also, it is small, and I like to feel like I can make a difference. I’m involved in the community, and with the chamber and Ballard merchants association, and I feel like my voice can be heard. If I were in downtown, I don’t think that would be the case. That’s just not my personality, and even if I wanted to, it would be hard to be a player in downtown Seattle. I could be a player in Ballard – that’s my size.

SG: We’ve been here for a month and a half. How’s it been?

HH: Awesome. You guys are great. You didn’t come in and mess up the office or anything. The best part has been you pushing me, because I can real easily get into a comfort zone and just do the same old thing. You’re always good about calling me out on stuff like that. And just seeing what you do, and how you’re pushing yourself and Justin. It’s nice every once in a while to say “oh yeah, I need to step outside my boundaries.” Just because of you, I’ve been out a LOT more than usual.

SG: I don’t know how that reflects upon me, but OK.

HH: Yeah, just getting out, like going to the chili parlor the other day. It gets me way out of my comfort zone. Because I’m more than happy to get into the office and never leave until I get home – it’s nice to experience the area.

: That’s the purpose of this whole Gypsyism of moving from place to place; just to get that inspiration. If we don’t go out into the community when we go to a different one, it kinda defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do.

SG: OK, final question. Who’s better looking: me or Justin?

HH: Well, obviously you.
(Note: He really did say that! Ha! Eat that, Justin!)

Image – Tom Wolken