Print to Web: How Shawn Hazen Made the Switch

Graphic designer Shawn Hazen’s career has become more and more web-based over the years. His professional design life began at San Francisco’s MetaDesign, where he dabbled in web stuff, before moving on to what he jokingly calls “old media.” Hazen worked as a designer at Chronicle Books then as the founding designer for Dwell Magazine. These days you’ll find him in Chicago heading up his own shop, Hazen Creative, where he does about half web work and half identity design.

When and why did you decide to make the switch from print to interactive design?

shawn hazen web designer interviewThere was not a clean break from print—nor was there a point at which I “jumped in” to the web. In truth, I was messing around with the web from the moment I got to MetaDesign, though I still considered myself a “regular designer,” as opposed to a “web designer.” In San Francisco in the late ’90s, it was pretty hard to escape the sense that the web was going to become critical to business, but most designers still didn’t think of it as “true design.” And in a lot of ways, it wasn’t yet—you couldn’t do much!

How long did it take before you felt comfortable working in web design?

I felt comfortable in it any time I was working with a good programmer. I could be the “design guy” if I knew there was a capable programmer to back me up and work through issues. That’s true even today—if I step into tricky territory (ecommerce or some crazy database-driven thing) I will be comfortable if I have a keen (and patient!) programmer on my side. Good programmers understand that code isn’t our forte and they expect to get a lot of questions and to have to find technological solutions for our design ideas. The best programmers like a challenge—just as good designers embrace technical limitations as a challenge. Designing a two-color poster or a mobile version of a site can both be fun restrictions.

What’s the hardest thing for long-time print designers to grasp about interactive design?

Probably that you don’t have control over what someone sees. Can you imagine printing a poster that might look really dark to one person and blown-out to another? Or that the person could stretch the poster and have all the elements rearrange to fit the new shape? Or how about designing a magazine article and not being able to rag the text? Or not even knowing where the text will end on the spread? Or what point size the person will be seeing?! It’s kind of crazy from that perspective.

But things are more consistent across browsers and computers than they’ve ever been, and the advent of web fonts changed things dramatically in such a short time. You can actually do “real design” on the web, and it’s getting better all the time.

Do you think designers need to focus on one thing? Or is it possible to do both print and web design?

It’s definitely possible to do both! In fact, I personally think you have to be versatile enough to do both to be successful as a designer these days. It’s just another vehicle for design, like books or brochures. And it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. I believe in specialization and clearly defining your offer, but not so narrowly that you don’t have enough demand for your services! Including web in your offer doesn’t need mean you’ll be sacrificing other types of design. These days you can’t (or shouldn’t!) even design an infographic without considering how it will look on the web. Pretty much every client you have will be employing the web in some way, so it makes sense to be involved with how your design for them works online.

iron & wine band website design

Hazen designed this site for band Iron & Wine. It includes tour dates, announcements, products/ecommerce, discography, and a custom-built audio player.

collaborative coaching web design

After designing a visual brand for this business consulting start-up, Hazen was asked to develop their website.

shawn hazen designed chronicle books

A stack of books Hazen designed or art-directed while at Chronicle Books.

greenhorn legal website design

Greenhorn Legal offers legal-practice training for law students and new lawyers. It provides information about the program, a blog, and allows visitors to register and pay for the classes. Hazen designed the site and the firm’s identity.