Stink Studios’ digital designer Christine Zhang on working with Studio Ghibli material
After committing to developing an eye for industry trends, digital designer Christine Zhang managed to land the project of her dreams at Stink Studios: a mobile digital experience based on Studio Ghibli’s classic film, Howl’s Moving Castle. At Stink Studios, she helps “develop an exciting and innovative visual identity for projects.” Outside of her day job, Christine works with a supportive community of creative friends on side hustles such as portfolios and start-up brands – projects she credits with expanding her view of creativity and experimentation. Here, Christine tells us about how she broke through in a competitive industry, as well as how she constantly seeks to “finesse” her design practice.
Digital Designer, Stink Studios
Junior Intern, xyz.studio (2021)
Place of Study
BA Information and Interface Design, London College of Communication, UAL (2017-2019)
What I do
How would you describe your job, and specifically what you do at Stink Studios?
As a digital designer, my role revolves around creative development, art direction and production. At Stink Studios, the creative process is very inclusive between the different roles. Designers are brought into projects early on and given the opportunity to shape ideas and concepts in accordance with the brief.
I work alongside the creative team and other members of the design team, including art directors and motion designers. Together, we develop an exciting and innovative visual identity for the projects, which is my favourite part of the process. This includes playful exploration, design finessing and conversations with clients. We then move into production, where we execute our concepts.
“Working alongside the creative and design team, I help develop an exciting and innovative visual identity for the projects.”
What kind of skills are needed to do your role? And would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
Within this role, there are many hard skills that you need to learn. This includes the use of different design programmes, such as Adobe Creative Suite and Figma. Having an understanding of design principles and systems is also a pivotal part of role.
However, more importantly, I think the role requires you to have an eye for what looks good, relevant and exciting. This is a skill I have trained over the last couple of years and has helped me elevate my work and the skills I have learnt to a level that is of industry standard.
The most important habits to keep as a designer include taking time to read about current innovative design work out in the world, keeping a network of other designers from different levels of experience and backgrounds around you and being open to change.
“Keeping a network of other designers from different levels of experience and backgrounds around you is one of the most important habits to keep as a designer.”
What recent project are you most proud of?
One project I am proud of is a mobile digital experience for the Loewe X Studio Ghibli collaboration (above) based on the film, Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). As a young designer, it was exciting to work with such a recognised fashion brand, known for the specific care they take in their craft.
Also, as an avid fan of the Studio Ghibli world, it was very exciting to work with the iconic animation studio on a project involving a film that was so pivotal to my childhood and experience as a young Asian.
This was one of the first projects where I was given an opportunity to take on more of a creative role, helping to develop the concept alongside the creative team, as well as art direction, shaping the look and feel of the project.
This meant I had a real opportunity to influence the project beyond my usual role as a designer. It was a project with a tight turnaround, but the team worked smoothly together, and we were able to create an experience that was touching, thoughtful and unique. Not only was it a beautiful outcome, the experience developing it was filled with a lot of attention to detail, love and care – which made the project more enjoyable and something to be proud of.
How I got here
How did you land the job?
Coming out of university, I had built a small network of designers I went to for advice and support. I also reached out to a couple of midweight and senior designers within the industry for advice, and kept strong connections with my peers from university. I was able to create a supportive community that worked to uplift each other during a period where there was a lot of pressure to achieve.
As I was graduating, I took time to train my eye; to see what was considered industry-standard work. During this period, I learned the difference between my current university-level designs and what was exciting to the industry.
I took a couple of months out of university to intern at different studios, which meant I was able to develop the craft and skill needed to work at one of the top agencies. This was a pivotal point in my career as it helped progress my portfolio and showcase a designer that was flexible, keen on their craft and had an eye for new design trends.
When my portfolio was sent by a designer in my support network to Viv [Greywoode], the design director at Stink Studios, they reached out and asked if I was keen to take on their design internship!
“As I was graduating, I took time to learn the difference between university-level designs and what was exciting to the industry.”
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I was really lucky when kicking off my career in design. During university, I was driven very early on to take on internships outside my studies. In my final year, I worked for a small studio called studio.xyz, with creatives and designers who helped shape my understanding of the industry, training that eye to understand what was exciting in the design world.
From that point on, I was able to develop my own work through self-initiated briefs that allowed me to work freely and with playful exploration. Taking on small briefs with my friends’ brands and for their portfolios, I was able to work on projects as not only a designer but also a creative and project manager. So when I finally arrived at Stink, I had a good understanding of how projects worked and what an agency expects.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
The first thing I found pivotal to my career was inspirational tools including Pinterest, Instagram and Dribbble. I spent hours scrolling through feeds to see what was trending. Through this I also discovered some great designers and studios such as Mouthwash Studio and Zhenya Rynzhuk.
Second thing was the book Emotional Design by Don Norman. This book was slightly removed from classic graphic design, but it taught me a lot about how we should treat and understand the practice of design. At its core, design is a communicative tool that conveys a message, but also has to understand the people it is speaking to. This book is about that balance: of creating design work that is both visually pleasing and functional.
Third was surrounding myself with a group of creatives from different backgrounds, cultures and practices. Having a supportive creative community that works in film, illustration and sculpture expanded my view of creativity and experimentation. Cultivating a group from places beyond where I grew up has given me the opportunity to explore design work from different cultural perspectives. As a woman of colour, this has hugely shaped my work and career.
“I surrounded myself with a group of creatives from different backgrounds, cultures and practices, which expanded my view of creativity.”
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
The main challenge I’ve faced along the way has been my struggle with feelings of doubt and an occasional lack of confidence in my voice and work. Something I have learnt in my experience so far as a woman of colour in the industry is that speaking up and voicing your opinions can be daunting, but it’s necessary if you want to see change.
I’ve learned to appreciate and value my own views and ideas. This has allowed me to become happy and confident in my personal work, as well as feel more relaxed when working with my team. Similarly, I’ve also found it is important to create spaces to hear and learn from the people around you; this helped me stop comparing myself to others. Being willing to learn from, listen to and appreciate myself and others is a significant part of how I face personal struggles in my career.
“As woman of colour in the industry, I’ve learnt that speaking up and voicing your opinions can be daunting – but it’s necessary if you want to see change.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Learning to value your time as a designer – and as a person outside of your work – is a long process, especially in an industry that is quite tough to break into. You can only support yourself if you value different aspects of your life and find healthy work-life balance.
Working at Stink Studios, I have a yearly salary, but on top of that I have also taken on small jobs, such as helping friends develop their brands and portfolios. This has helped me support myself in one of the most expensive cities in the world. But because design work is so laborious, it can be a struggle to manage time.
Nonetheless, taking on these new opportunities outside my studio work has been worthwhile as I view them as opportunities to learn, experiment and flex my individual creativity.