DDQ&A: Khoi Vinh

Of all the fellow designer dads I’ve interviewed,* Khoi Vinh is the one I’ve known the longest. We were together in the DC design trenches early in our careers, building up our portfolios and burning lots of midnight oil. While I can’t think of a designer whose style (and personality) is more different than mine, I’ve always respected and admired him and his work. As we’re both now dads of preschoolers, we finally have something more in common. Except that he also has twins, so I obviously have some catching up to do. I settled for catching up through this Q&A.

Q&A with designer dad Khoi Vinh

Tell me briefly about your design career: how long in the industry, what kinds of clients you have and/or work you specialize in.
I graduated from art school in 1993 with an illustration degree but have done some kind of design ever since. Jeebus. Twenty years. I started out in print media and switched to digital media in 1998.

DD note: Khoi’s being coy (sorry, had to do it) and leaving out lots of details. He was the design director for NYTimes.com from 2006-2010, created a photo collage app, is a published author, and has been blogging for over a decade at Subtraction.com. In 2011, Fast Company named him one of “The 50 Most Influential Designers in America.” Coy, indeed.


khoi-book mixel

How long have you been a dad?
All I know is I’ve been a dad since at least 4:30 AM this morning, when either my 4 year old daughter or one of my 1 year old twins woke me up. It’s all a blur.

How has fatherhood affected or influenced your work?
Well it’s absolutely changed my perspective of the importance of the work I do. Until I met my partner and we had our first child, I was pretty much ninety-five percent focused on work and furthering my career. Now I spend more of my time out of the office with my family than I do on work or career stuff. It would be disingenuous of me to say that re-sorting my priorities also didn’t cause some detriment to my career and my work. It almost surely did. Truth be told I’m probably a worse designer today than I was before I was a father. But I’m a better person.

Truth be told I’m probably a worse designer today than I was before I was a father. But I’m a better person.

Dad & daughter doing a little beverage comedy.
Dad & daughter doing a little beverage comedy.

Have you ever designed anything for or related to your children?
I made an announcement site for my daughter that I haven’t touched since I posted it. But I don’t tend to like to over design kid-related stuff. I figure if I’m going to be doing design, I would rather be doing design for me, and for the things that matter to my career. And if I’m going to be doing kid-related stuff, I would rather just relax and hang out with my kids than monopolize that time with my design compulsiveness.

How has being a designer informed or influenced your role as a father?
I’m not sure I have a good answer for this one. I guess I could say that having a job where I have to work with a lot of designers and engineers and get them to produce a desired result helps me be an effective father…? Or that working on products for end users (rather than clients) helps me with empathy…? Both of those answers sound pretty flimsy, though.

How do you find balance (or a lack of it) between being both a designer and a dad?
I’ve basically tried to make my job more lightweight. When you’re young and/or single, hanging out after work and on weekends with your colleagues is often a natural part of your job. An unintended side effect of that is it significantly expands the part of your life that your job takes up.

So I’ve largely opted out of the social aspect of my day job — I skip all the happy hours and get-togethers and even a lot of the lunches. That makes it easier for me to get through the day efficiently. On the other hand, it’s probably not the best possible thing for my career, because so much of work is about how you relate to people. I definitely regret that. But it’s what I have to do to get home in time to put my kids to bed, which I absolutely hate missing.

It’s fairly easy for me to make this compromise because I’m so motivated to get home. And when I’m home, I try to really be present with my family. I never check my work email from outside the office. That doesn’t mean I’m not reachable; it’s just got to be something important enough for people to warrant a phone call, rather than just an email.

What designs/products/pop culture left an impression on you as you were growing up? Do you see anything from childhood as influencing your tastes or own style as a designer?
Comic books are the whole reason I work in visual media. My interest in comics led to my interest in art, which led to my interest in design, which led to my interest in technology. I owe everything to Jack Kirby.

Silver Surfer by Jack Kirby. Image source: tumblr.com

Are there any particular kids’ products (toys, shows, etc.) you really like?

One of the highlights of these first four years with my daughter has been that she’s become Muppets-obsessive. She seems to have an insatiable appetite for anything having to do with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, etc., even stuff going back to Jim Henson’s early career, before they were really The Muppets we know today. So I’ve had the pleasure of going along with her on this ride, rediscovering these characters and watching old episodes of the original TV series. It’s made me appreciate how sophisticated Henson’s creations were. The Muppets were kind of for kids but not really for kids. They were incredibly aware of their own absurd premise in a meta kind of way, and yet they never really disdained it at all. The whole franchise is just an amazing achievement that I’ve learned to appreciate now in a way I never did as a kid.

The Muppets were kind of for kids but not really for kids. They were incredibly aware of their own absurd premise in a meta kind of way, and yet they never really disdained it at all.

Image source: NYTimes.com

Any you can’t stand?
There’s a whole segment of the kids industry focused on getting young girls to aspire to be princesses, which I think is pretty horrible stuff. Just disgusting.

Anything else you’d like to add? New projects coming up?
I’ve been working on a new project that I thought you and your readers might be interested in. It’s called KidPost, and it’s a service rounds up all the photos and updates of your kids you’ve posted to all your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, etc.,), and then sends them off to your family once a week via email. This is great for making sure Grandma can see all the photos of the grandkids without having to be on Instagram or friending you on Facebook.

The site is still just a teaser page; we’re building it right now but in the meantime we want to see how people respond to the concept. It would be great to get any feedback from your readers!


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I want to thank Khoi for taking the time to do this Q&A — between all his projects and all his kids, I know he’s a busy guy! Please go check out KidPost, post your feedback or questions in the comments and I’ll be sure to pass them onto Khoi.

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*It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a DDQ&A, so for all those who have no idea what I’m talking about, go here to read past interviews.

And please come check out Designer Daddy on Facebook, for more cool stuff & things of that nature!

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