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Alan Hay: When Love of Sport, Adidas, and Design Collide

May 6, 2021

Season 2 Episode 1

Alan Hay works as designer at adidas headquarters within the brand design team in Herzogenaurach, Germany. He shares his story with Design Atlas about how he found his way in the design field from an early age. Through finding freelance work during his university years to working for the Aberdeen Football Club, Alan’s story showcases how he intersected his passion for sport with his love for graphic design.

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Jens Bringsjord

You are listening to Design Atlas Season two.


Jens Bringsjord

Welcome to another episode on the Design Atlas podcast. Welcome back to everyone who joined us in our first season and a big welcome to everyone new here listening to the show. Design Atlas is bringing a diverse cultural perspective to designers around the world. Our mission is to explore graphic design from a different angle.


Megan Luedke

In today's episode, we meet Alan Hahn, brand designer within the Creative Direction team at Adidas Headquarters and Health and Alpha, Germany. Originally from Northern Scotland, Alan shares with us his story of landing his dream job in the world of sport. He's also worked at the Aberdeen Football Club as a full staff designer, as well as created numerous other projects through his freelance work, especially within the music industry.


Jens Bringsjord

So without further ado, let's navigate our design hours to Adidas headquarters and meet up with Alan.


Alan Hay

I suppose he didn't have a plan to become a designer at a young age, but then when you look back, you kind of think, Actually, yeah, this makes sense. Why I became a designer. I'm Alan here. I'm a designer originally from Scotland, but living in Germany now for the last six years. I currently work at Adidas in the brand design team and have previously worked for Aberdeen Football Club in Scotland as well as doing some freelance projects along the way.


Alan Hay

In my free time, I like to keep busy as I love music, so I play the guitar. I really enjoy listening to music, going to gigs in the Non-Pandemic era as well. Another passion of mine is sports. I love football or soccer, as some of your listeners may know. Running, cycling. Tennis. I also enjoy reading either about design, sports or music.


Alan Hay

These kinds of things. I love to travel, so exploring new places is always exciting. I enjoy cooking and I have really gotten into baking in COVID times.


Jens Bringsjord

Although Alan may not have known at an early age that he was destined to be a designer. Thinking back, he's able to find some connections in his childhood that brought him into the design field.


Alan Hay

I remember when I was a kid there, there's a comic in the UK called the Beano, which I really loved, and I used to like drawing some of the characters in that, like Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. And I loved playing with Lego when I was a bit younger and my dad bought me for a birthday, an Amiga 500.


Jens Bringsjord

The Amiga 500 was one of the first at home computers, which was released in January of 1987.


Alan Hay

And it was like a drawing program. And, you know, it's kind of, I suppose, like me paying for something, whatever your early nineties kind of home computer could do. And I remember just like I said, Oh, I can draw on this. I just kind of said, okay, I like these things. And then I ended up doing higher standard grade art or higher art.


Alan Hay

I think Impressionism was probably something that we studied, and maybe it was the first time that I kind of was like, Oh, you can do art. And it doesn't have to look exactly like what you know in front of you. It's not a cartoon, but it's art.


Megan Luedke

But it wasn't just art that Alan found love with. It was also his eagerness to learn the guitar. However, this led him to realise how much art there was in the music industry, especially when it came to album covers.


Alan Hay

I was 13, 14. I really got into music and I was kind of fired by the CD covers from the nineties Britpop era. So bands like releases and stuff and I was doing the higher you had to do sometimes like drawings or paintings using different source material. And I remember we did a screen printing workshop when I was about 15, 16, and it's like, Oh, this is me, this is really cool.


Alan Hay

And then and that kind of led me on to think that I like to go to art school. But, you know, I didn't, I didn't want to work in a, I suppose a thing that was going to be to do with numbers or like I was into music at this point. And, you know, you get into music, listening, playing and stuff and also reading and thinking and say, Oh, art school.


Alan Hay

It's like a good place to join a band. So, you know, maybe, maybe I can go to art school and then actually like, become like a musician or something and side.


Jens Bringsjord

Once Alan had set his mind to studying art whilst pursuing his dreams of becoming a musician within a band, he decided it would be best to complete a portfolio course to Aberdeen College before applying to university. The portfolio course mainly focused on the fine arts with very little discussion of design.


Alan Hay

Learning about proportions and how to draw is something that in later life you can get into design, designing on a grid and all these things. I ended up at Grace School of Arts in Aberdeen, which is part of the Robert Gordon University. I didn't really feel part of the university was an art school. That was kind of where we spent 99% of our time unless we had to go with a library, a couple of buildings away.


Alan Hay

You start off and you cover everything. So in your first year, in your first semester, you do visual communication, textile design and design, 3D being ceramics and things, you make art rather than need cards. And you also did painting, printmaking and sculpture.


Megan Luedke

As classes began with Allan focused on his studies of visual communication, he realised he had an invaluable resource when it came to printing this project.


Alan Hay

I actually was quite lucky at the time. My dad's an architect, and so he had a contract with one of the printing companies for when he had to get stuff printed. So I phoned up him and said, Dad, can I get something printed? So, you know, as everyone else has these three things, I have like an HQ kind of size poster which is much bigger than everyone else's, which everyone was like, Oh, how did you get that?


Megan Luedke

But it wasn't long after Alan's first year of university completed that things started really picking up pace with his art and design courses.


Alan Hay

So in your second year, third and fourth year, you choose your subject actually as visual communication and digital communication. You did a bit of graphic design, a bit of illustration photography, this film as well. I sure did enjoy the photography part. You know, you're using film in black and white film and you would develop the film yourself and, you know, have to develop and print your own pictures and stuff in the dark room.


Alan Hay

And that was really enjoyable. And then I graduated and I think I had work experience. I got in touch with them, it was a company called Ignite in Edinburgh and I did like four weeks work experience with them and it was, you know, they were a graphic design company. Even at that time I kind of still thought maybe this kind of interactive slash kind of like, you know, moving parts.


Alan Hay

This was something that I'd be interested in.


Jens Bringsjord

Before Alan really began applying for jobs, he created his portfolio and he was graduating in the early 2000. We asked him directly if his portfolio took a different shape then, or if he had applied the same portfolio principles as we do today.


Alan Hay

You know, applying for jobs and things like that. And, you know, I think I had a little website and, you know, emailing. I email out a PDF and then have a portfolio that takes the interview and your laptop if you were showing digital work. So for that, I don't think that has really changed very much. I did another work experience with a company in Glasgow called Stan and it was only for two weeks or something and they were doing graphic design stuff and it was really brilliant stuff and an exciting kind of stuff as well for me because they were doing stuff for tennents lager, beer in Scotland to sponsor the Scottish National Football team and so the guys were doing artwork for it for these things and all this is interesting. And then shortly after that I applied for a couple of more jobs and I ended up getting one of those working for Aberdeen Football Club as a graphic designer.


Megan Luedke

The Aberdeen Football Club competes in the Scottish Premiership and formed in 1903 as a result of the merger of three clubs in Aberdeen in the 1980s. They achieved a higher level of success when they won three league titles, four Scottish Cups and a Scottish League Cup alongside two European trophies.


Alan Hay

So I didn't know that a professional sports team would need a graphic designer. So it was maybe just at that point that I was like, Oh yeah, I want to be a designer, but I was a fan of Aberdeen, so just like going into the stadium and stuff was like wiring going in from an interview. I thought like some of the players and like, you know, assistant manager at the time and things and I thought, Oh, this is this, this is cool, you know, fanboy, you know, I started working there and I kind of learned that actually, you know, mixing your hobby and work is brilliant.


Alan Hay

When you can combine the two, you know, sometimes it doesn't feel like work. You know, you would be doing a brochure for the commercial department, then you'd be doing leaflets for like the, you know, kids kind of club and some illustrations and stuff. Their mascot is called Angus the Bill, so they got to do some illustrations of that and things.


Alan Hay

And yeah, you make decent graphic t-shirts for the shop general marketing for upcoming games, posters and things. You're doing adverts for the website and things. So it was lots and lots of different types of projects on a matchday which kind of help out do some photography stuff, not really the action stuff because you know, we had somebody to cover that, you know, the be inclusive kids hats in the Angus the blue or they're coming onto the pitch to play at half time.


Alan Hay

So you know you're running you know you're kind of doing your design job during the week and in the games are going on and you then get to run around taking photos. You know, you kind of on the pitch, taking a picture of like the kids and the captain of the team and stuff to see the game.


Alan Hay

So yeah, it was great and I knew and it was nearly eight years since I did that.


Megan Luedke

But it wasn't until after visiting other countries that Alan really wanted to explore work opportunities outside of the Aberdeen area.


Alan Hay

I kind of thought I'd be limited to the UK because I don't speak another language. Well, at the time I didn't, you know, I, I, I learned some French at school but that could probably, you know, I could buy some bread or something and that's not really enough to survive. After a while I was like, okay, I like doing this, but I have lived in Aberdeen for my whole life and I think I remember my brother had done Erasmus in Barcelona and I'd gone over and visited me and said, Well, this is really cool, like living, living abroad.


Alan Hay

And then I remember at the same time going round about the same time, going to a friend's wedding in the States in like Colorado. And, and it was like, oh, you know, this is exciting. And, and it's like, maybe I want to try something different. MM I like Aberdeen. It became an Adidas team and I'd like to meet some of the people who work for like, you know, Adidas in the UK and stuff.


Alan Hay

And I'd say, Oh, this seems like a cool company to work for. And I went to their headquarters just in Manchester in the UK and it was like, wow, this is, this is cool. And I kind of maybe at that point Googled like Adidas, graphic design jobs or something. And, and so they were in some place called Heritage Canada, which I hadn't known, which I couldn't. I probably couldn't even pronounce it.


Alan Hay

It sounds like. Where is that? Then on LinkedIn I saw the job was like an assistant designer. Visual communication was the title and I was like, like, I'll give it a go. And they, you know, were asking for a fluent English speaker, which was also a hell yeah. And then that's, that's how I ended up for Adidas.


Megan Luedke

Having personally worked at Adidas headquarters. And now it's like an hour off Germany. It is amazing. Let me tell you, the facilities of the company are outstanding. The employees, the teams, everybody there is just so excited and energised to work with sport. And it's one of those companies that just feeds off the energy of a fast paced and thrilling environment and the concept that sport has the power to change lives.


Megan Luedke

During my internship at Adidas, I met Alan Hay while working in the Creative Direction team. I learned a lot from Alan during my internship from printing off posters for specific Adidas events to creating graphics on the computer with an illustrator in Photoshop to ensure that the quality was the best it could be since that time, he's changed teams, and here's what he's doing now.


Alan Hay

I'm a designer in the brand design department. We sit in chase direction, so we kind of own the look and feel of the brand and projects related to that. You know, they are like art direction projects where you're kind of working on a photo shoot or something then just, you know, more your layout design type projects. I think I kind of like being able to do different things, like not doing the same thing every day.


Alan Hay

And I'm kind of lucky that I nearly always manage to do that since I've been working. You know, for some people it's like, you know, really specified on one thing. But for me, I think being able to jump onto different types of projects is something that just really interests me.


Jens Bringsjord

For Alan, moving from Scotland to Germany wasn't as big of a culture shock as he initially thought.


Alan Hay

I wouldn't say there was a massive culture shock because it's not that different. The biggest kind of shock, I suppose, was when it came to say, wait, which is in the south phase, like the shops shutting, I would say probably the biggest thing and nothing being open on a Sunday morning. I stayed for the first months and then hurt so and I just presumed it's like small, you know, it's not big tired.


Alan Hay

So okay things shutting aside and not opening night Sunday same in Scotland if you're in a smaller kind of place, not everything is open on a Sunday. And then I got into Nuremberg in a big city and it's like, Oh no, everything's still shut eight and shut on that Sunday. Well, I find that, you know, when I move, I find going to the grocery store super exciting.


Alan Hay

It was like something I hated back home. And we do as quickly as possible something like, ooh, there's all these different things, I think, you know, going to work. Added: That wasn't too much of a culture shock. You know, it's like there's obviously difficulties when you're getting things in the mail and you can't read anything.


Alan Hay

And so luckily enough, my flatmates were German when I moved here so you know, good to have some local knowledge and translating abilities.


Megan Luedke

Working at Adidas since 2014, Alan has already noticed a difference from being part of a large corporation versus the more versatile role he had during his time with the Aberdeen Football Club.


Alan Hay

I did start doing different projects and like how you do projects is slightly different because obviously when you're a bigger company and it's not just Adidas, there's you know, there's more people, so you don't have to do everything yourself. You have a team of people you work with, you know, you might have a project manager, you might have another designer or whatever.


Alan Hay

So, you know, you become responsible for a part of a project. Whereas if you're in a small company, you have to like, what, I want to do this, I have to make it happen. Whereas in a bigger company, you probably find somebody who can do this for you and you don't have to figure out yourself, you know, it's like, Oh, I want to do something and after effects there's somebody that there's somebody that does this.


Alan Hay

So, you know, there's differences like that. Obviously, there's a lot more people you don't know, you know, small company, you know, everyone and a big company, you might not even know everyone on your whole floor or in your massive office. There's these ten differences. But then once you're actually working on projects, you know that the working is not no different.


Alan Hay

You do your research, you do, you know, your mock ups and things. Your final work I did for a little while, we kind of worked directly with some of the marketing and did some like tennis photoshoots and stuff where you kind of would go and work with athletes like, like Carver team and Spanish and these kinds of people, which is really great.


Alan Hay

And you do the kind of campaign work which then ends up on Instagram and sometimes in stores and they kind of grand slam tournaments and stuff, the old football photo shoot and stuff as well. When they do the new kits and things, which is cool to just see you're kind of like, Yeah, I did that, you know, it's kind of like a dream job kind of situation when you get to travel to these places.


Alan Hay

It's really exciting. Yeah. Having your stuff out there is nice for me. It's not like the be all and end all. I know some people do like to work on stuff that you know ends up on a billboard or whatever, but for me yet where we actually end up is not that important. I know usually when you're working with a good team, with good people, it's like, you know, it's fun.


Jens Bringsjord

For Alan. It's not always the biggest projects that resonate with him the most.


Alan Hay

Sometimes it's just little projects that mean they mean like nothing. I remember those, like when I was working at the football club. I like our time to do these little magnetic sort of pool adverts. It was like a fixture kind of, and I think it had sort of something like in football fixtures or something and you know, kind of like a poster.


Alan Hay

And then on the back it adverts and stuff. And some of the companies didn't have, you know, they were maybe small and didn't have their own ads. And so I had to do the ads and stuff and I did one ad and it was for a property company and it was like only once, like two colours and the local nothing else.


Alan Hay

And that's it. And it's like and I did that and they just worked like the shape and the size. I did it like a monopoly, but it said their name and the company was the same blue as Mayfair Park Lane, like squares on Monopoly. And, you know, it just had their phone number underneath and they loved it.


Alan Hay

And like, you know, it was just like a yes. It's like if you if you know, you know and it's like it's like so sometimes it's just little things like that which you kind of, you know, it's like when you when it was first said to me, Yeah, they just wanted the logo and their phone number and that's, you know, two colours and it's so boring.


Alan Hay

And then it's then it's like we're it's it's just like this. It might work. And it's like a blue square with, like, the logo and then the green and the phone number at the bottom. And it's just like, you know, I always love these. Like, there's a bit like the art of looking sideways and had these really cool things that were just like these little quirky kinds of designs and stuff and things.


Alan Hay

And it's like Italy. This is my kind of like inspired by that kind of type of design and stuff. So that's cool.


Jens Bringsjord

Well, cool is certainly an understatement when it comes to Alan's job working at Adidas, creating the culture of sport, and collaborating directly with famous athletes and celebrities from all over the world can wear out someone's creativity. That's why Alan keeps his creativity going through his continued quest for inspiration.


Alan Hay

Everything you export, see, you know, film, TV, whatever, you know, going to new places, going to museums and things, music that that definitely inspires me. Music is what I kind of sometimes do, like what a friend that used to be in a band is always making, like an album cover or something done. So it's like maybe Mike is always like, you know, like to get in touch every couple of months.

Alan Hay

It's like, yeah, I'm going to release like I've got something coming out, so that means I can see the artwork. Yeah. Like he makes a good friend and I was in a band with him and his wife for a while. So yeah, I kind of maybe like our own bands always did the kind of album artwork and stuff and, and, and my friend Mike is on stage like on a Friday evening.


Alan Hay

Like, you know, can you do this for me and buy you lunch next time you're home? So it's just like I suppose. Yes, it inspires me. It's kind of part of who I am. But, you know, I kind of maybe have some separate kinds of music, kind of projects that are on the go or sometimes just like doing stuff for fun for myself.


Jens Bringsjord

So it's not just music that inspires Alan. It's also written and Pictographic works that inspire him.


Alan Hay

To fix is always something that still inspires me. The Internet is great for some things and that, but I always like to reference because if I'm starting a project, we have a really great library in our in our office, which is really cool and you know, like by design boots and stuff myself and you know, if you go to a museum or something and it's a cool exhibition, it's like by the catalogue or whatever.


Megan Luedke

And our world has dramatically shifted in the past year due to COVID. And while the slow but steady rollout of vaccinations begins to improve the situation globally, Adidas, aside from a few on St Johns, has been operating for the most part remotely during the pandemic.


Alan Hay

Well, I love to work. I love going to the office. I kind of like being around people. And, you know, one of the reasons I went to Adidas was my as well as working abroad and stuff. It was great to work with other designers, maybe more people and more experience, kind of learning some of these things which you may not get working as a sole designer.


Alan Hay

So I never really worked at home. Then when the pandemic hit, I think after like the first week basically was like, right, I was lucky. I have a spare room. So get rid of, you know, there's no visitors coming. So it's like, did this man of the bed and stuff get rid of that through the desk in here?


Alan Hay

And I have a space to work in. You know, it's easier to work as a designer in 20, 20, 21, but, you know, you have tools like Miro and stuff which we use, which is great. You know, you can't pin stuff up on the wall and stuff. I really have never enjoyed working at home. It's not for everyone.


Alan Hay

It does depend on your circumstances, but having a spare room and your own space is. Yes, it works really well for me. And, you know, using stuff like Miro, teams, Zoom, whatever, you know, you communicate with people, it's slightly different from how you communicate normally. But things like, like, always meet something that we really got into.


Alan Hay

And during injury we find that you're able to collaborate more with people who are not in your office, like our Amsterdam office, for example, when, when we can go back to the office, I will go back, but I might work one or two days at home. I think it's nice not to have to drive to work every day.


Alan Hay

Like, to be perfectly honest, I find I can actually be very, very productive working at home. Well, so yeah, I've gone from somebody who didn't like to work at home to somebody who's a nice convert.


Megan Luedke

We've seen a lot of nineties inspired design trends over the past months. What are your thoughts on this vintage revived style?


Alan Hay

It's not necessarily the best thing to try and do something in a certain style, like just because it's cool or do you really want to? It's like you should be for what's best for the project, not just because it's trendy or because you're really into it. It might not. Since I didn't know when I was younger, I used to be like, Oh, this is cool.


Alan Hay

I need to do this in a project and try and shoehorned into something that it wasn't suitable for. This is a designer.


Megan Luedke

We hope you join us next Thursday as we travel to Sydney, Australia to meet up with award winning graphic designer Jose Young. Want us to remind you of when the next episode comes out. Simply subscribe to our email updates by Visiting Design, Atlas Pod Dot com.


Jens Bringsjord

To learn more about Design Atlas and to sign up for updates, visit our website at Design Atlas podcast. If you want to get in touch with us or have a topic idea for our next episode, feel free to send us an email at Hello Design Atlas podcast or DM us on Instagram and Design outside.


Megan Luedke

Also, don't forget to join us for our next episode by subscribing to the show and leaving a positive review. We really appreciate it.


Jens Bringsjord

It. Thanks for listening. I'm Megan Luke.


Megan Luedke

And I'm in Springfield.


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