What led you into design?
I’ve drawn ever since I was a kid. As my mom likes to tell it, when I was around 18 months old she offered me a set of crayons to play with—she thought I would eat them, but instead I started doodling. My interest and passion for art continued to develop as I grew up. I went to a middle school where we had to pick a talent area to focus on—I chose visual arts. After that, I went to an arts high school, LaGuardia Arts, and between my junior and senior year, I went to the Pre-College program at RISD. That’s when I got introduced to Graphic Design and fell in love with design.
I went to RISD and graduated in 2015 with a BFA in Graphic Design and concentration in History, Philosophy and Social Science. Throughout my college experience, I was anxious that I would have to give up my passion for volunteering and humanitarian efforts in order to make a living as a designer. In the summer between my junior and senior year, I found a design internship at (RED), a non-profit and AIDS organization based in New York. They had a very small in-house marketing and creative team, and I learned a ton. I was hired full-time from that internship and stayed on for a few years before moving on. I’m very thankful, thus far, I’ve been able to craft a career path in design while within the social impact space. After (RED), I went onto a role at Purpose, Color of Change, Grassroots Law Project, and now I am designing at GoFundMe.
I firmly believe in the power of art and design to make a true difference in the world.
What does a typical day look like?
I’m trying to train myself to become more of a morning person again. I aim to get up by 6:30am and do some sort of movement or physical activity. Then I make the morning coffee and do some house chores before sitting down to my desk by 9am (sometimes I’ll hop on before to get ahead of work and messages from the previous day before everyone else is online).
I usually finish work right around 5pm and then on days when I have the energy, I like to carve out time to make personal work. That might be design, but I’ve also been taking ceramics classes and joined a studio as a member not too far away from my house, so I’m building up a little ceramics practice to have a creative outlet away from a screen.
What's your workstation setup?
Where do you go to get inspired?
It’s hard to answer this question because I feel like I draw inspiration from everything I see, hear, feel, etc. I really love going for walks around my neighbourhood, I’ve always found graffiti and street art to be inspiring in so many ways, the texture it creates, and layers of colour, tags, labels, stickers.
I also do have quite a few design books I regularly like to always go back to. Jon Contino's Brand By Hand is an all-time favourite.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I'm not sure if I'm answering this totally right, but I'll use this prompt to share the work of Zipeng Zhu. I've followed his work for a long time and every post and additional work I find myself thinking darn, is that good. I absolutely love the way he uses big type, colour, and motion to clearly communicate a powerful idea.
In terms of tech products, big fan of Figma. We use it for almost everything, and it's been a life changer.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
I'm proud to have been a part of these two campaigns early on at my time at GoFundMe— New York State of Kind and Stop Asian Hate.
Outside of GoFundMe, I’m extremely proud and humbled by my portrait illustrations. I’d started this series when I was at Purpose, with Stephon Clark and continued during my time at Color of Change. I started these mostly as a therapeutic way for me to process the news of these lives that were so unjustly and tragically lost — and murdered.
The portraits have been my way of memorializing these lives and sharing their story. It’s always been extremely important to me, especially as an artist and designer of colour to use my skills to make a difference and make an impact.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
At GoFundMe, we’re on a mission to help people help each other and our vision is to become the most helpful place on earth—that’s a big task. And designing for that task is huge. We have a small but mighty brand creative team whose job is to champion the brand forward in an ever-changing and evolving world.
We get the privilege to use design to tell incredible stories of folks in their communities driving positive change, as well as the stories of people who are persevering through some really tough times. A big challenge for us is time— we have a lot of ideas for initiatives and a lot of audiences to reach and only 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
I’m proud of the amount of work our team is able to accomplish, specially when a crisis arises where we jump in to support and create a place of trusted help for folks impacted while also continuing the work in our other areas.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Keep a notebook or paper around, I’m a big fan of analogue sketching and noting. Of course, Notes on my phone is a favourite too. Make lists, even if it’s just random words or a nugget of an idea—jot it all down. Who knows when it might come in handy down the road.
Follow your passions. This may be easier said than done, but—as much and as good as you can, follow your heart, whatever it is that gets your blood pumping. Of course, there will be grunt work and projects where your heart’s just not in it, but when it is, that’s where you’ll strike gold.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
You can find my portfolio at robinhilkey.com and on Instagram @robinxhilkey.
I would also be remiss to not plug my side hustle and small business called Whalepaws. I sell stickers, cards and eventually ceramics there. Thanks in advance for checking it out!