Deacon Profile: Hayes Henderson

Have you ever wondered who is behind the striking visuals of the Voices of Our Time and Secrest Artist Series posters?

Meenu Krishnan/Old Gold & Black

Meet Hayes Henderson, the executive creative director of the Communications & External Relations team. Henderson, a graduate of East Carolina University where he majored in design and illustration, came to Wake Forest in January 2011 after working at his own agency for over 20 years. Having designed for major publications like Newsweek during his career, Henderson now oversees a team of creatives responsible for visually representing the university’s institutional message.     

How did you get interested in graphic design?

I started off at an agency as a designer, but I was still trying to do illustration work, like magazine and editorial illustration. I actually got a call from Newsweek to work on a cover. That was out of the blue, about a year into my career. That cued me that maybe I should try to concentrate a little harder on illustration. Two and a half years working at the agency, I decided to step out on my own and concentrate on magazine illustration. It was a very difficult process, with really cool work and low pay. 

How did you end up at Wake Forest?

We had been working with Wake Forest as an independent agency. And the question was raised if we would be interested. So I brought my creative team with me. I’d had my own agency for 20 years, but it had been a tough economy for the last three years.

The opportunity at Wake Forest came up; you have a top 25 school sitting in your backyard. For 20 years, I’d been selling products that sit on shelves. I like the idea that if I’m selling something, I’m going to sell something that’s one of the most important things in people’s lives: their education. Something that’s a little more important than a piece of apparel or a product.

What projects have you completed at Wake?

Secrest and Voices of Our Time, but also all the materials for advancement, donor and outreach. Right now, I’m working on a new Wake Forest Magazine, an update piece for key members of the alumni community and the institutional message for the university at basketball and football games. We’re creating this cinematic 30 second spot, featuring quick vignettes with narration. What we’re trying to do is give alumni goosebumps, jarring memories about Wake Forest experiences and putting it in epic terms. 

Image courtesy of Hayes Henderson

What does your design process involve?

You have your natural library of knowledge. It just sort of becomes second nature. That’s the cool thing about working with students. It reminds you to think about what your structure is to build a creative solution. For Voices of our Time, we wanted to come out of the gate quickly with a branded look, the black background and the bold, single visual. It’s applied art, you’ve got to come up with something that’s somewhat universal. Essentially what I do is sit down the old-fashioned way with a sketchbook, work through 12 to 20 ideas. One of them starts to catch and starts to build. 

How do you reinvent the Secrest posters each year? 

It’s similar, but it has to be completely different each year. That’s why I opened it up to the group, because it was starting to get stale. It was great because they all have renewed energy.  What I try to set up is healthy one-upmanship. When you’re talking about a creative concept, the hierarchy is flat. I don’t care where the idea comes from — whoever has the best idea, that’s what gets chosen. I love the creative process. Because of our exchange and connection, we’re able to create better things together than if we’re working in a vacuum. 

Image courtesy of Hayes Henderson

What programs do you use? 

The designers laugh at me, I still work in Adobe Freehand. I also work in Illustrator and Photoshop.

What is your favorite poster you’ve designed for Wake? 

The goal of the Secrest posters is to make you work.

As an artist, I like challenging the viewer, playing with the idea of how we take in information.

A poster does a lot of different things. It has to appeal to you aesthetically, but how are you going to remember the information? Are you going to remember because it’s easy or you have to work for it? I just like challenging the viewer and not treating them like they are stupid.

What advice do you have for aspiring graphic designers?

From a design school standpoint, you can’t beat being immersed in an environment. It allows you the space to experiment. That said, I think a lot of talent falls outside the traditional mode of learning. Computers have obviously helped to flatten the competitive field, as far as people with great ideas but less classical training. At this point, the computer isn’t a crutch for creatives. It allows people to exploit digital image opportunities.

Who are your graphic design influences? 

I go back to people like Paul Rand, Ivan Chermayeff and Saul Bass. These guys were design giants, with their thinking as much as their technique. It’s conceptual distillation, boiling a complex idea down to something that’s so elemental. I also like Paula Escher, who’s just a fantastic creative.