By Day By Night, George Hajian

6 months ago by

By Day By Night is an interview series that profiles graphic design tutors from design schools throughout New Zealand. We learn about their role as a teacher and their own personal design practice.

Today we hear from Dr. George Hajian who works in the Communication Design Department at the School of Art + Design at AUT.


What is your official title?

Kia ora Design Assembly. I am a Senior Lecturer in Communication Design at the School of Art and Design, Te Kura Toi a Hoahoa, Auckland University of Technology.

What does a typical day at AUT look like for you?

As an educator it’s difficult to describe a typical day cycle, but at the moment it’s a mix of teaching, helping out students as the semester progresses, and working on research projects. I teach some fundamental tools and software skills for the second years, and co-teach third-year students, along with Masters supervision and some other responsibilities within the department, soooo… work days can be very different.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your career path, and how you got into teaching?

I came to Wellington in 2001 to do my Masters in education at Victoria University (which I did not complete), but before that I used to be a middle-school teacher and worked at the same time in a daily newspaper as a layout artist in Beirut, Lebanon. The newspaper was on the process of converting from traditional printing (movable type) to digital type. It was fairly new, and I learned a lot by following the instructions manual for Quark Express and Freehand.

In Wellington I worked in a small design agency for almost 6 years, then I started my own practice in 2007. After 5 years in 2012 I wanted to go back to University for a change, and did my PostGrad in Graphic Design at Massey University (Wellington). I moved to Auckland in 2013 to do my MFA at Elam school of Fine Arts. I really liked being back at University, so I continued on for my doctorate until 2018.

I taught as a Graduate Teaching assistant at University of Auckland during my doctorate and I realised I missed teaching. After finishing my research I taught part-time at Whitecliffe for two semesters, then AUT, before becoming a permanent part of the team here.

What are you currently exploring in your design practice right now?

I enjoy working with paper and the analogue. My practice revolves around the found printed material, as in books and magazines… and I hoard paper. My doctoral research dealt with the representation of the perceived masculine body, and I collected printed material that presented the fetishized male body.
At the moment I’m exploring the intersection of masculinity, gender, and language through collage, and working (in my spare time) on a long-term project called Hard Working Covers, to create 90 collages and produce 300 limited edition books featuring those collages. For those of you interested, you can check my progress on Instagram or on www.hardworkingcovers.com 

We heard you’ve had a hand working on the design and hand-binding of a new publication titled 1972, can you share with us the backstory of this project and your role in the design process?

Yeh! A beautiful project along with historian Brent Coutts. 1972: A year in focus, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the start of the Gay Liberation movement in New Zealand. It’s a multi-section publication that I designed, printed, and lovingly hand bound 100 limited edition copies. It features 5 sections: a foreword and an essay by Brent, a photographic section including a photo-documentary by John Miller of the first Gay Happening (considered by many the first gay pride in New Zealand), and a ‘zap’ by Max Oettli. A zap is (was) a form of activism where you announce yourself at a gathering or an establishment, and demand services to embarrass and call attention to gay rights issues. It also has a primary documents’ section, and a fifth section showing a timeline of 1972. This is the first in a series, but that’s another story for some other time.

Outside of work hours what other creative projects and/or research are you involved with?

During my spare time I’m in my personal studio at Studio One, keeping myself busy or working on personal projects. Recently I got into calligraphy and joined the NZ Calligraphers for some good old-fashioned camaraderie.

How does your personal practice feed into your role as an educator?

I think it’s a privilege to connect them. In class, I try to bring in a lot of hands-on activities, and that comes from my love of paper and the analogue. My obsession with paper and printing is usually passed on to some students, and I find joy seeing them interested in screen printing or binding. On the other hand, being in an institution like AUT gives me the opportunity to work on personal projects and use the amazing facilities within the University to create.

What are you inspired by, and how do you keep the momentum for your personal work alive?

There are a lot role models around me here at AUT. I am constantly amazed how senior staff manage their time, and keep themselves motivated and focussed. Time management and getting distracted quickly are some of my challenges nowadays, but taking time off sometimes helps, so does doing art. I think being around other educators and academics within the creative sector is an advantage, and helps me keep the momentum and learn from others.

How do you balance these two roles (educator and practitioner)? Are there any particular benefits and/or challenges?

I think the strategy is to align them, and also plan projects accordingly, but also… being an educator keeps me involved, and challenges me to be at the cutting edge constantly.

What are the best bits about working at AUT?

I think the technical facilities (especially screen-printing and the bindery) are totally amazing, and having dedicated technicians is pretty rad… (A shout-out here to Greg and Fleur!) I’m lucky to work with some amazing, dedicated colleagues who love what they do and inspire me to become a better teacher.

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