Between The Lines

Graphic designer and 3-D visual artist Khyati Threhan (@khyatitrehan) inhabits a world that many dream of and few succeed to partake in. Her work accompanies editorials in the New York Times, META platforms like Instagram and YouTube, Museums and more. She now works with Google’s Creative Lab and lives in New York City. Le Mill spoke to the creative force about her craft.

What drew you towards the visual arts?

I was open to any career path in school and just happened to hear about the National Institute of Design through a senior who’d studied there. For all you know, I could have been an accountant if I hadn’t been in the right company at the right moment. I applied on a whim, got through by some shot of luck and there’s that. Funnily enough, I was drawn to the visual arts after I’d chosen to study it. I continue to be drawn to it because it never gets boring; the month I’m making stage visuals for a musician and the month I’m helping build a visual language for a book discovery app feel like two different lives. A plus: the fuzzy challenge of making information and ideas tangible with words and visuals is consistently engaging.

Type and font are the less obvious ways in which a brand develops recall. What about creating new fonts excites you?

I don’t create new fonts but I do play with type and how it’s arranged in space. Typeface choices and treatment reinforce the brand idea and add a layer of meaning to text. Those choices affect how people feel about the text they read, even if subliminally.

How long does it take for you to work on a 3D graphic piece?

It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 20 days depending on the complexity of the modelling, lighting etc. Sometimes it can take 2-3 weeks to arrive at a concept that takes 20 minutes to execute. No project is like the other so the length of time varies greatly.

What is an average day in your life like?

I work at the Google Creative Lab in New York, where the team comes into the office 3 out of the 5 weekdays. On the days I commute to work, I take the L train to work and either people watch and admire everyone's fashion choices, read the latest popular fiction on my perfectly handbag sized kindle, or listen to a 25 minute episode of Vox’s Unexplainable podcast that ends just as I step into Google’s Chelsea office. On days I make it in before 9:55am, I make use of one of Google’s many perks; a huge plate of breakfast and an oat cappuccino. The rest of the work day is heads down and meetings, all top secret of course. The evening is spent with my husband, hosting (someone’s always visiting), sketching, working on the rare commission I’ll take on on top of my job if it’s interesting enough, going to dance church (not an actual church) that my friend Haruko introduced me to, or binge-ing a Netflix series and deciding what we’ll cook for dinner. On days closer to the weekend, we go down to our local bar where I get the best cucumber jalapeño Margarita in all of Brooklyn, or check out whatever’s keeping the city busy on a weekly newsletter I follow called ‘the skint’.

What is your advice to young creatives who want to cut through the clutter and create a name for themselves?

Write. Get better at saying what you want to say with brevity. When you’re writing to express an opinion, write with honesty and without trying to sound a certain way. When writing to reach out to people, unlearn what school taught you; a brief and real piece of communication, vocal or written, is often a breath of fresh air in the sea of formality. It might sound weird to hear this from a visual designer, but developing writing as a skill has been way too helpful in my career to not mention it.

Writers pen down their thoughts in random moments of epiphany in a book or notes, what is the equivalent of that for you?

Mine isn’t too different. I keep my phone handy and pull up the notes app to write down the idea and the context that prompted it (like where I was and what I was doing right before). It does feel like a dusty drawer though that’s easy to forget about, but building a habit of articulating ideas and making the effort to pen them down has only made me better at coming up with good ones more frequently. Those epiphanies have the best chance of evolving when there are people to riff on them with. Good ideas can sometimes sound really stupid in words so I surround myself with people I’m comfortable sounding stupid around.

How do you see your practice evolving?

I had this expectation that I’d deepen my craft and funnel into one role/style/discipline that defines my career, but my practice has only evolved to be more diversified. There are days when I make editorial illustrations, animate film titles and art direct nationwide ad campaigns all in the same day. I see myself wearing many more hats in the future.