Interview

Talk Shop with Haily Zaki and Christine Joo, founders of LA Design Festival

In its eighth year, the Los Angeles Design Festival shines a light on the powerful impact of LA artists, architects, designers, and creatives. Ahead of the citywide series of events, we’re welcoming co-founders Haily Zaki and Christine Joo to share their experience running the large-scale festival.

RSVP for Talk Shop to learn the ins and out of launching a design festival Thursday, May 10 at Lumi HQ. Before the event, get to know more about its history in our Q&A with co-founder Haily Zaki. 


What are you doing when you’re not running/planning the LA Design Festival?

My day hustle is running Secret Agent, a creative communications agency. We specialize in PR, social media, content development, and event production for design brands, like Modernism Week, Modernica, Room & Board, LA Original, Assembledge+, Studio MLA, etc. I'm also the co-founder of de LaB, a design education non-profit. It started as a drinking circle among friends and eventually grew into an official non-profit. We've received two NEA grants and produce monthly events that encourage Angelenos to engage with the city around them.

When I'm not promoting design stories, building design community, or running the Festival, I have chronic wanderlust. I love to travel solo with my three kids who are all under the age of 7. And I'm secretly addicted to sci-fi and fantasy — novels, shows, anything.

What was it about the LA design community that motivated you to start a festival?  

At the time, I was working with Dwell on Design.  The General Manager of the show, Michael Sylvester, had the brilliant idea to start a festival to help kickstart the creation of a design ecosystem in LA. We co-founded the festival together in 2011. Truth be told, it was all kind of a social experiment at first. There was so much exciting design happening in LA that didn't fit within a traditional trade show model.  These younger, exciting designers and brands were perhaps finding it cost prohibitive and just not the right platform for their up and coming brands. And it seemed silly to me that LA didn't have an official design festival, one that matched our city's character and diversity — a moment on the calendar when we could all collectively celebrate.

“Truth be told, it was all kind of a social experiment at first. There was so much exciting design happening in LA that didn't fit within a traditional trade show model.”

 Talk Shop with Haily Zaki and Christine Joo, founders of LA Design Festival

What was one of the most memorable events in the past years of the festival?

A few years ago, we partnered with the City of LA Department of Cultural Affairs and were able to host our opening night party on the lawn of the newly renovated Hollyhock House. That was beyond epic. This year, I'm incredibly excited to announce that our city's newly appointed Chief Design Officer, Christopher Hawthorne, will be our first-ever keynote. The response from the design community in LA just keeps getting better. Every year I stress out that there is no way that we can top it, but somehow, we — the collective we — do!  

Besides your own festival, what are some of your favorite local design events from the past year? 

Beyond the Streets is an epic graffiti and street art culture show that just opened here in Chinatown and runs through July 6th.  Even if you're not completely steeped in the culture, walking through that show is kind of a revelation and I love the sense of rebellion, resistance, and subversion. Given our current political situation, it feels really good. And, while this isn't local, it's been very inspiring to be part of World Design Weeks.

“There is a lot of heart, soul, blood, tears, and profanity that goes into the LA Design Festival, but in the end, it's all worth it.”

What the toughest skill you had to learn to run a festival?

Time management, delegation, sponsorship, you name it. I'm not sure that I've perfected anything yet, but I'm super proud of our scrappy, creative, young design festival that we've created together with the help of other design community members, board members, friends, colleagues, clients, sponsors, etc. It takes a village.

How do you keep from getting overwhelmed as you get closer to the festival?

I think my team and I care about this so much that it would be impossible to not get overwhelmed. But then again, we're gluttons for punishment. We love this. There is a lot of heart, soul, blood, tears, and profanity that goes into the LA Design Festival, but in the end, it's all worth it.


Meet Haily Zaki and Christine Joo, and ask all your burning questions at Talk Shop. RSVP here.

When: Thursday, May 10, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Wine, cheese, and mingling at 6:30pm. Talk is at 7pm.

Where: Lumi HQ, 3828 S Santa Fe Ave, Vernon, CA 90058

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