Iko “Francis” Gabay, Senior Interactive Designer
Born and raised in the Philippines, on the coastal province of La Union, six hours north of the capital, Manila, Senior Interactive Designer Iko (ee-KO) “Francis” Gabay says every experience, good or bad, inspires his creativity. Whether it’s having a conversation with a friend or embracing what makes him unique, anything can put Iko in the mood to draw, write songs or play music.
Before coming to the United States, Iko was a full-time digital art director for Berlin-based agency MomentiMedia, and launched digital campaigns for clients around the world including HP, Panasonic, Audi and BMW. We sat down with him to talk about working on projects that matter, accepting who he is and learning to play guitar.
Subject Matter: How did you know Subject Matter was the right fit?
Iko: When I came to the United States, I started freelancing around Washington, D.C. for various agencies as an art director. After my final assignment ended, I got a call for an interview with Subject Matter (then Home Front Communications).
I knew Subject Matter was the right fit for me when I got my first assignment—executing the user interface design for Our Tomorrow, a campaign supported by more than 100 LGBT organizations and foundations across the country, from national nonprofits to local community centers. I got the opportunity to work on something close to my heart and give something back to a community that I’m a part of. The project was all about marriage equality and what’s next for us. I was so happy about the assignment. It was definitely a confirmation that I made the right move!
SM: Do you have a special process for your personal or professional projects?
Iko: If I’m working on a personal creative piece it depends on my mood. For example, if I want to paint someone’s portrait I just go and paint it. I let the creative juices do their magic.
As an artist who is passionate about making things beautiful with acrylics or watercolor, I have to avoid defaulting to pretty when I design interactive products. Pretty works for the design and art community, but for associations and nonprofits, I don’t want to bury the client’s message under shiny user interfaces.
For my work at Subject Matter, I draw on my background in user experience design. Whenever I create a project I think of the user first. Work backwards and put yourself in the user’s shoes. If you’re building a website for company employees, think of their routines and what kind of design elements they would gravitate towards. Then, consider the needs of those users.
When designing our sites for mobile, we make sure all the image thumbnails in article lists are right-aligned to help the user’s eye efficiently scan down headlines, while scrolling on the right side of the screen with their fingers.
SM: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Iko: I think the word I would use is different. Being gay, I’ve always felt different. I grew up with straight cousins and they would wrestle, and I felt like I didn’t fit in. At school, everyone had brothers and sisters, while I grew up without siblings. And then I came to America and felt like an outcast because everyone was different from me.
SM: You’re a pretty good guitar player. When did you start?
Iko: I started playing when I was in sixth grade. Growing up, I was a lonely kid, so I got into music. I asked my mom to buy me a guitar but she couldn’t afford lessons, so I taught myself. Most of my childhood was spent playing guitar in a corner or under a tree, sometimes singing. I joined the music ministry in my church, and I played and sang there, but never performed beyond that.
I never really thought of doing it professionally. I wouldn’t want the musician lifestyle. I just use it as an outlet. I mean, if people want to listen to me, or if I help make people happy when they listen to me, then I’m fine with that. I won’t charge money though!