25-year-old Ohio-native Hannah Hart is living just about everyone’s dream as a self-employed design professional who has gone out and made work for herself around the world. When she founded her own company, Sabik Design, she was a recent graduate with a penchant for doing things differently; the traditional 9-to-5 complete with a stuffy cubicle and an hour-long commute at rush hour wasn’t going to cut it.
Now a certified “digital nomad” who can (and will) do her work from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection, Hart frequents Bali, her favorite place to travel and the island where her career began. Here, her “commute” to work is anything but average. We asked Hart about her unconventional work and what she brings with her on every trip—whether on the long-haul flights from U.S. to Bali or on the scooter ride to the “office.”
Tell me about your career trajectory and how you wound up working as a digital nomad.
When I graduated college, I was burnt out. I wasn’t ready for a big corporate job—that was something that really scared me. I think it was that sense of being tied down, of being stuck in a city and a job and a contract and a lease. That’s not what I wanted at that point in time. But my entire junior year of college I spent studying and working in Hong Kong, and that’s where I really fell in love with the “living abroad” life. After college, I saved up some money and took off to Bali with my best friend. We planned to make Bali our home base and travel every one or two months for visa runs. I knew a whole year of traveling and living off my savings wouldn’t work for me, so I wanted to find that perfect work-life balance. I love what I do and I wanted to find a way to work and still travel the world. I had been freelancing on the side in college and decided to see how it would go in Bali. It boomed. The longer I stayed in Bali, the more people I met, the more jobs I got.
How was it starting out?
I was always told that the first year or two of starting a business is rough. I was designing logos for free clothes, creating illustrations for nights in luxury hotels, branding restaurants for free food, building identities in return for SEO services. Once work was really ramping up I came back to the States to properly register my business and make it official. During those six months, I lived in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Austin. In Chicago I found an amazing State Farm–sponsored co-working space down the street from my apartment (a garden level flat I shared with my friend, where I slept on an air mattress in the living room for three months). I moved to Austin where I worked from a WeWork for three months. It has always been very important to me to find a solid workspace as I travel so much. I need some sense of a working environment to really thrive. Then it was back to Bali again, where I got right back into my routine and continued growing my business.
How would you describe your design company, Sabik?
Sabik Design is an independent design studio solely focused on branding and packaging for the food and beverage space. I work with companies big and small on their brand identities. I do everything from logos, to packaging and label design, to websites, to print collateral. Right now, Sabik is a one man band, just me. I can say that proudly, but I can also say that it is very overwhelming to wear all the hats every day—the designer, the project manager, the accountant, the recruiter, the saleswoman, the business administrator. The food and beverage industry is absolutely booming and there is so much need for standout packaging on the shelves. My dream is to become a badass design studio with maybe five to 10 people. An even bigger dream is to have a few of these studios in awesome locations around the world.
What’s most exciting to you about being a digital nomad?
Being location-independent. This gives me so much freedom to travel and go where I want, when I want. Having a good work-life balance is very important to me, and being a digital nomad definitely allows me to have that. I once read a quote in an article years ago: “It is a heck of a lot more exciting to live your life on your terms versus having to be somewhere because somebody told you so.” Having the freedom to create your own rules and your own schedule has been so amazing for me.
What’s most challenging?
It’s hard when you move to a new place and people have no idea who you are or what you do. Once you live somewhere for awhile and frequent the same places, the same events, the same organizations, people know who you are and you can build a solid network. As a design studio, that’s important for referrals and a great source of work. But on the other hand, I have been able to create this global network of people I meet in different places along my journey. I often have people reach out to me that I haven’t heard from in awhile who are interested in design services and that feels pretty cool, that your company is so memorable and with such wide reach. Also the time difference isn’t the easiest. Sometimes, when someone wants a meeting midday, you might just need to get up a 4:00 a.m. to take a call.
Tell me about your relationship to Bali.
I first visited Bali back in 2012. When I was living in Hong Kong I had a six week winter break, and instead of going home I spent five weeks traveling Southeast Asia by myself. The island absolutely stole my heart the first time I visited; the culture, the people, the scooter rides through the rice fields, the temple adorned streets, the tropical atmosphere. I remember calling my mom and saying on that trip, “I want to live here one day.” And so I made that happen. Now that I am based in Denver I have made a point to go back during the winters for an extended period of time—to see my friends, get back to the island, and escape the winter of course. I must say, each time I go back I can’t fathom why I ever left, but it has also been hard to see how overrun the island has become with tourism.
What’s your commute like when you work remotely around the world?
My commute in Bali is definitely more fun! My favorite part is just hopping on my scooter wherever I need to go. Co-working spaces are normally my go-to as I love to be surrounded by other like-minded individuals and entrepreneurs, and Bali is definitely not short on those. I also love working alongside close friends and housemates who also owned their own businesses. The dining room tables in most Bali villas often become ‘coworking spaces’ themselves. However, my favorite commute of all was probably scootering out to a luxury clifftop resort I was rebranding for a period of time. They allowed me to work in their restaurant a few days a week or I would be doing photoshoots poolside in their luxury villas. That was a pretty surreal experience for me.
What makes your line of work and your approach to your career unique?
I have said many times to people that I feel so incredibly lucky to work in a creative field. A lot of careers and a lot of jobs you would never have the flexibility to live and work remotely. Everything I do is digital, every design I make, every file I send. And most of my clients come to me from online sources or referrals and I never even meet them before I begin working with them. We have all the tools at our fingertips to be able to make this lifestyle work. We have email, file sharing sites, online conference calls, project management tools, etc. The work on your website speaks for itself and people trust you based on your portfolio. I truly believe that ‘the office’ is such an outdated term, something that has just stuck with us over the years. Times have changed and things have evolved so rapidly that I don’t think we have quite caught up with it yet.
How does working remotely impact your output?
I think working in the same cubicle day after day is too stagnant. We are designers, thinkers, observers; our brains need to be fully stimulated at all times or we fall flat. There is so much out there to see and be inspired by. During my corporate internships I used to find myself spending hours and hours on inspiration sites, or searching the internet for some glimmer of motivation for the next project. Now, I find inspiration everywhere I go. Whether it’s the signage on the side of a boat in Myanmar, or the tile floor in Thailand, or the Hindu temples in Bali, I am constantly surrounded by it.