Arizona Designer Christa MacDonald Swings By

Have you checked your fire alarm lately? Odds are, you haven’t.

Shit…most of us don’t – due to ignorance, laziness, or a combination of the two. And one Arizona designer seeks to change the way we view fire safety. Especially in low-income communities, where it’s a burgeoning problem.


Fire Alarm


Christa MacDonald (known colloquially as Kraysta), a recent Graphic Design graduate from Arizona State University, puts humans first.

A badass, 21st-century, Renaissance woman – Kraysta’s designs span illustration and sculpture to animation and furniture.

Arizona Designer Christa MacDonald

Sound the Alarm, her latest installation for the holistic “Beacon” exhibition, takes the unglamorous topic of fire safety head-on. Using clever design, Kraysta engineered an all-encompassing fire kit.


Prepping the installation
Prepping the installation


Equipped-with a safety checklist, fire alarm, and a wealth of other carefully-curated items – the package ensures low-income families can mitigate a potential, blazing crisis.


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The best part? She proves functionality doesn’t need to compromise beauty. If you’re like us and often skip over fancy buzzwords: THIS PACKAGE LOOK SEXY, YO.


Arizona Designer tackles Fire Safety


When she’s not meticulously grinding at the studio or orchestrating intensive client meetings, you’ll find her kickin’ it around Arizona.

She seems to be friends with fuckin’ everyone, guys.

It could be her apt for charming and engaging conversation. Or her natural ability to sniff out truly genuine individuals. We think that’s a good start to explaining it.


We linked-up with the Arizona designer at her favorite watering hole, Casey Moore’s Oyster House, to chat about work and life (definitely not to drink beer and smoke cigarettes).

Peep our conversation below:

Tell us about your trip to London.

I went to London with my family in the Spring of 2017. I was really lucky to be able to visit, I’ve always wanted to go, and I was finishing up my junior year at ASU so I was ready for a break.

We went to so many museums, my dad is an architect so we had a great time geeking out over architecture, design, art, music…we ended up at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Prix Pictet was showing.

I worked my way to the back of the exhibition and the first thing that really caught my eye was Benny Lam’s exhibit. He did a photo series about subdivided housing in Hong Kong, and it broke my heart.

I saw what could be my family, or anyone’s family really, living in a space the size of my closet back home. I couldn’t help but see the contrast between my privilege and the constant struggle of these people.

It was a confusing feeling, I didn’t quite know how to process it at the time. It ended up being a major turning point in how I approach my design process.


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Your “Sound the Alarm” exhibit for Beacon was extremely well-put together. Why fire alarms?

Well it started from examining a larger problem that exists in low-income housing.

When you subdivide an apartment, it can create unsafe living conditions. There’s a much higher risk of not having a proper fire escape, or having faulty wiring that can start a fire.


installation preparation


The Arizona Burn Foundation was super helpful in walking me through risk analysis, they look for communities that have a high fire occurrence by zip code, communities with a lot of buildings built more than 10 years ago, and historically low income areas, as well as the current population density.

Sound The Alarm was originally designed in Traditional Chinese as a kit for distribution in HK, but after doing more research, it was abundantly clear what a global issue fire safety still is.

When I spoke with people about the exhibition the common question is usually “why fire safety?” and you would be very surprised, and disturbed, by how many of those people couldn’t remember where their smoke alarm is or the last time it was changed, or told me they disabled it completely.


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You mention empathy as a cornerstone of your design philosophy. What other factors do you consider when approaching a design problem?

Well, empathy is huge to me.

I could talk all day about how we can analyze big data until we’re all blue in the face but that would never tell us anything about what the human experience is like. So when I approach a design problem from the position of empathy, my first step is to talk to people. Talk about the ideas. Make a mind map of what I think the solutions are, and then contrast that with what people who know more about it have to say.

It doesn’t help to design something to solve a problem when I’m blind to the actual experience of that issue.

I also look at budget, the time I have to complete a project, and how the project needs to be realized – whether that be print, digital, or a combination of both. I also spend a significant amount of time sketching before I even touch a computer.

Does design always solve a problem?

Not always, sometimes design can be really fucking awful.

Like you set out to design something but it turns out worse than you could have ever expected. But there’s some real beauty in that, some mastery that I think a lot of people never find because they’re afraid to make something that looks bad. That’s experimenting. That’s learning. It’s process for the sake of process.

I took a case study class on Charles & Ray Eames with Max Underwood, a very talented professor and a passionate learner. We had a material study as part of the course that lasted all semester. We played with one material – my group chose resin – and as designers we really had to work hard to put away the part of our brains that make things attractive and legible and usable. We made these resin pieces that were gorgeous, but not interesting to Max. He could sense we weren’t playing. We took a saw and cut them into pieces, we dragged them tied to a string behind a car, we drilled holes in them to see through the pieces we had cast. That was interesting. I learned more in that class than I ever thought possible.


Why’d you put Trump on the $100 but Pence on the $20?

That’s easy, because why would Trump want to be on anything less than our largest note?

Pence was put on the $20 because I saw him as this pawn, this ignorant child who knew nothing about how he was being used in the presidential race.

I sort of thought if he was on the 20 and Trump the 100, Trump would have found a way to convince him it was the best bill available and he would have just went with it.

Obviously this was an observation completely beyond what was relevant at the time I designed the bills.


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How have your parents affected your affinity for design – if at all?

My dad is the architect, the artist, the passionate creative. My mom is the doctor, passionate and creative in her own ways. She’s full of surprises. My dad taught me to embrace my creativity, to make it work, to take a bad critique and to learn and get better.

My mom taught me to be smart and tactful and gracious. It’s not always easy to be a designer, a lot of clients think you aren’t worth your rates because it’s a creative service, and a lot of them think they could just do it themselves if they put their mind to it. My mom showed me the importance of knowing my value and being able to run my business.



You’re often pointing out great design – what are everyday examples of bad design?

Menus!! Menus everywhere!!! I cannot even tell you how many horrible menus I’ve seen. The type is either giant, or microscopic, or too tight, or way too loose. Don’t get me started on the layout. It’s rarely right. When I see a good menu I know the restaurant cares about what they’re doing.

P.S. Valley Bar just redid their menus and they look amazing.


How would you improve them?

Keep it simple, give me a title, a couple words to describe a dish, and a price. Don’t make me trace a 6 inch line across a page to see the price. Don’t make me hunt for things.

Good examples are Restaurant Progress and Blanco.


arizona designer's studio space


We liked your recent work with Chaz Martineau. You can create a record cover for any musical artist – who is it?

Well I’ve been wanting to do more albums, so this is a hard one, but Michael Kocour is at the top of my list. He’s the Director of Jazz Studies at ASU. I’ve seen him play many times around town, and he’s always coming out to gigs to support his students. Everyone appreciates and respects Mike, and I really admire him and his work.


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Which are more badass – spiders or scorpions?

Spiders. No doubt. Those guys are amazing. I designed an exhibit surrounding them, Arachnid, and I loved watching people squirm in critiques because they’re really freaked out by them.




Popular design trends you despise – go.

Ugh. Using Comic Sans ironically

Getting inspiration from the internet (as opposed to what’s really out in life, hit up a museum, go to the library, get inspiration for design from anything but design when you’re first starting a project)

Adding decoration

Anything depicting a mason jar

Chevron print (the absolute bain of my existence)

The most comfortable chair you’ve ever sat on is _________

A Le Corbusier chaise lounge, the LC4. It will change the way you think about sitting.

In a perfect world – design is taking you _________

To Rihanna. I love how she works with designers to create strong brands, from Fenty Beauty to SavageXFenty, she is killing it. I want to buy everything she puts out.

Goals are tight. What’s a non-design related goal you hope to accomplish this year?

I want to finish working on my bike! I have a vintage Trek road bike that I’ve been building up for about a year now. I’m ready to finish her and start riding farther.


arizona designer christa macdonald's stuio space


Best place in Arizona to eat a slice of pizza and watch some jazz?

Easy, Spinelli’s on Wednesday nights. They have a jam session from 9pm to midnight, and some of the best musicians come out to play. You might even catch a professor.

Three Arizonans doing cool shit, whom everyone should know about, GO!

Andrew Flores, a super great musician all around, and a good guy to chat up.

Find Andrew here: Bandcamp  |  SoundCloud  |  YouTube

& check out Jock Club here!

The Fortoul Brothers, wonderful artists and they’re really surprising me with the work they do and the ways they find to involve the community in their projects.

Zion Culley, an incredibly talented chef and he’s doing fermented products too. He’s also one of my best friends so I’m just a tiny bit biased.

~Thanks for Swinging By~

Christa’s Website

Christa’s Instagram

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