Not only is this a gold mine of advice but also a party for your eyeballs 👀 Evan McGuinness designer at Bielke&Yang shares his wonderful story of how he got into design and ended up in Oslo and why taking calculated risks has strengthened his craft.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?
My father is/was a graphic designer (he’s semi-retired now) and ran his studio from our family home for about twenty-five years, that would have always been a major influence on myself and my siblings growing up. He came from a different era of graphic design, before computers became commonplace so there was more of a focus on handcraft and illustration, there was always offcuts from pages of Lettraset or drawers of pens, inks and different papers that we would make into things or messing in the photo development room, it was fun. As I got older I would help him out on a few small jobs here and there, laying-out brochures or the local area news doing some small identity jobs and really enjoyed trying to solve those problems and dealing with clients so decided to study design further in college based on that experience.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
I did an internship at a local studio in Cork before my final year of college and was hoping to go back there to gain some more experience, but instead I was lucky enough to get a place on the Threex3 programme which changed everything. The Threex3 is a programme run by Detail Design Studio, Atelier David Smith and Zero-g where three graduates are chosen each year to do three months work experience in three of Dublin’s best design studios. The opportunity to be one-third of this programme really did transform my career and gave me the best possible introduction to the professional working environment. Being able to test yourself in three very different, but equally driven studios was fantastic. The learning curve was incredibly steep, having to adapt to a new group and a different way of working every three months forces you to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations but endowed me with skills and a confidence I take into every new situation today. After the nine months, I was offered a job at Detail Design Studio (so I must have done something right) and worked there for three-and-a-half-years on a variety of different projects from print, web to animation with some fantastic people not to mention talented designers who allowed me to grow and keep on learning new things.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the studio that you work for.
I am originally from Ireland but moved to Norway three-and-a-half-years ago and have been working with the lovely people at Bielke&Yang since I arrived, first as a freelancer and later hired as their first employee. Bielke&Yang is a small but growing, Oslo based design studio lead by the incredibly talented Christian Bielke and Martin Yang. I can’t say enough positive things about these guys, not only are they exceptional designers but the energy they bring to each project constantly pushing the studio and the work we produce forward while also being the most humble approachable guys – which is not such a common combination in this industry – is a real inspiration every day. The studio has also grown in the last year from three to seven with Tone, Tobias, Anders and Lars-Arve joining the team, so we are now handling more and larger projects which brings with it a whole new set of challenges but exciting ones! We predominately work with identity design and everything that in-tales from print to digital, even designing an icon to be burnt onto a coconut.
‘If an opportunity comes along don’t blindly say yes and figure it out later, do your research, anticipate the possible pitfalls, understand what you can deliver, set timeframes and goals, then decide whether it is a risk worth taking or not’
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?
Personally, I’m really interested in human behaviour and social science and how that relates to design thinking and how we work. Of course, I like some good design critique as well, something we don’t see enough of in my opinion.
Book 1 Malcolm Gladwell Collected, Malcolm Gladwell
This is a collection of three Malcolm Gladwell’s best-known titles Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers beautifully designed by Paul Sahre with clever illustrations throughout by Brian Rea. The combination makes the series both fascinating in the content, but also nice to look at from a designers perspective. They are a set of books that I go back to repeatedly because the stories are fascinating studies of human behaviour and the writing is so accessible that you can reread them and find more detail the more you look for it.
Book 2 Ways of Seeing, John Berger
I was given this book during my Threex3 programme, at that stage, I was like a sponge and when I read this book it – and I know this sounds dramatic – transformed how I thought about art, design & technology and the role it plays in society.
Blog Branding, Packaging and Opinion
Curated by Richard Baird and always up to date with the best new identity and packaging work with a nice blend of larger and smaller scale projects. Richard’s writing is also worth visiting the site for, he has a unique ability to find details and express his thoughts on design in a very in-depth way (he sometimes finds detail in our projects that we never even realised) — definitely a good place for students to research/learn how to articulate their ideas.
Podcast Hidden Brain
Hosted by Shankar Vedantam the podcast – to quote from its description on NPR – reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behaviour, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships. While not directly related to design or design critique the topics Vedantam covers can be applicable to many areas of working life as a designer and how to understand people better, which is a big part of being a successful designer.
What does a typical working day include for you right now?
In the past month, we have moved into a new studio space so there is a lot happing with that right now which is really exciting for us. But an average day usually consists of managing both long and short-term projects, anything from developing identity concepts, implementing brand material, production work for print materials, planning with printers, collaborating with photographers or illustrators, doing animations, storyboards sometimes all of the above so it’s never dull and I think that’s what really drew me into design, there are always new problems to solve.
‘Be nice to people — Design is hard work, so don’t make it any more difficult for people you work with by being a dick’
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. Be adaptable — As I moved from Cork to Dublin then Dublin to Oslo I was forced to adapt to different situations and cultures which has proved to be a useful skill in various situations. This also applies to being open to change and pro-active when this happens, often things don’t go exactly according to plan with projects, presentations etc. but learning how to make some adjustments while still solving the problem at hand in a successful way is a useful skill.
2. Take calculated risks — Moving to Norway was probably the biggest risk I have taken in my life both personally and professionally, but I feel it was a calculated one. Before moving I did my research on the city, found studios I wanted to work with and tried to figure out how I could position myself to add value to these studios and ultimately get a job. This is something I am still working on in my own design process today, if an opportunity comes along don’t blindly say yes and figure it out later, do your research, anticipate the possible pitfalls, understand what you can deliver, set timeframes and goals, then decide whether it is a risk worth taking or not, don’t be afraid to say no either.
3. Collaboration is key — At Bielke&Yang one of our biggest strengths is our network both nationally and internationally. We are a core team of six designers but with our extended network of developers, photographers, illustrators, stylists, animators, freelance graphic designers, product designers, the list goes on we are a team of 40+ specialists. This allows us to tailor a team to the demands of any project, which also bring fresh ideas and approaches we can learn from as much as our clients benefit from, making the whole process more fun.
4. Look beyond the blogs — Today, especially for young designers, it’s easy to get consumed by the almost carnivorous nature of design blogs and inspiration feeds, where it can look like designers are designing for other designers, perpetuating the same style/aesthetic while vaguely addressing the problem they have been tasked to solve. It’s important to look at other disciplines be that art, photography, furniture, interior design, science, animation etc. and see how the ideas emerging from these disciplines can influence your own work, it’s always interesting when people come to our studio with new references.
5. Work hard and be nice to people — This phrase is from an Anthony Burrill print that hung in Detail Design Studio where I worked for three-and-a-half-years and it always stuck with me. Design is hard work, so don’t make it any more difficult for people you work with by being a dick.
What role does digital design play in your studio in 2017, and how to you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age?
As is the case for many studios digital design is becoming more and more a part of our daily practice, every identity we do requires some form of representation digitally. We were talking about this the other day; how almost every identity we work with now we automatically think about how to animate its logo, or how different assets of the identity would look when seen/interacted with online etc. I think it’s really exciting and comes with so many fantastic opportunities to do some really interesting work. However, like when computers were first introduced to graphic design back in the mid 80s, it’s just another tool. It’s the design thinking and approach to problem-solving you bring to the medium that determines the success of the final result. For example, last year we were asked to design the online version of the redesigned to D2 – one Norway’s leading lifestyle and culture magazines – which was a real challenge to recreate the flexibility of the traditional magazine format to all digital surfaces, you can see the case in more detail here.