We get the pleasure of catching-up Lisa Johnson, one half of Melbourne design studio Flight Creative. Lisa, shares her design highlights and why staying connected to the industry is key to success it’s a great in-depth read!
What are your highlights since starting out?
While it would be easy to pinpoint the highlights in more obvious ways; winning design awards or experiencing moments of pride in working with iconic brands like Sass & Bide and Oakley, I think what’s become even more meaningful to us over time is that we’ve been able to live creatively in our own way. As partners in life and business, Pete and I have enjoyed the liberties of running our own graphic design practice together. We’ve experienced many distinct highlights, and our fair share of lowlights too, but I think it’s the overall level of flexibility that we enjoy the most. Our practice has allowed us to combine our multi-disciplinary backgrounds, uniting our interests in design, architecture, literature and fine art. Our business has grown organically, enabling us to approach new creative endeavours with a sense of curiosity and adventure. It’s also made us agile during turbulent economic times. We’ve been able to constantly redesign ourselves, and our business; from traditional models of employing a full-time team through to working as design nomads from a farmhouse in the south of France.
Top 10 lessons learned along the way:
1. How a design project starts is most often how it ends.
2. It’s not the job you say yes to, but the job you say no to, that defines you.
3. Things generally take twice as long as you imagine.
4. The business of design is as much about selling as it is designing.
5. Reframe the word ‘networking’ as ‘meaningful connection’.
6. Always hire people more skilled than you.
7. The energy you take in to a meeting is the energy your client takes out.
8. Clients who haggle on price are most often the first to complain and the last to pay.
9. Most decisions to make significant change happen six months later than they need to.
10. If you wanna have thrills, you’ve gotta have spills.
What advice would you give students starting out?
Going the long way around can have its benefits. Our diverse backgrounds in architecture and interior design have added a unique aspect to the way we think spatially, and approach graphic design and brand experience. This has given us a strategic rigour to the way we view projects dimensionally and holistically. Also, work experience while you are still studying is invaluable. This gave Pete a leg up into working for top Melbourne architecture firms early in his career. And for me, it reinforced what I had started suspecting in undergraduate study at RMIT: that as much I loved the course, a linear path in the interior design profession wasn’t for me. It’s great to build your networks very early on and find mentors. If we were to start over again, the advice we might give our future selves is: for every hour spent on honing your design craft, spend an hour growing your network. And we’d definitely be more brazen about picking up the phone to start conversations with people we respect and admire. With confidence over time, that’s become one of the most enjoyable aspects of our work; proactively connecting with people we are passionate about knowing.
Any personal projects you would like to share?
We’ve always valued working on side projects, and revelled in the benefits of engaging with self-initiated briefs. On a practical level, we’ve viewed these projects as potential income streams, and on a personal level we’ve viewed them as a form of self-expression and development. Exploring your own creative ideas and opinions can be cathartic and rewarding, while adding richness to client work. We often reflect on Mark Gowing’s sage insight into what it is to be ‘selfish’ in design in order to be truly authentic, generous and present in your client work, as opposed to becoming the mute ‘servant’. It’s vital to find your own voice. And we’ve found this is the sweet spot most clients seek from us. Our personal projects have helped us develop complementary skills and interests. While Pete’s worked on designing the occasional house on the side, I’ve studied literature and creative writing, which has seeded a number of side projects. In both cases, these endeavours have enriched the narrative of our work and allowed us to create more thoughtful, evocative design for our clients. Personal projects also demand that you put yourself on the line, which is useful because when your own skin is in the entrepreneurial game, you quickly learn and understand what’s at stake in terms of success and failure in business. And this awareness is hugely helpful in understanding a client’s perspective when they’re deeply committed to their brand or risking everything for it. Our side projects have included product and stationery ranges that have been sold nationally across independent retailers, major department stores and online retailers like Wishlist. One of these projects was a self-published book about our experience of living in France, which was shortlisted for the Desktop Create Awards and landed us a nice invitation to present and launch at the Melbourne Writers Festival. It was a lovely organic process of designing and producing a book and greeting card range after our blog was featured in Dumbo Feather magazine. Additionally, a recent sizeable side project involved creating a brand and design collection for global licensing, which has successfully secured licensing deals with agents and manufacturers all over the world. An incredible journey and education for us.
What’s on the cards professionally for the next 12 months?
We’ve recently refined our manifesto, launched our new website and sent a direct mail promotion with a view to connecting with aligned businesses that have a real appetite for creativity. There’s nothing more satisfying than the thrill of aligned creative energies combining to create something moving and memorable. We’ve been so pleased with how our promo has been received, and the opportunities it’s created. Most designers will appreciate the level of intense work that goes into creating and finessing your own brand communication, almost to the point of insanity, so when the finished result takes off and really flies it’s so worthwhile. The year ahead holds plenty of exciting opportunities. We’re delighted to be working with über talented events team at Gloss Creative, redeveloping their brand and a responsive website. We’re working with a leading luxe baby brand to redevelop their e-commerce website from the ground up, together with managing their future digital strategy and communications. We’re busy creating a stylish new identity and website for an up and coming Australian thought leader and we’re weaving some sophisticated digital magic for a distinguished Melbourne architecture practice. So it’s full steam ahead.