We get to chat with Executive Creative Director, Alex Toohey, of Houston Group based in Sydney. Alex tells us what he looks for in great portfolio, one of Houston grand disaster’s that involved; a billboard, a man and a pig… & where he finds creative inspiration for up and coming projects!
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?
Well I always loved painting and visual arts when I was at school, but I think it was at the age of 15, doing work experience at Leo Burnett‘s Ad agency and faced with my first brief – to design a Kellogg’s Sustain cereal box (super excited at the time!). This is when I realised that I could channel my love for visual arts into a more commercially viable career, graphic design.
Where do you gather inspiration, on and off the web?
I try not to draw inspiration from graphic design, I mostly look for clues and triggers within other forms of visual arts and design for instance sculpture, fine arts, architecture, product design, textile design. But also depends on the creative idea behind each project, every idea leads you down a different path of inspiration. I remember finding inspiration from old Beatles and Rolling Stone album covers for the art direction for one of our brand shoots. I usually just Google or pinterest once I have an idea.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. I have learnt to become a better salesman of my work, to present the creative strategy and thinking behind the design so the client sees the depth and process.
2. Aim to work with the best people; hiring designers with intimidating portfolios will push your own creativity.
3. Open your doors and collaborate with specialists in other fields, we are constantly working alongside animators, sculptors, filmmakers, painters, photographers etc.
4. I learnt that being an all-rounder is so important these days, experiencing a mix of disciplines and sectors through your development years. The industry is so competitive now and it is always an advantage to have a few arrows in your quiver.
5. I would encourage any designer to travel and experience working overseas; it builds your confidence and ambition.
What do you look for in a great portfolio?
Just great ideas, and obviously great design execution. If I am looking to hire a designer, they also need to fit with the Houston Group way of thinking and style.
What has been some of your biggest disasters and how have you learnt from it?
We did a campaign for SBS Studio that ended up being a bit of a disaster – we launched an outdoor advertising campaign promoting a controversial new program called ‘Black Mirror’ with a pretty confronting image of a man making love to a pig with ‘WTF’ as the billboards headline. Anyway the billboard upset quite a few conservatists and only survived for half a day
So we have learnt to be a little more sensitive and mindful to possibly offensive content, even if SBS Studios ratings soared after the publicity created around the billboard controversy.
Any personal projects you would like to share? past, present or future?
Back in 2008 I started a magazine called ‘Kite’, a contemporary arts magazine featuring artists and designers who inspired me – my friend, Sophie, and I sourced all the contributors and content from all over the world and worked with a talented group of writers to pull three issues together. It was purely a love project but I learnt so much from the experience and would encourage any young designer to have a crack at publishing their own work.
How do you deal with non-creative clients that don’t see your vision?
Non-creative clients can be tricky, I think it is best to take the client through the process of thinking and so to set up a strong strategic platform for the creative work, giving them a chance to connect to the work and then the design has reason and purpose. Also reassure the client that you have done the research and understand their competitors and position in the marketplace, reflecting this in the creative so feels like the right solution.