We managed to corner the awesome Ben Miles, Creative Director at Interbrand to hear about his career, UK pubs, the recent AGDA rebrand, too much Yum Cha and hiring people, not folios. A must read interview for all future grads!
What were some of your first creative jobs that lead you to where you are now?
My earliest memories of creativity started around age six, I was obsessed by drawing war scenes and creating sound effects to reflect each stroke. I realised early there were three choices. Art, music or war. Luckily I was guided in the right direction and chose art. This eventually led to design. Fast forward a decade and I arrived in rainy Southampton, an environment perfect for design as the climate often forced you indoors to practice the craft. The course was OK, but in all honestly I learnt more from the people around me than I did from my lecturers. I fell into a crowd who were obsessed with design, creative thinking and drinking. This gave me my first lesson: always surround yourself with inspiring, restless, open minded people (and great pubs), as a little bit of healthy competition pushes everyone. And who knows, one of them might even help you land your dream job.
Coincidently my first job opportunity was presented to me through a friend I studied with, who now also works in Australia — Matt Morgan from Landor. And that opportunity was Fitch London, where the emphasis was placed on nurturing big ideas, communication & craft across different disciplines. I soon discovered that storytelling and branding were inextricably linked, and that the most successful brands were those that understood how to interpret and create emotion. I spent five years honing this approach and applying it to wide variety of projects from small start ups to blue-chip clients. I then needed a new challenge and took the plunge into freelance. I got the opportunity to work at a real mix of studios including The Partners, Coley Porter Bell, Lambie-Nairn, Siegal & Gale, Start Creative, Analogue Folk and Futurebrand among others. I quickly realised that each studio had a very different approach to design, from idea generation to work flow methods. It kept me sharp and opened me up to new ways of working and made me aware of one of my second important lessons: always step out of your comfort zone.
Tell us about your role at Interbrand?
We’re based in Sydney, slap bang in Broadway. Conveniently located next to the city and within walking distance of China town. Great for Yum Cha, bad for the waistline. At Interbrand, I’m one of the creative directors, and we’re incredibly lucky as we have an amazing bunch of talented people to work with. From designers and strategist to client services they all come with their own unique set of skills. We often say we hire people, not folios, and I think this is a huge part of our success and helps to create a studio environment that is vibrant, fun and productive. Work for me should be fun, actually for me it’s massively important, of course we work hard and push ourselves to the limits, but I think it’s important to balance this with trying to make it as enjoyable as possible. After all we spend a hell of a lot of time at work.
On a day to day basis my job is incredibly varied. I often find myself doing a million different things in one day. We try to minimise hierarchy at Interbrand and give everyone the opportunity and responsibility to push themselves and have their ideas heard. We want everybody who joins Interbrand to leave better for the experience and ultimately be a better designer. And if you look at some of the places people have gone onto from Interbrand, it’s pretty inspiring.
I still love rolling my sleeves up and getting involved in designing — just as much as the thinking. In general, my day usually starts with a coffee at our local and then I tend to bounce of the walls for a bit, before getting onto my next task. It’s good fun and the day ends before I’ve even had a chance to think about it. Then I go to bed and do it all over again. It may sound boring (and frustrates my wife) — but it makes me feel alive and proud of all the work we produce as a studio. We’re on a mission to change the landscape of Australia through effective design. Ultimately creating big ideas — simply communicated.
What are your favourite design spots in Sydney?
WOW, so many. I love Sydney. Since moving here three years ago I’ve become such a big fan. For me Sydney has the perfect balance between working and relaxing. In terms of ‘design spots’ I love the energy of Newtown and can usually be found hiding away in Magnation on King st with a massive pile of magazines. Nothing’s better than a big selection of magazines covering as many different subjects as possible — true escapism.
And I know it’s a bit cliché but I really find the cafe culture of Sydney inspiring too, I love all the individual expressions of café brands. There’s a real entrepreneurial spirit behind the scene, pushing genuine creative expression. Of course it would be unfair to forget nature and without sounding all hippy, there’s nothing better than a brisk walk through the bush or a surf at dawn to put things into perspective, giving me the energy to keep pushing on through the daily grind. To sum it up, it’s all about balance and Sydney is a city built around balance.
You just worked on the AGDA rebrand that everyone is talking about. It looks great! Can you talk us through some of the thinking and process to where you ended up?
Thank you, yeah, this was a huge project. Such an important and privileged position for us to be in, and a project we all feel very proud of indeed — It’s not often you get to rebrand your own industry. But yeah, we certainly didn’t take the responsibility lightly. We had Mike Rigby leading the charge on this one, who was the president of AGDA NSW at the time and with myself also sitting on the council. So with inside knowledge, and a really tight team consisting of Rigby, myself, Jo Rocha, Lex Courts, Mike Tosetto, Kalina Gondevska and Andy Wright, we embarked on our mission. To create a new strategic brand platform and identity framework to help make sense of the changes and add some much needed cohesion around AGDA’s communications. We worked closely with the AGDA board to make this happen.
The biggest change for AGDA was going from a state based set up to one national organisation giving us ONE AGDA. We created a simple idea to tie the brand together and celebrate the connecting force that unites our industry. The logo became the perfect vehicle for this, a simple idea using an open ended -GD/- connecting at either end. Representing the unity and diversity of the industry coming together. The brand has been created with a simple brand platform at the heart to help bring it to life. AGDA launched at coordinated events on the same night in every state across Australia, activating ONE AGDA.
Mike Rigby sums it up eloquently: “We’re not just talking about a new logo, identity, or website, we’re talking about a fundamentally ‘new AGDA’. The new structure means that AGDA can finally do what it’s really here for – to support, connect, educate; and show the world what Australian design can do!”
It’s pretty inspiring stuff really and great to have been a part of the ride, but it’s far from over and really just the beginning, so what better time to get involved. If you’re interested in becoming a member, check it out here. I can’t wait to see what AGDA does next.
What advice would you give students starting out?
There are a lot of people out there fighting for attention, so think about how you are going to stand apart and get noticed. Be as creative and restless as possible and try to work on projects that show who you are and what you’re interested in. When I meet designers and see a project that they’re truly passionate about, it really excites me and helps me get an insight into who they are and what they stand for. And if you’re not satisfied with your briefs at uni or work — do stuff on the side, collaborate with people, write your own briefs, do cool stuff, get passionate and most importantly have fun — you’ve got your whole life to do serious stuff.
Which creative’s do you look up to in Australia?
I feel fortunate to have worked with a lot of creative’s that I look up to at Interbrand over the past three years. From placements to ECD’s they’ve all had a tremendous effect on me. But if I had to look outside of Interbrand and within Australia, these are some of the people and things that are inspiring me right now; Numskull – Sign writer. I drive pass his piece everyday on the way to work and it always makes me smile. It reads ‘What a wonderfull day to go painting’. Editorial wise, Cereal magazine. I love to read it slowly with a nice cup of tea and let my imagination wander. Retail wise, The Stables, inspiring space bringing their very own vision and mini department store to Bourke St. And It’s also where we held the AGDA NSW launch party. Digital animation studio: Sixty40. Mark Simpson is the Creative director and he’s a really inspiring guy. We were lucky enough to collaborate with him on the SKY idents. He’s super interesting, got big ideas and an even bigger beard. Artist: Jun Chen. Check it out — wild brush strokes and immersive portraits and landscapes. Steve Purcell: Creative director of the Object Gallery. Inspiring guy committed to the creative output and development of Australia. Rumble studio: We worked we these guys on AGDA and they were amazing. They composed the tune, created the sound design and all because they believed in our mission. Amazing! Blog: The Design Kids 😉
What do you look for in an awesome graduate?
Yeah, as mentioned previously we look for personality for sure. With juniors and placements we’re looking for an openness and willingness to get involved and help out. It’s not about being loud, it’s about having a great attitude and leaving the bad attitude at the front door. Sometimes in my experience, you get the great placements and the bad placements. The good ones make your life easier, they’re excited to take on any challenge thrown at them. And the bad ones turn their nose up, and think that all the best projects should be given to them straight away. When I first started, I had to do piles of scanning. But I still tried to have a smile. And when the right opportunity came along I took it with open arms! We want placements to go the extra mile, be a sponge and soak up as much as possible from people. Everyone around you works differently, so watch what people do, how they present, how they work and how they handle pressure. Store it up to help you develop your own approach to further your career.
I love meeting designers with ideas, always try to think about what you’re trying to communicate, what problem you’re trying to solve. Once you understand the problem you’re half way to finding the idea for the solution. Ultimately you remember great ideas — they stick!
And last but not least treat your self like a brand and like most great brands — be likeable. Project your self how you would like to be seen and be your self, keen and ready to learn. You don’t know everything, it’s just the beginning…