We chat with one quarter of the Sex Drugs & Helvetica team, Nick Hallam about all his fingers, all his pies, what he’s learnt along the way and what he’s up to now. A good read folks!
Nick Hallam, jack of all trades! Tell us about when you decided to get in to design.
The decision to really take design seriously happened during my second year of design college in 2007. Previously I didn’t really understand how design could be a career or how it could create value in the economy. I remember sitting in the library in the Swinburne Prahran campus and randomly picking out Josef Muller-Brockmann’s book on grid systems, opening it up and seeing all the pieces fall into place. Suddenly it all made sense. I always loved art and design and creating things, but I didn’t understand how that stuff fit with the more rigid, science, left brain parts of life that I also loved. That book was the thing that started to tie the art and science words together for me and is probably the reason I didn’t drop out that year. It’s also probably the reason I went on to study 20th century sans-serif typography and grid systems and the reason I ended up in websites and app’s. They all sit at the intersection between art and science.
Tell us about Positive Posters, how it came about, your involvement and where its heading next.
Positive Posters was the result of semi-random meeting I had in January 2009 on a Japanese snow field. Some friends of mine had told me about this guy who was into building companies, and starting new things and that we’d really get along. He happened to be running a B&B at a ski resort I was holidaying at so I looked him up and we went out for beers. I think we decided that night that wanted to work together on a project when we both got back to Melbourne. A couple of months later I called Matt and said I had this idea of covering cities around the world with posters that carried messages about the issues that were affecting our world and would inspire positive action. We had a meeting at his fathers office with 10 people (that included a one month old Motherbird) and I presented the vision for the organisation. We raised some money from a party fundraiser and launched a website in October that year. Mistakenly, I never spent time developing a business model to help sustain it, so PP hasn’t been given much attention lately. However, I am pleased to let you know that in the last month I’ve been working with a couple of people behind the scenes on some exciting changes. Keep an eye on the website over the coming couple of months.
Sex Drugs & Helvetica is coming up again this week – as one quarter of the team, can you give us the low down about each person’s role, where SD&H came from and what we can expect this year?
SD&H was initially a fundraiser for Positive Posters. I think 200 people came to the first event in 2011 and we raised $15,000 or something for PP. I never intended to keep it running, but so many people asked us when the next one was that we decided to split it off from PP and make it it’s own company. Our team is made up of Zac, Leisha, Andy & myself. As with any start up, we all do a variety of different things in the business, but generally speaking, Zac & Leisha take care of the conference, speakers, advertising and partnerships etc., Andy (with the support of Cat Wall) take care of our new blog & I just support everyone where I can. This year we have another line up of 6 great local and international speakers. We have always focused on getting speakers to reveal the process behind a single project that they’ve worked on and this year is no different. You’ll hear from Michael C. Place (Build), Chris Doyle, Michaela Webb (Round), Fabio Ongarato Design, Kevin Finn & Tim Buesing (Reactive).
You’re moving more into a consultancy role – The Loop last year, plus working with IDEO in Singapore. Can you tell us about how you got involved with IDEO, and the difference between being a designer/problem solver and being a consultant for design companies, and what things you’ve been involved in so far…
The best thing about consulting is that you get exposure to a lot of problems you normally wouldn’t have come across which forces you to read and learn. I’m enjoying it. IDEO came about through a mutual friend and ex-IDEOer. They needed a hand on project and I put my hand up to get involved. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a couple of smaller things with them since which has been great. The major difference between working with IDEO or The Loop compared to working on PP or SD&D is you’re not the boss. You contribute ideas and work on problems, but at the end of the day, the decision making normally lies with someone else. That took a bit of getting used to, but like most things, its a challenge you can design for.
You’re a Melbourne boy through and through. Tell us about some of the amazing creatives you look up to in your home town and why you love them. Jim Antonopoulos, TANK – Jim is the ECD at TANK. He has well rounded view of the industry and does great work. I follow his Twitter feed pretty closely. Jack Mussett, Motherbird – I’m sure Jack will email me later boasting about being someone I ‘look up to’, but even though we are good mates, I’m happy to put him in this category. Over the last 6 years, Jack and the boys at Motherbird have built a great business and have continually produced great work, the kind of stuff that I don’t think I could ever do. He always pushed the norm, works hard and gets his hands dirty. Willow & Blake – I’m lucky enough to call Jess, Bree & Erika from Willow & Blake friends. Between them they run a successful copywriting company, own a cafe, DJ and produce music and are the brains behind the uber successful Frank Body coffee scrub. They’re passionate, creative and work harder than most people I know. Ryan Fitzgibbon, Hello Mr – Ryan is the founder of Hello Mr. magazine and while he’s not actually from Melbourne, we both met here and he lived here for a while. Ryan took a big leap leaving IDEO to start a print magazine in a time where everyone said print is dying. He put the project on Kickstarter and I happened to be hanging out with him the night the project got fully funded last year. Since then it’s been onwards and upwards. His attention to detail in the design and quality of content in his publication is something else. Karan Singh, Wake Up Mr. Singh – Karan is now based in NYC, but we meet when he lived in Melbourne back in 2011. He actually spoke at the first SD&H conference. Following his progression in his illustration style over the past few years has been fascinating. We hung out recently on a sunny Saturday morning in his Manhattan apartment, talked design, drank scotch and he schooled me in patterns & brushes in Illustrator. Karan’s mastery of his craft helps remind me that I don’t know shit. There is always more to learn.
Last but not least – your brand new portfolio app is about to launch. Can you tell us more, what it aims to do and how people can get involved?
Well, sort of. We’ve paused working on that project for now (read why). It wasn’t really a portfolio app, more something that helped you tell your professional story in a better way (than say LinkedIn). I don’t think the world needs another portfolio app, we’ve got The Loop, Behance, Dribbble, Cargo Collective etc. but I do think there is an opportunity to help people give you more context on who they are. More than just a list of where you’ve worked and your portfolio. I find it really important to understand the relationships between people, maybe there is something in that idea? It’s a work in progress. If anyone wants to learn more about that project, we documented the development of the app for 5 months on my personal blog. Plenty of sketches, prototypes etc.
What’s on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?
A timely and good question. I don’t have a clear idea right now. Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly interested in business and technology and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how designers can work together with people from the business and technology worlds to create great things. I’m passionate about PP and SD&H and the Australian design community in general and I’d like to remain involved, but we have a long and challenging road ahead of us. The design community needs to learn to work together with business and visa versa. We need to get better a digital and building things that create real value for people. We can’t keep digging up the minerals in our country for ever. There is a huge amount of design talent down here, but sometimes I question if the talent is being used on the right kind of problems. I’m expecting the next 12 months plus to look different to the previous few years for me, hopefully working on more difficult and complex problems. Whatever I end up doing, I’ll always be reppin’ Australia.