We’re honoured to chat to Scott Burnett—partner and creative director of aad. Scott’s a pretty big deal in the design industry and he shares with us some insight into where he sees Irish design heading. Scott is also co-founder of TDK favourite 100archive —check it out!
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened? I studied on a visual communications course in Aberdeen, Scotland. For my final year project I was actually focusing extensively on photography. There were bits of design here and there but the body of work was photographic and that’s the route I wanted to explore when I graduated. And for 3 years that’s what I did, I worked in Aberdeen, Glasgow and London as a photographers assistant. I loved it but eventually realised that for the most part the photographers were given an idea and asked to realise it, and I really loved coming up with ideas. When I moved to Dublin then I decided that I wanted to get back to being a designer. I still love photography and try to commission it as often as possible.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. I’m partner and creative director at a company called aad. We’ve had a broad and exploratory 17 year history, we were actually a clothing company at the very beginning, we had a brand called Angry. Our company is purposely multi-disciplinary and enterprising as a result. We help businesses, brands and organisations make bold moves forward, helping them clarify their intent and turn it into action across branding, digital platforms, content and experience. My personal role is trying to keep lots of plates spinning without breaking any as we work across multiple projects with lots of different facets.
What are your five must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why? Only 5 is hard. my advice in general is read, read, read, you can never know enough. At the moment I read a lot of design articles on medium [IDEO and edenspiekerman are both favourites] but if I can only recommend 5 then the other 4 need to be classics. These have all been pivotal to my thinking and understanding of design.
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance [Robert Pirsig] — Read this in college and still think about it on a daily basis. Not a design book but provided me fundamental insight into the relationship between sharp, agile analysis and creative thinking. And all wrapped up in a page-turner.
79 essays on design [Michael Bierut] — This book gives great insight into the challenges of being a designer and how to handle them as a really good human. In particular it helped me work out how I wanted to run a design business.
Designing Design [Kenya Hara] — Essentially this presents a range of work, projects and teaching from a legendary Japanese designer. But the stories and information provide insight into ways of thinking about and approaching design that are truly enlightening.
Exercises in style [Raymond Queneau] — This is a really simple book, with a really simple idea. One story told 101 different ways. Every graphic designer should own this, it’s basically a physical reminder of the relationship between form and content and how we can shape it.
What qualities and skills to you look for in a graduate? Curiosity and cop-on. Curiosity is pretty self explanatory, if a design graduate isn’t interested in what’s going on in the world, how it all fits together and what exciting things are happening then we’re all doomed. Cop-on is basically being able to work things out on your own. For me it’s actually the core asset a designer can have, our job boils down to being put in a room with someone we don’t know from an industry we know nothing about, listening to them for a few hours, understanding their situation and then being tasked with doing something about it. A young designer needs to be at least pro-active and can-do.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? Listen, listen, listen — This is the single most important part of the design process. If you can really understand what a clients saying to you and why you can win their trust and help them achieve much more. If you don’t really listen and understand then there’s every chance that the whole process will be painful and the results really bad.
Everything’s a proposal until it’s a reality — This is two sided. Don’t be scared to be ambitious about what you propose, the worst the client can say is no. However it also means that you have to be happy to kill it and move on if it’s not right.
Don’t ignore the invisible stuff — A very important one for young graphic designers. We deal in visible stuff but it only has integrity and meaning if it has real reason and purpose. That reason and purpose comes from understanding and making important decisions about things that people never see. It can be easy to skip past those and jump into making things that look good. This is where what we do is often criticised as ‘superficial’.
Collaborating makes things better — I think designers should be able to work things out for themselves, however collaborating provides an opportunity to make things better – provide perspective, add good ideas, bring talent and skills to the project, and be generally more fun.
Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt? I think design is spiralling off in all kinds of exciting directions, I think it’s a really exciting [and also challenging] time to be a young designer. We’ve gone from being asked to design one type of thing over and over again to using design to work out all kinds of disparate and complex things, often on a single project. This excites us, we’ve no interest in just producing logos over and over again and see opportunities for design in everything from business strategy to social innovation as well as building joined up brands, content, platforms and experiences. What this means for us though is that we have to find new ways to manage and undertake projects so that everyone understands what’s happening, what the aims are and what their role is so that we can deliver impactful projects efficiently [and get paid properly for them!] I don’t think there’s any shortage of opportunities for young designers who are curious, copped-on and willing to find opportunities in everything.