We chat with the legend Scott Kirkman of Newcastle based studio Shorthand. Scott shares with us a few must read books on creating great client relationships, why he loves the flourishing Newcastle creative scene and about finding your niche within design and rocking it!
Tell us about where you are today and what you love about your job!
For just over a year now I have been Creative Director and co-owner of Shorthand, a branding agency based in Newcastle, NSW. Our tight-knit team of three work from our small studio space above an old art-deco style arcade in the city’s East End. What I love most about my job is working with small businesses. Helping them punch above their weight by developing a brand that exceeds the expectations for their size is a very satisfying challenge. My family has owned and operated several small businesses over the years so it’s something close to my heart.
What has been your highlights since you started out?
Returning to my hometown of Newcastle to start a studio with my partner Amanda has definitely been the highlight so far. Amanda and I met about 7 years ago during our final year of studying design at the University of Newcastle. Besides some amazing beaches, Newcastle didn’t seem to have a lot to offer at the time, especially in regards to jobs in design. We moved to Melbourne shortly after graduation and spent the next five years meeting a lot of amazing people and working at some great studios.
On our yearly trips back home for Christmas, we couldn’t help but notice huge changes taking place in Newcastle. New developments, bars, cafes, markets and street art were appearing everywhere. It was really starting to feel alive for the first time in our lifetime. We decided that we wanted to be a part of the change by taking everything we had learnt during our years in Melbourne and move back to Newcastle to start our own studio.
What advice would you give students starting out?
Find your focus. From digital design through to packaging, there are many different paths you can take in a career in graphic design. The amount of options can be overwhelming but the sooner you can find the discipline that you are the most passionate about, the sooner you can begin to master it. Your time during university or design school is the perfect opportunity to explore your options and find your focus before you start your career. Be honest with yourself and look for that overlap of what you love and what you’re good at.
How do you deal with non creative clients that don’t see your vision? George Lois (the man who inspired Don Draper) once said that creating great work takes 1% Inspiration 9% Perspiration and 90% Justification. He is right, selling our ideas is often the most challenging part of our job.
I try to never think of the process as designer vs client and instead try to make our clients part of the team from the beginning. We work together closely to establish the brief and always keep in mind that we are all working towards the common goal of finding the best possible solution. Mike Monteiro has written two great books that tackle client-designer relationships called ‘Design is a Job‘ and ‘You’re My Favourite Client‘. Both are a must read for anyone who has been fighting any uphill battles with their clients.
Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?
Professionally over the next 12 months we hope to play whatever role we can in developing Newcastle’s emerging new creative scene. There are a lot of people already doing some amazing things like Carl and Lara from Zookraft who created Hit the Bricks and Look Hear festival. Projects like these have had a huge impact on the city and now that our studio is established, we are keen to get involved too.
Personally, Amanda and I just bought our first apartment next to Civic Park, which I think speaks to our confidence in Newcastle’s future. It’s an exciting place to be right now.