Today we touch base with John Yanny of Voodoo Creative who have offices in both Canberra and Melbourne. John tells us how he fell in love with design, why he started his own studio fresh out of uni and the lessons he has learnt along the way.
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?
I fell in love with the design at high school, we had a graphic design class that you could do in year 11 & 12, and it opened my eyes up to the idea of being creative as a career. After school I enrolled into a bachelor of graphic design at the University of Canberra and did the four years there. After graduating it became clear to me that I really wanted to be involved in the creative process from go to whoa, so rather than work for anybody I decided to start my own company with a friend.
Tell us about where you are today and what you love about your job!
Amazingly, it’s been 10 years since I co-founded Voodoo Creative – something that when I was 23 I had not really thought about at all. I just wanted to design things that I love and work with great people (and hopefully get paid). 10 years on, we’ve got an amazing team of super creative people, and two offices – one in Canberra and one in Melbourne. I still love what I do every day, and while I’m not the tools as much as I used to be, I’m creative every day, coming up with the strategies that help solve our client’s problems, and every day is different.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? Lesson one – Trust your gut instinct. Seriously, your head will override your gut all the time because your idea will feel too risky or too hard or too weird. Don’t listen, trust your gut instinct and go for it. If it doesn’t work, you will have learned more for trying. Lesson two – take more risk. When I started Voodoo everything was a risk – we had no money and no clients. We had to embrace it and just try to make things work, and we did a lot of learning on the fly. As we’ve gotten bigger and more established, it is tempting to take less risks because it feels like you’ve got more to lose. But as I reflect back, I know the best outcomes are usually attached taking the most risks – challenge the client, challenge yourself, try different stuff. Lesson three – work with amazing people. Our people are the best thing about Voodoo. You can never be good at everything and as harsh as it might sound there are usually people that are better than you at most things. Accept that, and realise that when you work with amazing people it brings the best out of you and means that you get the best results. Lesson four – leave your ego at the door. As creative’s, it’s really easy to get swallowed up in your work and hold on to things that maybe shouldn’t be held on to. Remember you ultimately work for your clients and you have to have their best interests at heart. Sometimes that means letting go of something that you love. Lesson five – Never stop learning. Our industry has got to be one of the fastest moving ones I’ve witnessed. 10 years ago ‘digital’ meant flash animations on a website built in tables – now it so much more than that. Embrace the change and constantly educate yourself.
How do you deal with non-creative clients that don’t see your vision?
You’re going to have challenges when it comes to expressing a creative vision. I believe that the role of a great creative is to educate their clients. Justifying your design decisions with solid research goes a long way to helping them see what you see. It’s not enough to say ‘I really like it’ or ‘it’s really cool’. You need to be able to expand the reasons, and your experience to help make your point. Graduates will always struggle with this, because ultimately business and life experience is often the best justification of all – and there is no shortcut for that. You have to live it, make the mistakes, learn the lessons, and gain the knowledge. That takes time. N.B. Also having great clients makes a big difference, sometimes you’ll never convince some people, and in that case may be you just need a different client.
What qualities and skills to you look for in a graduate?
The biggest thing that I look for in in graduates, is an amazing attitude and a great personality. At Voodoo we believe that skills are something that can be improved or taught, but changing people’s attitudes and personalities is very difficult. I like to see people who’ve tried to experiment or do something difficult even if it’s not perfect and I like to see that they’re willing to embrace doing anything that will help them become a better creative. We are a branding and digital agency so we tend to look for expertise in both of those fields when it comes to portfolios. I’d rather see less projects that have been expanded upon in depth then a ton of projects with just really simple its executions.
Any personal projects you would like to share?
We try to work on studio projects as a way to expand our skills and try new things. One day in the car driving back from a Semi Permanent conference, Trevor Brennan, our creative Director and I were chatting about the concept for a really simple iPhone app that would help bring people closer together. The idea was that it would be really manual, and force people to think about who they want to connect with on a real world level, and it uses a digital platform to deliver it. The idea eventually became a little app we called BeCloser, and it was a fun experiment. We learnt how to learn how to build an app and experimented with some UI elements that we really want to explore. Check it out here.