For The People

We're stoked to have had a chat with the amazing Jason Little! Jason is the Co-Founder's of Sydney/Tassie based design studio For The People. For The People is one of ours absolute favourite studios, always pushing out brilliant design and strategy for super cool clients such as The Sydney Film Festival (2019), Sydney's Inner West, and West Coast Tasmania. We chat to Jason about his studios collaborative approach, the importance of internships, and the 15 rockstars that make up the team!

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied at Edinburgh College of Art and then did my third year in Kansas University. This was architecture though, not design. That year in the U.S. was crucial to my shift to graphic design. The teaching was more experimental and progressive to what I had encountered back in Europe. I was exposed to contemporary architects, captivated by the Deconstructivist movement and hooked by what I felt were its graphic counterparts in Neville Brody and David Carson. After working for an architect for a year, I tried to move into design but faced a huge barrier – I wasn’t a designer. After an exhaustive approach to getting an internship I’d all but given up. Fortunately, one creative director gave me a shot that kick-started my career as a designer and things have fallen into place since. My first projects were way back at the end of the 90’s. They involved everything from designing whiskies, collateral design for universities and banks, through to identities for architects, photographers, galleries,  and the Edinburgh Festival. I even designed packaging for Haggis. Whilst I believed I was a reasonably good designer back then, hindsight paints a very different picture. I cringe looking back on those early efforts. I’m also eternally grateful to my first creative directors for keeping me employed for 5 years. They couldn’t have been more patient and supportive.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

We’re a studio that approaches branding and strategy through design, storytelling and technology. Our goal is to always create something that will make a difference for people. We work with businesses, governments, not-for-profit and cultural organisations who want to break out of the confines of their category, and who are ambitious and optimistic about the impact they can make.  Everyone is hands on and contributes to the work from the outset during the research and strategy phases through to design and implementation. This means there is no knowledge or thinking lost in the process of a project as the same people are there from the beginning until the end. We’re very collaborative and transparent with our clients. They see everything as we go: sketches, loose thoughts and ideas, internal debates – the stuff that clients won’t ordinarily get to see. It makes for a more collaborative approach to the work, and it certainly helps to ensure we have a clear understanding of our thinking and approach throughout the course of the project.

How does the local culture of where you live affect your design work and getting clients?

6 years ago when we set up For The People we drew the line at free pitching, which eliminated us from some of the larger projects out there. We also moved away from clients who’s values didn’t match ours, and leaned towards those that were more of a cultural fit with our team. We seemed to lean naturally towards brands for cities and regions, for arts and culture and for some product and tech companies. We moved to Launceston in September 2019 to open For The People Tasmania. And whilst we still operate as one office across two locations, myself and fellow FTP creative director/spouse, Johanna Roca, run the Tassie studio. Culturally it’s a dramatic difference to doing business in Sydney. Firstly people have been so welcoming and friendly, it’s almost surreal. Within weeks of arriving, we had people calling us up for a coffee, offering to help and  introduce us to others.

Business is really word-of-mouth. We’ve been introduced left, right and centre and been asked to put in tenders for work across the state. We’re currently doing some great projects in Bruny Island, Launceston, Hobart, Burnie and the Derwent Valley. I have to pinch myself regularly when I think of how nice people are here. Launceston is 100k population. It means you bump into the same people all the time in the cafe’s, the farmers markets, in the dog parks, the hiking and mountain bike trails in the national parks. I really love it. Life seems to revolve around community and helping each other. And this attitude extends to business.

The people you work with in your team, the people you work with as clients, and the people that work around you in the industry – they all deserve respect and a healthy dose of kindness.

What’s your take on internships? (do you take interns now?)

I feel very lucky in my career to have started out from an internship. Everything stemmed from that opportunity. I wasn’t the most viable candidate, and once it shifted to a full-time role it took a long time for me to become of value to the studio. I’ve never forgotten that. I’m a huge advocate for internships. There’s often a debate around what is right and wrong around internships. The basic concept is that they are a symbiotic relationship in which both the studio and the intern gain something of value in return. For the intern its professional experience that levels up their education experience into practical usage. For the studio it’s about doing your bit to help the next generation, and at some point in the process the intern transitions to a valuable member of the team that can contribute to the delivery of projects.

The value equation is a hard one for many studios. Often internships require a lot of coaching and mentoring time, which effectively distracts the designer/mentor away from their client work in order to heavily mentor and guide an intern. It can be quite costly to a studio’s output. It can sometimes feel that in a three month internship, value only comes back to the studio in that last 4-6 weeks. Good designers can often have a terrible intern experience because they were never given the opportunities to shine. This is why we make sure to give them as many varied and interesting experiences as possible and work hard to ensure that they feel a valued member of the team. 

I’ve always been a believer that an internship is a condensed period of time to give new designers the space to excel and go beyond what they thought themselves capable of. They bring a youthful energy to studio culture, and provide an opportunity for other team members to grow their coaching skills. I would encourage anyone who gets into an internship to go all in, and get involved in everything they can. They have nothing to lose and word spreads quickly between studios when someone stands out and needs a job.

At the moment with the pandemic, many graduates have been left hanging. I’d say it’s the responsibility of every studio to take on interns and provide opportunities for young designers during this period, in whatever capacity they can.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I was once told by an awards jury chairman that we should only talk up the work we love versus talking work down. Basically the best stuff will rise through positivity, instead of trying to convince others that something isn’t good. 

It’s an incredibly powerful notion of seeing the world. It’s a variation of “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. Negativity fuels more negativity, whilst the opposite is far more helpful to the world. So, I guess for me it’s evolved to ‘be nice to people’. It’s as simple as that. The people you work with in your team, the people you work with as clients, and the people that work around you in the industry – they all deserve respect and a healthy dose of kindness. Our industry can be rife with negative commentary or laden with personal gripes and insecurities. Kindness goes a long way, and we should assume the best of people and the efforts behind their work.

Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them?

For The People is a collective of 12 people working incredibly hard to do good work for clients and society. Each one of those individuals is unique and brilliant in their own right. When we tackle projects, a team might typically include a writer, strategist, designer and creative director. I might be part of the team. Or not. I think it’s an important distinction to make, as the perception is that I have a hand in everything, which I don’t. And so whilst we produce quite a varied amount of work, that work is usually from different groups of people.

We have really strong creative leadership with both Mel Baillache and Jo Roca as the studio’s creative directors. Each of them has been with us for 5 years, with Mel dipping her toes into unicorn tech world before coming back, and Jo taking some time to have a baby and help launch a children’s book start-up. Both of these are responsible for leading a large body of the work you might have seen from FTP. 

We also have Damian, one of the co-founders of the studio. He’s extremely smart, and heads up the business side of the company. Our long-term strategy director, Bec Lester returned to FTP last year and is based out of London, following a break to complete a Masters in social and cultural anthropology. She just went on maternity leave, and I’m counting the days until she returns. Nichole is our exceedingly positive senior client manager and helps co-ordinate the clients, projects and team. Sammy is our overachieving strategist who is currently working on pretty much every project we have.

Mat and Dan are our writers/story-tellers. Dan is our newest employee over from Perth, whilst Mat is one of the longer term FTP’ers, minus a brief stint at Interbrand. I’d say Mat is pretty much the legend in our studio. He writes comics professionally for Marvel, DC and Image. He also runs a podcast called Ranger Danger as his other side hustle. 

And for the design team, we have Olivia King as design director, who was our very first employee way back, and after a few years doing product, returned as DD. The rest of the design team includes Pete Conforto, a Shilington grad who has had many careers in his lifetime, and then shifted to design and joined us a few years ago. He’s a bit of a McGyver with his ingenious feats of engineering. We have Kim Luo, who is shaping up to be the go-to designer on concept and ideation and has an innate ability to be really kind when giving design feedback to others. And lastly there’s Ilana Bodenstein, a gifted illustrator who thought she was a designer. I’m sure it won’t be long before she turns pro. It’s been a jaw-dropping experience to see how rapidly her work has evolved. Every individual in our studio is remarkable, and I couldn’t feel more fortunate to work with such a group of people for however long they choose to be part of For The People.

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