Featured Studio

Mildred & Duck

September 2019

We caught up with Daniel Smith and Sigiriya Brown of design and communication studio Mildred & Duck, who chat to us about running their own studio, the benefit of attention to detail in design, and give us a few podcast recommendations to keep up with what's going on in the world.

Did you have a plan for graduation and what actually happened?

We met during our final year of university when we worked on a project together, then both went on to do honours the next year. The honours program at RMIT University was run like a small studio; five days a week, with real clients and budgets. Neither of us had really planned on starting our own studio, at least not at that time, but once the course ended we just kept working together and built the studio from there. We’ve been running the studio together ever since — for eight years.

Talk us through a typical working day include for you right now.

Our days are generally quite varied, which keeps things interesting. One of the main reasons we started our own studio was the importance to both of us of being really involved with all the stages of the design process — to really get to know and understand our clients and their businesses. We approach the initial phases of all of our projects together; this includes client briefings, client workshops, ideation and concept development. From there we try to split tasks evenly between ourselves, which includes a lot of the day-to-day running of the studio (things like accounts and record-keeping, quoting, production management, general emails, press checks, attending photoshoots etc.) and work to our individual strengths depending on the current workload.

What are some of the best and worst parts of your job, day-to-day?

One advantage of working in a partnership like ours is that we can really manage our own time, and be flexible about our hours and what we do each day. If we’re really enjoying working on something, we sometimes have a dinner break and then stay back quite late at the studio; we have learnt to take advantage of when we’re on a roll. Then the opposite is also true for us; sometimes when a design isn’t quite working, it can be good to get away from the computer and go for a walk, take a long lunch break or catch up on some admin.

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Spend some time really crafting a project, and take the time to refine and rework the design so the result is something considered and thoughtful.

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

Melbourne is such a creative city with a diverse range of creative outputs (including architecture, visual arts and product design), so we’re lucky to have so much of this creative talent accessible in our everyday lives. As for how this affects our design work and getting clients, we rarely have to spend much time justifying the value of design and the reasons for investing in design services, which we think has a lot to do with living in a city as design-focused as Melbourne. It's much more rewarding to work with clients who really appreciate design and the design industry as a whole.

What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?

We don't spend that much time reading design books or listening to design specific podcasts; we find it's more interesting for us personally (and probably in some ways more helpful professionally) to spend time learning about other industries and ways of thinking. Design on the whole can be a very insular industry and a bit consuming, so it's nice to take a break and hear other people’s opinions and what’s going on in the outside world! We just finished reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and some podcasts we listen to are: Against the Rules, #Solvable, Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, and 99% Invisible.

What advice would you give students graduating in 2019?

In the years since we graduated, the landscape for graduates seems to have changed a lot. It's so easy now to create work and mock something up and put it straight on the internet, which is something that wasn't really as prevalent when we first started out. We would tell students to spend some time really crafting a project — for a client or self-initiated — and take the time to refine and rework the design so the result is something considered and thoughtful; this attention to detail and effort will be evident in the final result.

Website: mildredandduck.com

Instagram: @mildredandduck

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