I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished school, but I knew I wanted to do something related to design. I remember I was accepted to a university position for some kind of design, but I decided to take a year to figure it out, so I studied at Brighton Bay. Brighton Bay closed in about 2013, which is such a shame because to my knowledge there is nothing else like it in Melbourne. It was a full-time course (5 days a week) and we did half-day classes in photography, printmaking, ceramics, painting, drawing, design and art history. I came out with a really good understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and decided to study Visual Communication at Swinburne which is where I met my now business partner Wes Waddell. I didn’t enjoy uni as much as Brighton Bay, but we had one professor – Ray Graham – who hammered “the power of ideas” and that really stuck with me – it probably shaped my work more than any other lesson or experience.
The first job through the studio was Backyard Apartments in 2011. We were incredibly lucky that we were given an opportunity to pitch, so we quit our jobs, had a go and won it. The job was a great success in brand terms, and we picked up some clients off the back of that job that we still work with today.
I’ve always struggled with this, but it depends on who I’m talking to. If it’s at a wedding, and I assume they aren’t familiar with design, I make it super simple – “we brand new apartment buildings”. But if I’m talking to another designer then the pitch is more about “art direction” than “designer”. We always start with a brand, but in realising the brand we need to select and direct writers, photographers, illustrators, artists, videographers, etc. to communicate a narrative.
I’ve received lots of great advice over my life, and the really good advice is more about timing – if you get the right advice at the right time in your life it really sticks – so good advice is subjective. I think if I was going to give a graduate a piece of advice it would be to appreciate your clients. Starting out in the design industry I fell for the “designer v. client” trope, but starting my own studio changed that dramatically. As a junior, I was separated from clients via the creative director and account manager, and that is how miscommunications and misunderstandings happen. If you meet the client and understand them as a person, then all of a sudden feedback makes sense. I think larger studios keep this divide because they feel it’s an efficient use of time, but I believe it’s vital to the design process and young designers should push to be involved in those relationships.
We aren’t particularly active in the Melbourne graphic design community, but we’ve been lucky enough to work with some really wonderful architects, interior designs and lighting designers through our work, and we find that community to be very supportive. In terms of favourites in Melbourne, I’d say my number 1 is actually outside graphic design, and that would be the interior design firm DesignOffice. Mark and Damien have always been a huge influence on us, and they really taught me the power of empathy and the importance of the brief. In terms of graphic design, I think Studio Ongarato are incredible – they continue to elevate the standard after 25 years, and that is a huge accomplishment. TCYK are an incredible group of people – Rhys has a really strong vision for what design can be and his generosity is inspiring. There are also loads of young studios coming up who are doing incredible things – PSP are thinking on another level and we are super proud of Cam Norris who worked for us for many years and recently went out on his own – he is definitely one to watch.