Universal Favourite

Dari Israelstam, Creative Director and Founder of Universal Favourite starts his day with a podcast on the bus to Darlinghurst ⁠—lovely! We chat with Dari about 'My Dad Wrote a Porno' (naturally), the importance of having a global picture, and cutting through the formalities we're trained to use ⁠—we're all human after all.

Talk us through a typical work day.

My day usually starts with a podcast on the bus into our studio in Darlinghurst. My recent favourite was an episode of 'My Dad Wrote a Porno' I listened to about... this guy’s dad, who writes a porno. I get into work around 8.30am with a couple of other early birds and the emails begin — wading through subscriptions, replying to staff and clients, seeing if anything interesting has come through like inquiries about new projects. Morning hellos happen as the rest of the studio rolls in, then it’s onto reviewing work and having internal WIPs to see where we’re all at with various projects. The rest of the day involves a lot of business-running stuff — following up with clients, new business-related things, meetings, chatting with new clients. Lunch happens at some point, usually around lunchtime, and the ongoing debate in the studio about the best local Thai place ensues.

Being a creative director who is also a business owner means my role is a hybrid of business and creative — it involves a lot more liaison and organisation than being on the tools.

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

I think we’re situated in a really great part of Sydney. Darlinghurst is going through a bit of revitalisation when it comes to places to go out and things going on creatively. We’re close enough to the CBD, which is where most of our clients are, but we’re on the fringe, which is nice. We’re above street level, but we overlook all that busy-ness — it’s energising to be amongst it. Aside from that, the actual inspiration for work comes from much farther afield than our physical location. Being online and digital takes us far beyond local geography (we live online far more than we live in Darlinghurst) but our clients do like to come out and visit our studio space. Physically, this is exactly where they expect us to be.

Design work by Universal Favourite The Design Kids interviews Universal Favourite work-2

What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate?

For us, designers are first and foremost strategic thinkers and problem solvers. We look for someone who thinks strategically and can design work that has meaning and concept to it — someone who thinks laterally about how to solve a problem. We also love an all-rounder — someone who is as comfortable solving a digital problem as they are thinking about brand identity or a print piece. This allows them to work across so many different clients, industries and media, and our projects often take us to places where we have to do things we haven’t done before. It’s all just strategic thinking and creative problem-solving. On that same note, we look for people who communicate in a very human and natural way. Our projects often deal with complex things that we have to communicate in very simple, human-centered ways.

A hungry sense of curiosity never goes astray either. We love working with people who want to understand what’s going on globally in design, and also in different industries and media. There are so many interesting things going on in online consumer trends and emerging technologies — there are lots of things we want to be thinking about that are outside our immediate sphere of day-to-day work.

Do you have any passion projects/collaborations you would like to share?

Yes. Absolutely. We believe collaboration is so important, so we do it whenever possible. Working with experts in different fields just makes the project that much richer. It takes it to another place and there’s real magic that happens when you have a bunch of creatives coming at things from different angles to solve the same problems.

The Christmas gift we design for our friends and clients each year is an ongoing passion project that gives us some space to be creative without bounds. We challenge ourselves to push into areas we haven’t been before and do something interesting. The physicality of them is sometimes a nice reprieve from the amount of digital work we do and we also use this opportunity to collaborate with other people from other disciplines.

A great example of this is the Complements chocolates we made. We were able to work with a well-respected chocolatier to bring a creative idea to life in a medium we’d never worked in and knew nothing about. It was a super interesting overlap between design and food. And as a result, we ended up with a beautiful product that has won multiple design awards, been featured in over 100 publications and has since sold in over 20 countries.

Design work by Universal Favourite The Design Kids interviews Universal Favourite work-4
Design work by Universal Favourite The Design Kids interviews Universal Favourite work-4

At a graduate level, don’t call yourself a specialist, and know that it’s okay to be an all-rounder.

What’s your take on internships? Do you ever have interns?

We’ve never offered an internship. We’d like to but we’ve found it difficult as a small studio because we believe, when you have an intern, it’s really important to have a meaningful and fair exchange going on. Interns should be doing things that are useful to them, getting exposure to real design projects, not just fetching coffee or doing the boring or menial tasks the rest of the studio couldn’t get to. We believe there has to be structure and space dedicated to mentoring someone properly, rather than just floundering around. There needs to be more intent than just “come along for a month and see what happens.” It applies on any scale, but it’s particularly hard for smaller studios because they tend to be stretched resource-wise. Also, there’s a difference between work experience and internships and I think these need to called out – in my view, internships are meant to lead to a job if all goes well.

What advice would you give to students graduating in 2019?

Immerse yourself in what’s going on in design beyond your college, beyond your class, beyond the trends. Look at what’s happening in design, look at what’s happening in business. Design is increasingly being seen as a valuable asset to business. Being across what’s going on in direct-to-consumer, tech, areas outside of graphic design etc. is so important. Even if you’re living in Australia, wherever you are, your expectations of brands are globally-informed, so it’s really important to have a global picture.

At a graduate level, don’t call yourself a specialist, and know that it’s okay to be an all-rounder. If you’ve got a real interest in something specific then go for it, but it’s so okay to not be that. We find it incredibly valuable to have a broad view and be across everything.

Make sure you present your work beautifully. We get a lot of portfolios and it’s the first thing we notice. If you’re not presenting your own work beautifully, then the work itself won’t be seen. Explain your work well, succinctly and in a human way. And don’t just pad out a portfolio for the sake of it. Four to six good projects is great. Quality over quantity.

Be forward — contact studios that you like. Gimmicks aren’t great. Cut through the formality you’re trained to use and just be real, confident, and you. Have some lightness in your approach. We’re all human.

Design work by Universal Favourite The Design Kids interviews Universal Favourite work-6
Design work by Universal Favourite The Design Kids interviews Universal Favourite work-6

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