Having worked in the industry for over 10 years, an overnight decision led to Tim Sutherland setting up shop. Now working with a range of high profile corporate and cultural clients, Sutherland explains what it took to make the bravest decision of them all.
desktop: You graduated from Monash University in 1992 and then, after working at Designworks, you went overseas to do the Europe thing and to take a year off from design. What was the reason for this?
Tim Sutherland: I just needed a break to clear my head and think about a few different things. I wanted to try something a bit different, so I got into film production, and did a little bit of running on film sets. It was really good to see a different side of a different creative industry. I came back and worked in a couple of studios, one of them being Cowan where I got some experience in FMCG packaging. Then I [worked] at Cornwell, and was there for three years, where I ended up as one of the design directors – it was an amazing experience.
At this stage, you’d been in the industry for 10 years. What was the driving force behind setting up your own studio?
I was contacted by an exhibition and events company that wanted one person to do all of their design work. I was already pondering the idea of doing my own thing, but never really seriously thinking too much about it. They said, “This opportunity is ready to go. If you want this, you need to tell us right now.” So, I had to make an overnight decision as to whether I wanted to take it on, which obviously would mean leaving Cornwell and starting up my own thing without any sort of business plan or anything like that. It was one of those ‘strike while the iron is hot’ kind of opportunities, and literally overnight [I] made a decision to do that – jumped out and started working with them as my sole client. Luckily, there was plenty of ongoing work flowing in all the time, which was a perfect position to be in. I started off by renting a desk out of an advertising agency just on my own, and then gradually, as the work started growing and referrals started coming in, I put on a designer.
You recently moved from Prahran to Melbourne’s CBD. How has this impacted on your studio culture?
Moving to Flinders Lane (Melbourne CBD) has been incredibly rewarding. We had all previously worked at various studios in the city and had an affinity with the energy that it has. The move has been really good for our way of thinking and for inspiration. Clients are a lot more inclined to come to us now, so it’s been really positive on a number of levels. Before we moved to the city, we had an internal workshop, and really looked into ourselves, to work out where we wanted to go and what sort of work we wanted to do, and where we think we could have gone with our business. We all had quite high expectations in terms of taking our work, and the clients we’re working with, to the next level. The move coincided with that, and particularly in the last 12 months to two years, we have really started playing with the big boys, and started doing the kind of work that we knew we were capable of doing.
Could you talk about the name Brave, why you chose it and how it relates to your studio process and approaches?
I obviously had to pull a name together pretty quickly. I did a lot of brainstorming and found it interesting that no one had really used an adjective in their name; most of the time it was a place or someone’s name, a noun. Initially, the essence of the word ‘Brave’ derived from my grandfather; it was a spirit that he instilled in me, and was one of the first and logical names that I thought of. I’m so pleased that I went with it. ‘Brave’ is our guiding principle and is the foundation that we try to embody in most things that we do – it’s a motivation to always come up with something that challenges convention or that makes an impact. I’d much rather be remembered for either something that was not liked or liked, than something that wasn’t remembered at all. The middle ground is just not a space that we’re really interested in.
What are the plans for the studio?
We’re a four-person studio at the moment, including our recent appointment of an account manager and so, in the next 12 months, I’d like to see us grow to a six-person permanent team. Beyond that, I’d like to stay reasonably small; I don’t see us growing into a huge consultancy. Floating somewhere between a six- to eight-person team would be an ideal plan.
You’ve been working with the City of Port Phillip for the past few years, and recently won the tender for its 2012/2013 St Kilda Festivals and St Kilda Film Festivals. What was that like and what are some challenges involved in branding festivals that encompass so much varied content?
It was really nice to win that account again. We’ve been working with them since 2008, so that probably put us in good stead. We loved doing the work, and they’re fun jobs to work on – they are great clients and are very relaxed in terms of leaving us creative freedom. The briefs for the festivals are challenging, in that there is no strong theme that gets given to us each year. We spend a lot of time talking about projects in our ‘Discovery’ stage, where we do research and a lot of brainstorming. Another nice challenge that comes with the festivals is that they never want it to be ‘too St Kilda’ and to avoid any St Kilda clichés in the branding. We really try and challenge ourselves each time that the festival campaigns come around.
What is your studio culture like? Do you have any particular approaches to how the studio is run?
We’re very relaxed, it’s very down to earth and we like it that way. We try really hard to make it a fun place to work, and try to avoid too much structure. We give all the designers that work with us a lot of responsibility, so there is no huge hierarchy or tiering of staff. Everyone that works with us owns projects and really gets to put their own mark into it. We try not to overcomplicate things, and so there is a rawness and simplicity to most of the work that we do. Some of the best work comes out of us when clients trust that we’re going to take them into a really exciting place, and sometimes it’s an unknown place, even for us, but that is often when the best work happens.
desktop asked Sutherland to select a few of his favourite projects from the past few years:
ST KILDA FILM FESTIVAL
Client: St Kilda Film Festival
We have designed the St Kilda Film Festival campaigns for the City of Port Phillip since 2008. Over this time we have elevated the festival brand to reflect its positioning as Australia’s premier short film festival. There are always incredibly talented filmmakers involved so we are honoured with the role representing them visually. It’s an annual project that our studio enjoys deeply, as most us share a common love and respect for film. The festival also plays an important role for us, as we widen our involvement within the community of arts and culture. The 2010 campaign is one we hold close to our hearts. It received a particularly positive response from both its primary audience and the wider design based community.
MARC BUCKNER PHOTO
Client: Marc Buckner
Marc Buckner is a photographer whose career was founded in Germany within the international fashion circuit. Since 1997 he has operated in Melbourne developing a strong reputation in fashion and advertising. He has a passion for all aspects of design: graphic, fashion, interior and architecture, which is often reflected in his work. Every couple of years Marc asks us to design a showcase book celebrating his current work. This generally turns into a dream job. Marc is happy for us to take his images as a starting point and manipulate them in whatever direction we like (as long as we do not destroy the integrity of the work). The nice thing is that we end up with a promotional piece that looks unlike any of the competitor books going around.
REGIONAL ARTS VICTORIA
Client: Regional Arts Victoria
Regional Arts Victoria (RAV) is a contemporary and inventive organisation which works with vision and passion to connect artists with communities throughout regional Victoria. Drawing artists out of remote areas and showcasing them in Melbourne is a major focus. We developed RAV’s brand identity around the core theme of connectivity. The raw typographic style and a restrained colour palette created a visual language of understated confidence.
Our relationship with RAV was different to most clients. This was more of a creative partnership which offered our presence in the way of sponsorship at key events and on its collateral. This assisted with its limited budget allocation and at the same time furthered our affiliation with the arts industry.
Client: Egg Unlimited
Egg Unlimited is ‘the little bakery that could’. The bespoke Prahran bakery supply miniature breads, pastries and cakes to Melbourne’s finest caterers, hotels and corporates. It operates like a little bustling factory stepped back in time. All of its products are handmade and baked in custom-made tins.
The recent focus on catering, the introduction of deluxe lunchboxes and a Wellbeing range, raised the need for a rebrand. The business needed a complete visual overhaul. The project scope for the new identity included a suite of art directed photography, stationery, postcards, brochures, menus, packaging, website and other digital communication. A special thanks to Mike Long for the photography and Leesa O’Reilly for the styling.
From desktop magazine.
Thumbnail image: L-R Misty Sutherland, Lillian Cutts (intern), Elise Lampe, Tim Sutherland, Felicha Hogan. Photography: Mike Long.
All images are courtesy of StudioBrave.