Emerging designer: Paul O’Connor

Published:  April 17, 2012
Lulu Ruttley
Emerging designer: Paul O’Connor

Each month we ask a lecturer/academic from Australia to introduce one of their graduates to the design industry.

Student: Paul O’Connor
Design school: Billy Blue College of Design, Sydney Bachelor of Applied Design (Communication)
Graduated: 2010

Interview by: Lulu Ruttley
Strategic Projects Manager at Billy Blue College of Design

Currently you are working at e2 as a design strategist.
This area of work is quite specialised, was it hard finding this position?

My position at e2 transpired somewhat organically. Having trained and worked as
an architectural draftsman for a number of years, I traversed into design looking for a broader creative outlet. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, what emerged during my studies was a recurring inclination towards the sweet spot between critical thinking and visual communication. When a design strategist position opened up at e2 – an agency that creates both visual and spatial brand experiences underpinned by strategic insights – worlds collided and I seemingly found my niche.

Paul Berkemeier architect - identity

Based on Wim Crouwel's 'Gridnik' typeface, the new identity explores notions of movement, massing and multiplicity, while quietly referencing Paul's Dutch heritage

What was your strategy for finding a job after college?
It’s kind of odd looking back on it, but to be honest, I didn’t apply for any jobs post-uni. If you had asked me for a strategy three weeks out from graduation, I would have sold you a combination of clichés: ‘strike while the iron’s hot’, ‘the early bird catches the worm’, ‘more is more’. The truth of the matter is, that by the time graduation rolled around, the race was already three-quarters run.

Potential employers are far savvier than most graduates give them credit for. They have ears to the ground and eyes widely peeled. They’re typically very astute at thin slicing through the stampede of portfolios that stream across their desks every November. To that end, I’ve found no amount of portfolio grooming can ever compete with the resonance of a personal testimonial or, better yet, an existing personal relationship.

In this sense, Billy Blue offers an almost unfair leg-up into the industry, for those who truly want it. The ever zealous younger brother, Billy Blue exposes students to working professionals across a variety of extracurricular platforms. It’s a strategy that pays off in the long run for those who are prepared to engage beyond the confines of course work.

Post [my] grad exhibition, I received six or seven emails from interested employers – a surreal and unexpected reality. Several of these eventuated in internships and, in the case of e2 a few months later, a job offer.

Smile, You've Been Pegged! - Viral. An experiment into the distribution of visual memes. The smiling logo (designed by William Sun), was developed to promote social benevolence in Sydney


Printed onto hundreds of swing tags and attached to wooden pegs, the 'smiles' were covertly clipped one-by-one onto unsuspecting strangers, front doors and letter boxes

What areas of your life have changed dramatically since graduating?
Beyond Monday morning WIPs and Friday afternoon drinks, working life mimics uni life surprisingly well. Many of the same home truths still ring true: briefs still shift, deadlines still loom and the greatest moments of clarity are still to be found on the glass shower wall.

What has been the most unexpected experience of your professional practice thus far?
Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of working at e2 is the flatness of hierarchy. Everyone has a voice and the interdisciplinary nature of the studio means the lines between the individual departments are being increasingly blurred. What results is a culture of collaboration that opens the door to divergent thinking and, ultimately, more innovative design solutions.

If you could change one element of your current working environment, what would it be?
More hours in the day!

Mark Gowing Interview - Research. As part of a research project exploring various modes of studio management, an interview was conducted with Sydney based designer, Mark Gowing

Inside the project


Do you have a personal vision/strategy for your professional career?
I’ve never viewed professional growth as a vertical trajectory. Perhaps one of the greatest opportunities the design industry affords is the ability to shift sideways across disciplines, as much as upwards. While for now my focus is firmly embedded in exploring the limits of my new job, I am equally excited by the unpredictable prospects the future holds. In the long-term, I see myself working in increasingly smaller agencies on increasingly larger projects. Small, agile and specialised is the way forward.

Any words of wisdom you would like to share with young designers pursuing a career in design?
Embrace every opportunity you’re offered – it’s the unexpected encounters that bring about the most surprising change.


From desktop magazine.

Images are copyright by Paul O’Connor.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *