Wrap-up: AGDA VIC Question Time #2

Published:  June 26, 2012
Anita Ryley
Wrap-up: AGDA VIC Question Time #2

In this bi-monthly series, Anita Ryley from Seesaw will provide a useful wrap-up of each AGDA VIC Question Time.

Question Time is a monthly AGDA Victoria event where three creatives are invited to sit beneath the spotlight. Question Time provides the platform for the audience to ask questions related to professional practice, design process and the creative industry. The aim is to promote open, stimulating dialogue between students, young designers and established professionals.

Below is a highlight of April 2012′s panel consisting of Wendy Ellerton (designer, Studio Round), Jack Mussett (creative director, Motherbird) and Brendan McKnight (editor, desktop magazine).


Do you do anything to encourage studio culture and creativity?
Jack Mussett: We are really big on studio culture. We have a chalk board and go nuts on that once a month. We’re always on Twitter, listen to loud music, swear at each other. It is a pretty relaxed environment. We try not to be stuck on computers. In terms of creative processes we use our hands a lot. Most things end up the computer but we try not to just sit there all day.

Brendan McKnight: As soon as I visit a studio, I get a sense of that studio’s culture. Some studios try to foster that culture and even give staff personal development days so to develop their skills and get inspired. Some studios stop working on Friday afternoons and focus on studio projects or activities. Alt in New Zealand have lunch together every day and they take it in turns to cook for each other. It really creates a family environment.

AGDA Question Time at CATC campus in Melbourne's CBD

Left to right: Wendy Ellerton. Brendan McKnight and Jack Mussett

What as been the most difficult thing you had to learn in each of your careers?
Wendy Ellerton: The transition between University and industry is such a large jump. For one or two graduates it is an easy transition, but for most just finding someone who will give you a go is challenging. It is about being in the right place at the right time, and making the right contacts. Now as a senior designer the biggest challenge is time management – learning how to cope with a million questions, 50 emails a day and being creative in a short amount of time. These lessons can’t be taught at University and primarily it’s about teaching yourself how to cope.

BM: My biggest learning curve was how to run a magazine. Just a small thing. When I started at desktop, I was online editor so I didn’t have much to do with the actual magazine. I was then given the editor’s role. I had to decide what I wanted desktop to be and then had the ability to make it happen. It was exciting yet challenging.

JM: I want to say putting headers and footers in Microsoft Word. But seriously, starting a business straight out of a University was a huge learning curve. It’s all the things University doesn’t prepare you for – managing a business, managing people around you, accounts, time management. It would be great to be able to sit down all day and just be creative but in reality half the day is taken up with calling people, emailing people, running a small business. I had an Industry Placement year at University and used to wonder what a studio manager did. I never understood that role until I had to do it myself. The amount of work involved is huge and it is probably some of the most important work in a small business.

In regards to the transition from University to industry, should you hold out for the job that is perfect for you? Should you turn down a job that isn’t your dream job?
JM: You can always leave a job. You should take a job where you can learn something and then work your way up from there. You can’t just hold out for your dream studio.

Brendan, with the re-branding the magazine what type of research did you do to create the final product?
BM: We had a few months of research. I went to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and I spoke with anyone from students and creative directors through to people who knew the magazine, people who didn’t know the magazine, people who loved it, people who hated it. I asked them what they wanted from an Australian design magazine and we also conducted focus groups. Everyone seemed to have the same vision as I did so the direction was a logical step. We also had a reader survey which all contributed to the current version.

Jack, in regards to running your own studio, do you think you should get experience in another studio first or just jump in and start a business?
JM: We are fortunate that it clicked into place but I would definitely recommend working in a studio first and in hindsight I would have liked more time in a studio. It just makes the learning curve less steep and allows you to figure out what sort of studio you want to create.

Where do you draw the line as to what you think is best and what the client thinks is best?
JM: Good question because that happens almost every day. You have to pick your battles. Usually if we believe that it is going to be a great folio project we really fight for it. We do that regularly. If they are a small start up we often suggest that the client puts more money into production rather than design so we can therefore create something we are proud of.

WE: You have to accept that aesthetically things won’t always suit your personal taste. I do dig my heels in when I believe the solution isn’t communicating to the audience anymore or if it isn’t answering the brief. Test the client’s ideas, shape them and resolve them – or compromise. Knowing when to say no is always the challenge.

All of you and the places you work have had an influence on Melbourne and Australian design. What do you think of following trends or a studio having a style?
JM: Influences are everywhere – we all look at blogs and Twitter. We try not to look at too many graphic design influences and are often inspired by art and music. Certain studios and individuals do have styles, but personally we try not to have a definite style. Recently I was speaking to someone who was stressing the importance of having a style, I disagreed with them as I really don’t want to be doing the same thing for the rest of my life. I guess it depends where you position yourself.

BM: I think some studios have a style but often the thinking behind each project is always unique. I don’t think it is bad for a studio to have a style but there are so many regurgitated trends which many younger designers and students copy.

WE: The learning for me always comes from looking at the content and to trying to understand the problem. I don’t really look at graphic design blogs, I would read a book about something other than graphic design – but in saying this I still try to keep up to date with what’s happening trend-wise and to be conscious of what else is happening in the industry. I am also a teacher, I have students who are always ‘on trend’. The problem is when you show your work a year from now, your work will be dated and perhaps like some of it might simply looked copied. You need to have some timeless solutions.

When you are looking at folios would you prefer to see a varied folio or a trend driven folio?
JM: I prefer varied. I like something with substance showcasing a broad range of skills. I don’t want someone with the same ‘style’ or set of skills as what we already have.

WE: It isn’t about designing a folio for your interview but it about coming up with the right solution for each individual project in your folio. Showcase who you are – I wouldn’t just target your folio to a specific studio.

BM: You need to show you own personality and point of view as a designer. Most studios don’t want someone who can just fit into that studio style. They want someone who can think on their own feet, bring their own style and new ideas to the studio.

Do you ever have creative block and how do you get over that?
JM: Sit there longer. Seriously, we listen to music or go for a walk and come back to it later. It is hard when things are urgent and you really need to get it done. Unfortunately it is part and parcel of graphic design.


*The answers above are not verbatim and have been edited to comply with space restrictions.

AGDA would like to thank Wendy, Jack and Brendan for being part of the panel. Do you have your own questions to ask? Question Time runs monthly (and is free for members and $25 for non members).

Missed the first Question Time wrap up? Read it here.

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