Australian designers are world class, “leaders” of global industry, say judges

Published:  October 8, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

During the judging of the AGDA Awards, Shane Greeves, global ECD of Futurebrand London, met with Richard Curtis, CEO Futurebrand Australia, and discussed what Australian design looks like from the outside looking in. Greeves had some notable praises for the current state of Australian design, and how we could be even better.

Peter Roper (PR), of Marketing Magazine, opened the discussion.

SG: Shane Greeves, global ECD, Futurebrand, and chair of judges of AGDA awards.
RC: Richard Curtis, CEO, Futurebrand Australia.

PR: For any profession, there’s an argument that working in – or being exposed to – other parts of the world is really good for career progression. It’s almost a rite of passage that to make it, you can’t just stay in Australia. Is this an inferiority complex?

SG: Australian designers, in general, are very passionate. And they’re eclectic -  you only have to look at Melbourne and you see all the different trends from all over the world that are here in the city, but also retaining that ‘Australianness’. I travel a lot and see lots of different things, so [as a judge] I’m looking for trends that makes design work uniquely Australian. And what I have noticed is this eclecticism -  you see the best bits of everything brought together and that’s kind of why it works.

So, I don’t know whether that’s true. I did a little talk with the other judges. I said, “Look behind you on the table. There’s about 40 pieces of work in one category that we may have selected, but some of those could have been a one-man band in Bendigo or a ten-man band in Sydney, or a 20-man band in Melbourne.” In Australia – where AGDA informed me most studios were very small – but they still have the same access, go to the same colleges and have potentially experienced Europe, just like the bigger guys.

My point is that when I looked at the work across the table, you couldn’t say “Oh that’s clearly come from a bigger agency.” It could have been the tiny studio studio in a smaller state that’s done that piece of work that’s got through judging.

I still felt that, in Australia, we have to watch out for being too influenced by Europe and America, and that we don’t mimic exactly what they’re doing, and then do an average version of what they’re doing. We saw a few influences from America coming through in the packaging category, and in corporate identity, the influences tended to be more European.

RC: I don’t think there’s an inferiority complex, but I think there is an opportunity for Australian design to formulate its own identity and to not fall into that convenient trap of being derivative.

SG: Everywhere in the world, there are always examples of mimicking because that’s what we designers do – we subconsciously like things and we mimic them. As a judge, I was looking for things that are breaking the mould in the market, or being brave. When you’re judging awards, you are wondering, “What at the things that are different, that start a trend?” It’s when it’s pushing design forward in this country.

RC: So when you were first asked to be Chair of the jury, what were your expectations around the type of work that you would find?

SG: I think what a lot of Australians are not that aware of, is that the design work here is not just of a high standard, it’s world class. It’s actually a lot better than some of the work elsewhere, and so because they’re here they’re not aware of that.

RC: Australian agencies have been represented pretty well at global awards like REBRAND and Brand New. Fiji Airways, Opera Australia, Optus, by FutureBrand, Interbrand and Re – and Frost* as well – have all picked up global accolades. But, it’s refreshing to hear that it’s justified.

SG: AGDA has just rebranded, they are forming a new board and the structure is evolving, so with my lens I was able to compare it to other international platforms like D&AD and Cannes Creative. And I was able to say to Nick Eldridge [acting AGDA CEO] and the jury, that the online judging process they had set up was so advanced that Jonathan Ellery [Browns Design, UK] and I  thought that piece of kit is amazing, it’s better than D&AD, and it’s probably better than what Cannes have got. And again, they didn’t know that.

RC: So conversely, do you think, with the work you’ve done globally, what’s the Australian point of view that’s informed your work?

SG: It’s kind of a braveness, not scared to try things or different things, and it’s that whole kind of discovery, that’s in Australia’s history – explorers that went out and explored the land –  and across Australia there was this braveness.

RC: But I think there is an opportunity for the Australian design industry to become far more supportive than it currently is, it’s quite siloed, and quite competitive – and not in a healthy way.

SG: There’s this ‘state’ thing. Being on the outside, I’m not aware of it, I just come into Australia and I hear people talking about it. There’s supposed to be this competition between Sydney and Melbourne, and when I hear that I get really annoyed because I just think it’s unhealthy.  You’re Australian designers representing Australian design and it doesn’t matter whether you’re from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Tasmania.

Say, for example, you’re doing an FMCG piece for a famous Australian packaging brand, and you’ve taken what’s been around for a long time and ‘moved the dial slightly to the left’, just a bit, but enough change to move that brand on. That’s brave. I think designers that do much more creative work, and have more freedom, look at those pieces and don’t quite understand what it’s taken for that brand to move. It might not small, but it’s a massive thing. So, it’s making sure that Australian designers, looking at this work, realise the parameters around the client and the client’s needs. It is really pushing the boundaries of design in that space, as opposed to doing something from scratch and you’ve got no real boundaries. Being supportive and talking to one another helps make sure people realise that, really.

I think they should celebrate it altogether, get rid of this Sydney, Melbourne stuff. In London we don’t say, “the guys up north” and “the guys down in the south”, it just doesn’t happen, and you don’t get it in the States or anywhere like that, so I think let’s all support each other and build what is a great piece of work, or can be great in Australia as far as collaboration goes, really.


Main image: Collier & Company Identity Launch, by Cato Hibberd. Via

One Response

  1. TooTrue

    As well as challenging the incredibly boring rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney designers, there should also be a more concerted effort by the so-called authorities on design discourse and practice in Australia to look more critically at the entrenched dominance of homogeneous, western male notions of quality and non-collaborative methology in graphic design today. Recently The Kingpins (an all female performance art group from Sydney) were commissioned to create the cover for the D&AD annual for 2014 and raised some really interesting ideas about the Australian aesthetic (drag and horror being two examples). Designers should challenge themselves to analysis and push these ideas further and work to establish a culture that celebrates and adds to the diverse visual culture of our own region, not simply regurgitate those propagated in the northern hemisphere.

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