Career Q&A: Nathan Drabsch

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Published:  October 4, 2012
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Career Q&A: Nathan Drabsch

In August, for our annual Careers/Education issue, we spoke to Vince Frost (creative director/CEO, Frost Design), Anita Ryley (creative director, Seesaw), Laura Cornhill (creative director, Studio Binocular) and Andrew Hoyne (Hoyne) about folios, perspectives on design education and for their general career advice.

We’ve decided to extend the invitation to one more creative director – Nathan Drabsch (creative director of The DMCI) for a perspective from the ‘Motion’ side of things.

Nathan Drabsch, Creative Director, The DMCI
Studied: Bachelor of Design: Visual Communication (UTS)
Year Graduated: 1999

What was the greatest piece of advice that you were given during your design education?
Consider the ‘rules’ of design first, then consider how best you can break them…

Should design graduates concentrate on one area and be really good at it or be an all-rounder?
Hmmm… honestly, if you want to step right into a job, you need to be able to quickly show that you can nail a particular skill or role. Long-term, a broader skillset and understanding of how it all works together is invaluable. In saying this, the more you can offer (and prove it) the greater chance of picking up work you have. Multi-skilling is future proofing ourselves though.

What is your opinion of the current state of design education and, if anything, what can be improved?
I can’t vouch for the exact current climate, but when I did study, in a time which was at the cusp of the shift into a very real digital communication space, I felt the institutions were fairly resistant or ignorant to the professional realities. There are tenants of design and communication which always hold, but the manner in which one can express these, shifts quickly.

Professionally, we now work in a very accessible, collaborative, global environment… institutions which open themselves and their students to this will do well I believe. I don’t think it is enough to cocoon oneself in an institution for a period of time and then expect to emerge as some professionally viable creative butterfly. It is strange that many institutions seem to merely prepare people for ‘work’ as such, rather than take advantage of a time of possibly true experimentation which could then actually create current leaders in the fields of design and communication. Imagine harnessing the collective creative resources of various educational institutes, across a mix of design (or other) disciplines. The results could be amazing… not to mention the value of possibly applying this to real life scenarios, problems or briefs.

What qualities impress you most about current graduates, and which skill-sets are lacking?
There is so much that comes with experience and as such, much of what is often lacking comes only with professional experience. This can play out in various ways, from how to respond to professional briefs down to how best to respond to current design trends etc. Students now have access to most of the tools of the trade and you see some amazingly skillful creative executions, using these tools. What sets students apart is the ability to harness the tools at their disposal, and then create pieces of unique design. Trends in design come and go, and unfortunately student work can often reflect what’s ‘cool’ at the time.

How important are a designer’s educational qualifications? Does it matter if they hold a degree or a masters? Does it matter what institution they went through, or what kind of education they received?
I am grateful for the design education I received. It did lay a long term foundation for my life as a designer and communicator. I am unsure if I would return to study (Masters etc.) unless I wished to immerse myself in academia. I pay considerable attention to someone’s education. Designers can offer a broader role than purely being the creators of aesthetics. We are communicators, ‘imagineers’ and inventors and as such I do believe education lays a solid foundation for this.

When hiring, do you prefer to see a physical portfolio or does an online presentation of work suffice these days?
For me, focusing predominantly on the motion mediums, online can suffice. Something I don’t see much of is the process that went into the work I am seeing. In many ways, I would find this helpful to understand and assess a designers strengths and potential.

What is the biggest challenge about being a designer that you did not think/know about when you were a student?
Balancing your own creative desires against the requirements of a professional brief. Often the planets align, sometimes they do not.

If you could start your design education again, would you do anything differently?
Yes. I would care less about meeting the structured expectations of my teachers (and peers) and look for broader ways in which I could partner with and access the collective resources of the institute to try and produce real work. I stuffed around too much, rolled with it a bit and bang, you look up and you’ve finished what is really a most precious and personal time.

What are some changing considerations for the designer of tomorrow?
I think we face some considerable creative challenges. How does one maintain true perspective, when we absorb so much and communicate in such a mix of ways? We have access to and consume seriously crazy amounts of work, imagery and communication. Unplugging, giving your mind space to truly consider, ruminate and creatively meditate on your creative endeavours is becoming a real challenge. Being disciplined with this is challenging. Being unique, authentic and original is the goal… maintaining the practice and discipline that achieves this is going to be tough for lots of us.

What would be the biggest piece of advice you would give to a student who is currently studying design today?
See above answers… but in short, identify and absorb the things which are the foundational aspects of design and communication… then do whatever the hell you want with that. Look to lead, rather than be led.

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