Catching up with A Friend of Mine

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Published:  May 3, 2016
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Two years ago, desktop conducted our first professional peer poll, asking respected designers and studios across Australia to tell us who in the industry inspires them. When we asked “Who is at the top of their game in art direction?”, Suzy Tuxen of Melbourne studio A Friend Of Mine came up as one of the top four art directors.

Suzy-Tuxen

Launched in 2009, the studio quickly became an inspiration to many in the field and its works across design and multidisciplinary collaborations display a keen design eye that sets it apart from its contemporaries.

This year Tuxen will be representing her studio at Make Nice, a conference that brings creative female professionals to share a female perspective on the creative industries. Make Nice, to be held on 2 – 4 June, is for (but not limited to) graphic, interior, and fashion designers, curators, artists, producers, photographers, artistic directors, writers, stylists, and illustrators.

We chat with Tuxen ahead of the conference to catch up and see what A Friend Of Mine has been up to.

It’s been almost two years since we featured A Friend Of Mine. What’s been happening since you were voted as one of Australia’s top four art directors?

Thanks so much for that! We were very chuffed to be voted in the top four alongside such talented peers.

Two years, wow! Personally, I’ve since had a son Rafferty (Raffy) who is now one-and-a-half years old. So that has been interesting, adapting work to accommodate balancing time to spend with my wild little boy. Surprisingly, it hasn’t slowed us down or compromised the quality of work we are producing. Having a child makes you utilise your time extremely efficiently and there is still room for a lot of creative process despite juggling a few balls in the air. It has also allowed Cassie, who works with me, to rise to many more challenges than her previous role allowed, so I’ve been able to witness her grow in responsibility and see her flourish which is of course great.

Bibelot-Branding-Patterns-by-Suxy-TuxenYour work range from branding to interiors and even bespoke typography. What are some of your most recent projects?

Recently we’ve been working on some really fun projects such as a website, signage and packaging for Lune Croissants in Fitzroy. We had such kind and open clients which made the job a pleasure to work on, though we did encounter a few difficulties with the packaging production, such as stickers catching fire and a 10-hour press check that went until midnight.

Last year we also worked with Bibelot, a patisserie and petit gateaux store. We designed a brand identity which was based on mosaic tiling, then commissioned the signage (created in real mosaic by a local master), and translated it to different packaging in a variety of tiling patterns. The crafting of the typography almost broke us and our computers!

We also designed The Huxtaburger Book which came out last year and is now one of four shortlisted for an Australian Book Designer’s Award. It’s really fun and silly, rich with illustrations and fun photoshoots that reference science laboratories and the Huxtable family after which Huxtaburger was named.

Huxtabuger-by-Suzy-Tuxen
Huxtaburger Animation - Suzy Tuxen

What is your design / creative process like?

We a mix a lot of old and new processes and influences. We always start with pen and paper to write key words and sketch concepts, but we combine it with thorough research, Google, books of all kinds, and Pinterest to wrap our heads around the general topic. We try not to look too much at trends or other designers work too much as we really value originality.

We usually present three ideas to the client. I hate the idea of presenting something that we would not be happy living with so we refine those three ideas until we feel all are really strong viable concepts. It’s often Murphy’s Law that a client would pick your least favourite concept so we aim to avoid this possibility! By spending so much time crafting these ideas before presenting to a client means that we differ from most studios in this respect. Whilst it may not be a wise financial decision to do this, it does mean that the chosen outcome will be something that we are most likely very proud of.

Paint-by-Numbers---Suzy-TuxenYou have about 10 years experience in the design industry. What trends do you see happening recently, and especially in Australia?

Social media platforms, namely Instagram, are becoming increasingly important to businesses. Tiny Instagram icons are now becoming part of what a designer needs to consider from the beginning whilst creating a brand identity. I think animation and image creation is increasingly important within the social media sphere — so we are seeing designers collaborating with photographers, stylists, set makers, animators and so on to create engaging content tailored to social media.

What is your advice to budding designers to make an impression in an industry that is constantly evolving?

No gimmicks or crazily worded emails telling me that you love peanut butter toast please! Despite what a lot of lecturers say about ‘standing out’ when you submit a portfolio, I think this should mean making an impression by sending maturely presented, beautifully crafted, thought provoking and clever portfolios.

I personally respond much better to professional, friendly and concise emails without a lot of fluff! It’s always good to chat to people in the industry at events too — just go right up to those you admire and introduce yourself. Everybody is human and nobody is as scary as you might think they will be! Chances are you will have a nice chat with them and they will remember you in future and take note when they see your work.

The-Town-Mouse-by-Suzy-TuxenA Friend Of Mine works with various collaborators for almost all its projects. Who are you collaborating with at the moment?

Yes, we love collaborating with people especially those who are practicing other disciplines. Collaboration makes a project so much richer, you can combine different disciplinary skills to achieve more interesting, unexpected results.

At the moment we are collaborating with my bestie Ryan Ward of United Measures to create custom oak timber lettering that will be stained green for low key signage at Embla restaurant, alongside a matching green frame to house the wine list that will have an unusual internal tilt.

What are the opportunities of being a small studio?

Being a small studio allows us to really get involved personally with all our clients and projects. Every project, no matter how small, is discussed and workshopped and given a lot of thought. It makes communicating easy as there is just the one other person to chat things over with, unless we have an intern or freelancer during busier times which is always fun.

What will you be talking about at Make Nice: An Un-Conference for Creative Women?

I will be talking about what I wanted to know about before I had my son: how can a person (especially a woman) run a business and have a child at the same time? I think I might also discuss the process behind 1 or 2 projects, and the reality of running a small business and maintaining a work / life balance.


For more information about Make Nice: An Un-Conference for Creative Women, click here.

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