Frankie Ratford: wide open roads

AUTHOR:  
Published:  June 1, 2015
Heath Campbell

It’s tough out there for graduates looking to break into the industry, particularly when institutions are churning out scores of qualified designers each year. Frankie Ratford, designer, lecturer and founder of The Design Kids (TDK), sheds some light on forging your own path, and keeping your spirit alive in the process.

Photo by Molly O'Neill

Photo by Molly O’Neill

Perpetually in motion, Frankie Ratford spent a total of five days at home last year; for the other 360 she was on the road spreading the TDK love. While the rest of us are buried in the internet forging social contacts, the charismatic Ratford does her best work face-to-face: organising exhibitions, making contacts, searching out collaborators and inspiring designers of all ages.

This active positivity guided her career from the early days. Not content with getting her design education exclusively at university, Ratford worked at a total of seven different design jobs parallel to her studies. The first was a volunteer position decorating a warehouse for a music festival.

“I think that was the first time I realised graphic design at uni was quite static – not boring, but there wasn’t much life in it,” she says. “And then suddenly we’re painting walls and buying nanna lamps to cover the whole ceiling [of the warehouse] and it just blew my mind that this was part of the design world.”

Her hunger for the world outside the classroom and the attitude that ‘you have to put yourself out there’ has delivered tangible results.

The day after her graduate exhibition, where her final graduation piece – a beautiful book cover – was accidentally thrown in the bin then covered in tea bags and sundry other garbage, she went, hung over and heartbroken, to help take the exhibition down.

“No one else was there, but I bumped into a lecturer and he asked what I was doing. We started talking and he asked where I wanted to work. I said I wanted to work at Frost* and he said, ‘Yeah, I think your work is quite similar, you should hit up Ray.’ Two weeks later I was living in Sydney, working at Frost*,” says Ratford.

“I was volunteering to take down an exhibition – I didn’t have to do it. I think a lot of it is luck and also I think a lot of it is putting yourself out there.”

Ratford left her gig at Frost* after 18 months in order to pursue something she felt would help people in a direct way. TDK was born soon after. The project emerged as an online shop where students could sell their work, earn some cash and get some exposure while they studied, but it soon grew in another direction.

Photo by Stephanie-Lee Moulin

Photo by Stephanie-Lee Moulin

Photo by Luke Carson

Photo by Luke Carson

“I had no idea what I was doing, but TDK was always going to be based on industry relationships and initiatives,” she explains. The project supports the value Ratford places on understanding the context of your practice: being familiar with how the industry works, and knowing who is doing what.

“When you study design, you learn how to use Photoshop, some art history background and design thinking, but you don’t really get into the industry side of things. At TDK, we want to give [students] the tools so they can figure it out, rather than figuring it out for them,” she says.

TDK’s initiatives promote collaboration and transparency and include interviews with designers of all levels, listings of magazines, design blogs, photographers and galleries for anyone looking to put together solo or group shows. TDK also hosts yearly exhibitions where students and grads work directly with industry professionals on a collaborative piece, and studio workshops, in which students are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the studio environment and meet the designers, with the possibly of gaining employment.

“Then we have the event listing,” says Ratford. “One of the most important things is getting out and meeting people, and I think a lot of students and grads don’t really know where to start. We also run TDK Tuesdays: a fortnightly, community-building design meet-up, which runs in 10 cities.”

Recently, TDK ditched the van: instead the team went hitchhiking across New Zealand for ten weeks. To coincide with the trip, they ran an Instagram typography competition, where they invited their audience to design the hitchhiking signs. With a flood of impressive entries, we’re sure there was no shortage of rides. The signs were collected and exhibited in Auckland.

Photo by Julia Atkinson

Photo by Julia Atkinson

Sign by Amy Ohlsson

Sign by Amy Ohlsson

Winning entries by Luke Day, Nani Puspasari, Kallan & Co and Kelsi Lee Madden

Winning entries by Luke Day, Nani Puspasari, Kallan & Co and Kelsi Lee Madden

@thedesignkids

http://thedesignkids.com.au

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