Me: Andrew Johnstone

Published:  May 14, 2011
Me: Andrew Johnstone

Each month desktop asks a creative to write about their background, inspirations, mentors and views on design.

Creator of Design is Kinky, Empty and co-creator of the Semi-Permanent creative conferences, Andrew Johnstone has been involved with the design community both in Australia and internationally for over 12 years.

Words: Andrew Johnstone

Talking about design bores the hell out of me.
I’ve never been interested in dissecting or discussing design or art. I’m more interested in the gut reaction that you get when you look at a piece of work. You either like it or you don’t. To me, that is basically what it comes down to. No amount of theorising will really change that and I’ve always based my reaction to any piece of work on that first feeling you get. It’s usually the correct one.

Most of my day is spent looking at art. I’m constantly amazed by the fact that I have somehow created a life where my job is to basically look at art and photography all day. It’s a lot of fun and I’m humbled on a daily basis by the amazing talent that I get to interact with.

After nine years I still enjoy every minute running Semi-Permanent. My business partner Murray Bell and I have a lot of fun running Semi-Permanent. Nine years in and we still feel like each event is our first, and always feel that nervous energy when we launch a new year’s worth of events. The most fun is picking and contacting the speakers. Each time we receive a positive response, it feels great, even after having more than 150 speakers. Hopping on stage to introduce the event still gives us butterflies, even after doing it 20-odd times. We enjoy it as much as the audience – this is why we keep running the event.

I don’t buy or read magazines. I think magazines have the capacity to be amazing, but personally find most lack any content that really speaks to me. I also have a hard time dealing with the large amount of ads that most magazines run. I know the commercial realities of advertising, but don’t really feel the urge to part with cash for what is essentially a catalogue. I guess this is why I started Empty and still run it with no ads and purely creative content. I wanted to not just bitch and moan, but actually put out a product that was different.

Andrew Johnstone


A trip to the Mount Cook National Park last year changed my philosophy on travel. I had always travelled to cities. Mainly in Europe or the US. But a few days in the breathtakingly beautiful Mount Cook area of the South Island of New Zealand last year made me realise that getting out of the cities was the way to go. I hiked alone one day through the Hooker Valley and was astounded by what I was seeing. It really opened my eyes to nature and our planet and how we sorry arsed humans will never be able to create anything that comes even close to being as beautiful. This is possibly something I should have realised many years earlier, but it was still a great lesson to learn and trips since to Iceland and the Nepalese Himalayas have definitely confirmed this new travel philosophy.

I’ve only actually seen a few presentations at Semi-Permanent. Obviously, during the event we are pretty busy, so I generally don’t get to see much of the presentations. It can make it a little difficult when a speaker asks you what you thought of theirs. Of course I always say they were great, they generally are, but my annoying sense of honesty means I’ll be honest and tell them I didn’t see too much of it. They understand, of course, but sometimes I wonder if they’re a little insulted. I hope not.

Ashley Gilbertson made people cry. Photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson, who spoke at our 2010 Sydney event, had a fair chunk of the audience in tears. His subject matter, a photo series of the empty bedrooms of soldiers who had died in Iraq, was highly emotional and his deep passion and respect for the families and soldiers themselves came through in his descriptions of each. I came into the auditorium wondering what was happening as I had never heard it so quiet. As I wandered through the 2000-plus crowd, I saw a lot of red eyes and many hankies or shirt sleeves being used to dab away the tears. After five minutes, I was also quite red eyed. We have had many amazing presentations, but Ashley’s will always stand out for the emotional reaction that he received from the audience.

Andrew Johnstone

My dislike of modern media practices borders on psychotic. I’m a fairly critical guy, but don’t hate many things. One thing I do hate with a passion that sometimes even scares me is today’s mainstream and tabloid media. Its dishonesty, lack of integrity and dirtbag-ness makes me physically angry and, due to this, I’ve pretty much stopped watching or reading any form of news. Some may argue this makes me more stupid, and they’d be right, but I also think that people who actually believe what they read or see from pretty much 95 percent of news outlets these days need their heads checked themselves. And don’t even get me started on celebrity tabloid magazines… grrrrr.

I believe in doing what feels right. I don’t profess to know anything really. But one thing I have always felt is that you need to do what feels right to you. Following your own path, whether in business or your personal life, is the only way you’ll ever really enjoy yourself. Don’t let what other people think affect your decisions, as ultimately what you do will not feel right. This is the philosophy I have always used. When starting Design is Kinky, when creating Semi-Permanent, when starting Empty, I, and the people I worked with, did what we felt was best and then hoped others would enjoy it. Thankfully they did, although even if they didn’t, I personally would rather fail doing what I wanted than what I thought others would like.

Photography: Farida Mathers
Assistant: Lewis Onley

3 Responses

  1. It is great to read news things about you Andrew! Thanks for sharing all of this.

  2. Claudio kirac

    AJ Love.!
    All the Way.!

  3. Hey Andrew
    All this shit is so boring. Really. The webs just oozes it. You’re lost in the crowd in there. Same old same old

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