Well, then. That’s a wrap. Another year, another conference, another masterfully crafted suit donned by Craftmaster Murray, and another wonderful audience to show it all off to. Thank you. You keep us going, you really do.
Of course, where would we be without our fabulous lineup of speakers and their uniquely captivating stories? 2014 allowed us to showcase seven incredible speakers across Australia and the globe. Six incredible stories, buckets of insights into exactly what it takes to make something from start to finish, and more inspiration than we know what to do with. We cannot thank you enough.
So, here’s the recap of exactly what went down at this year’s conference, courtesy of your golden friends at Sex, Drugs & Helvetica. Whether you missed it or want to re-live it, we’ve got you covered.
“Restraint doesn’t mean the graphic designer hasn’t done their job. In some ways, it means the graphic designer’s done an incredible job. They’ve said, ‘That’s all we need to do’. In some ways, I think minimalism and constraint is much harder than doing all the stuff on top.”
Talking us through the sheer difficulty of solving artwork for albums, Chris, like the design wizard he is, conjured a wonderfully thought-provoking dialogue surrounding the idea of “art in response to art”. His design process and not-so-design process for indie-pop sweethearts The Jezabels’ 2013 LP The Brink underwent his typical concept development phase – finding the themes he could cling to and flesh out into visual representations. He found an answer. It was presented, it was approved, it was… unapproved. It just didn’t feel right to the band.
The deadline panic set in and Chris entered a moodboard phase of grabbing “interesting” images, mocking up cover samples and generally feeling uncomfortable making big, conceptual leaps without having rationale behind the decisions. He was flicking through blogs when he found what would become the cover image – a piece by Polish artist Jarek Puczel. The band loved it. For a long time, Chris wrestled with the fact he’d gone through an elaborate creative process that didn’t meet the mark. Going with something based on a feeling, rather than a thorough brief-smashing rationale was uncomfortable. In the end, it was someone else’s work. Chris had become a service provider – a curator – of art in response to art.
“It took me a while but eventually it swung over and my satisfaction around how beautiful the image is started to outweigh my insecurities around not solving the problem myself,” he said. He learnt that not knowing the answer is sometimes a good thing because it opens us up to new ways of thinking. At the end of the day, he’s kind of proud of it, he likes it, but he didn’t do it. And that’s okay.
Above all, however, the most important part of the presentation was the revelation that Christopher Doyle spent the better part of a decade as frontman of a mildly successful Australian screamo band.
“The strength of a good idea and solidarity with our client triumphed, and the integrity of the design from the initial pitch stood strong.”
For obvious reasons, pitching is not often something the folk at Fabio Ongarato Design do. But in the instance of RMIT’s Design Hub identity, coupled with an articulate and well-written brief, the ingredients just seemed right – amazing architect, great vision, unique institution and a rare opportunity to give something back to the design community.
Their response to the brief was strong. The last thing they wanted to do was introduce another logo into the sea of logos already keeping the SS RMIT afloat. They developed a concept built on layering, screens and the unity of the varying components of the hub. What they loved about the project was that it emphasised one of their core values – an idea at the heart of everything they do. It is a prime example of the way print and identity can relate to the built environment.
They won the pitch because it “spoke back” to the client. The client said it wasn’t until someone gave it back to them in a design form, where Fabio and Ronnen had visualised the words they put on paper, that they started to see their project actualise. With very few changes, counting their blessings, Fabio and Ronnen quickly worked to get things locked down. That’s when another stakeholder interjected. Everything came to a halt. They wanted the identity for the Design Hub to conform to the rest of RMIT’s collateral – a pigeonhole approach that lacked understanding of the hub’s audience and its need to be flexible, morph and speak to the wider design community. Square peg, round hole.
This was not the only challenge the project faced courtesy of external stakeholders. In the words of Fabio, “Design in itself is a journey and you can never see what’s coming around the corner.” Almost two years later, the project was completed. After constant battles and countless presentations, the strength of their work came back to having a clear brief and impeccable rationale – giving them something to stand on and believe in when fighting for their ideas.
“The time has changed where you lock down a whole identity and it will be that way forever. It’s now a time where, as designers, we begin a process and, hopefully, are able to just hand it on and allow others to be able to be part of that.”
A hotel identity was something entirely unique for the team at Round. After a year of conversations with the client, they commenced work on the project. They explored a crossover between “default” and reappropriating old work with new context, inspired by the ideas of Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
They wanted the name to be very default. Hotel Hotel. A place for people people. They looked at the beg/borrow/steal premise – they didn’t want to create more but less. They went on a scavenger hunt for discarded and excess hotel materials and stock to print on. They stole quotes, pencils, laundry bags. Why make anything new when there’s so much disused material out there? But, of course, there were copyright and ownership boundaries, so the creative was pulled back slightly. Still, they wanted the identity to deliver, so they created a kit – luggage tags, in-room snacks, embossers for wax seals, toiletry bags. Right down to email signatures and booking confirmations, they held on to the cheeky tone-of-voice they’d developed.
They are no longer working on Hotel Hotel but believe it’s going to be an identity that will keep evolving. Michaela left us with this: “We need a new design integrity. We redirect creative energy, redefine the lifecycle, we add ongoing value. We start with what’s easily available. We want sensible innovation, we want everyone to participate, we create new owners, we enable you to share.”
“We need to be better at accepting life and that it changes and evolves. We need to adapt to that. Because I’m not going to have two lives and we have to be able to accept that if we want females to keep going.”
Of course, with such an inspirational female design presence on stage, it was only natural the Q&A session pivoted to the topic of women in design. In her early career, the industry was mostly men. She once spent six months on a project only to be told the client didn’t want her to present because she’s a woman. Michaela says things are changing for the better, though. She has been bringing her daughter Eva into the studio since she was born and she mostly touches on that point.
“There’s still a lot of change that needs to happen in the industry but, as a society, we need to be better at understanding that both the elderly and children need to be part of our society.”
Basically Beyoncé of the design industry. Just sayin’.
“Not only is technology able to help you build things, but you can work with anyone else and, together, achieve the most outrageous ideas in a very short amount of time.”
At the core of Tim’s presentation was an emphasis on the importance of collaboration – of building relationships with other people and working together. Why? Simply, because the work gets better. He used the case study of his involvement with The Most Powerful Arm – an initiative developed to raise money for children with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Tim worked alongside some very clever, passionate, courageous and trustworthy people. They approached the project like this: “I don’t yet know how, but one day we will be able to help you.” And then Tim was emailed a video of a prototype – a robotic arm that could write like a human based on pattern-recognition technology. In a way, it was the beginning of the project. A petition-signing robot.
Four agencies collaborated, each with a certain cause and because each knew how to do something really well. The entire timeline for the project was six to eight weeks. They garnered support and got other stakeholders on board. They created a logo and website for the robotic arm. A photo of the robot signing your name for you as you supported the campaign. A video explaining the campaign. It’s very moving and couldn’t have come together without a multi-faceted team.
Tim talked about immediacy – how everything now moves instantly with technology. He made reference to Sir Ken Robinson: “On the internet, we haven’t got all minute”. As a creative, there’s an immense reward in seeing feedback immediately. In this day and age, we’ve come to accept things like Facebook as just an extension of our natural identity.
Above all, Tim’s mantra is to stay curious.
“I think we’re very lucky to be in the job we are in. It might not always have the highest wages, but what we do is so interesting because we can dive into an industry or technology trend, we can explore cultures, and we can move on. We can keep exploring what other people need from us to communicate better.”
“In those moments of doubt, if you think you’re building something with value, something you really want to give the world, you need to believe in it.”
When you’re building a brand, you’re in it every day. You have to do everything. Kevin’s presentation taught us about the importance of believing in an idea. He talked us through the trials and tribulations of building his own brand – DESIGNerd. He wanted to gamify design education. He created the game, developed it, designed it and sent it off to be printed in China. From concept to launch, it took one year. Then there was pricing, promoting, app development etc. During this stage, due to personal circumstances, Kevin took some time off from DESIGNerd. He said, “We think life gets in the way, but actually, life happens.” It’s important to make time for it.
Later, an app for the game was developed, tested and went live. He received positive feedback from people like Stefan Sagmeister, Debbie Millman and Steven Heller. Having people tell him they were enjoying what he’d done was incredibly satisfying but also helped to encourage him to keep doing what he was doing because there was value in his work. DESIGNerd has been touted, “the perfect tool for education”. Kevin wants to contribute to education. He thinks we need to build a deeper understanding of the influencing moments and people in design – “I don’t think we can know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve come from.” He thinks we need to look at design as a way of thinking, rather than pumping out graphic designers who only know aesthetic. Design is so much more than aesthetic. There is so much value in being able to communicate and articulate our work.
Kevin emphasised the amount of time, commitment and money launching a product takes, noting that collaboration is key. It’s a tiring process, filled with self-doubt, and it takes belief.
“It’s taken me a long time, but I really believe in this as a tool for education, as a brand that can hopefully be an education platform to work with other education institutes, and it’s built on a very personal journey. I love design and I want to celebrate it. I’m a design nerd.”
“As designers, you have to have a thick skin and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Michael made no hesitation in reiterating the difficulty of this project from the start. “Everything I show you, we had to fight for. Everything was a battle,” he said. They wanted to step out of their comfort zone. So when they were approached to create an identity for Ukrainian TV channel 1+1 and told they’d be collaborating with Russian illustrator Edik, they were up for the challenge. Michael didn’t want to be known as the “token print guy” and it offered the chance at a different style of design. A trip to Barcelona for a one-hour meeting with a Ukrainian client later, they were off. Little did they realise.
Michael likened presenting the first round of proposals to a client to the first time you fart in front of your significant other – it’s nerve-wracking and you’re laying yourself bare. There are three possible responses: a) deadpan, b) ew, and c) laughter. It was “b”. They got a “right good kicking”. Michael realised they weren’t looking at the project from a digital perspective and the negative feedback they received was spot on.
They finished the creative and knuckled down on the guidelines, which he said are incredibly important. When you hand over a job, your client should be able to take it from there. If they can’t take over the product and branding then you haven’t done your job properly. As designers, it’s our job to demonstrate systems. You need to give them everything they need to make your system work.
Of all the negative feedback they received, this line was possibly the most harsh: “I thought you were supposed to be good?”. Ouch.
Michael said they took the feedback incredibly personally initially. He understood there was stress on both sides, but it took a couple of years to be okay with the feedback. Once he stepped back, he was able to look at it as just a job and take it in his stride.