Challenge The Conventional.

Last night I hit up the Apple store on George St, in the CBD for Insight #8, (Insight is a series of creative talks held once a month at the Apple store) featuring none other than Toko Design.

This was my first time at one of the Insight talks, and hearing only great things from them, I was expecting to walk out full of ideas + inspiration… And I was not disappointed!

The Toko duo of Michael and Eva have a pretty interesting outlook on the world of design, and they brought up a lot of valid points, good and bad, about the way we work as designers, and the future prospects of the creative industry.

At the beginning of the talk they mentioned about working at Studio Dumbar in the Netherlands (they are originally from there, they moved to Australia 5 or 6 years ago), and how the values & vision of the studio really shaped them as designers. One thing that really stood out to me, and something I have always had similar thoughts on, is that Dumbar do not class their designers on their experience, ie, there are no ‘junior, mid weight and senior’ designers, you are just a designer. That’s it. Sure, someone else might have 10 years experience in the industry on you, but what’s to say your ideas & concepts might not fit the brief better & have more of an interaction with the audience than those with 3x your years working in the industry?

I’ve heard a few people mention about junior designers taking whatever job they can get, at the biggest hot shot agencies, just to get a foot in the door. I can understand this, but I think there has to be a line, at what point are you the ‘junior designer’, and at what point are you the ‘office bitch’, making coffee, doing admin jobs, and rarely using your skills as a designer?

I realise that there is a process to everything, and you can’t just jump straight into the most amazing job ever, and work on huge branding projects, or advertising campaigns, but I think junior designers should be encouraged more, and not just thrown the shit jobs 24/7 because they have no experience, or god forbid, ‘might stuff it up’. They need to be given a chance to prove themselves, and show what they can commit to a project/company.

Another point they touched on once or twice throughout the presentation, is how we sometimes focus too much on just making things look good, and lack reasoning behind the concept of a project. They talked about how the design process differs from country to country, something I found quite interesting. Eva mentioned that in Northern Europe the design schools focus pretty much only on the concept & idea behind projects, and less on the ‘making it look perfect’ aspect.

Of course as designers, making things look good is part of our job, but I think it’s also up to us to make more of a connection between the artwork + the audience. And this all lies in the original idea, and how well developed it is. Sure, it can look amazing, but what does it mean? I admit 100% that I focus too much on just ‘making things look good’, and let the concept behind the project go by the way side a little, and this is something I intend to work on.

With the number of graduates growing by the year, I think it’s getting more & more important to distance yourself from the conforms of the creative industry, and as Toko put it, ‘challenge conventional notions of practice’. Question everything. Why are you a designer? What do you actually want to do with your skills? Why copy everyone else, why not do your own thing?

Eva mentioned how they barely own any design books, and they never look at design blogs, and rely on their experience in life for their inspiration, and also the feeling they get from the brief & the client.

The more I think about it, the more I think this really is the way design should be. It also relates back to a project of my own, 16HOURS Magazine, where we encourage people to get outside & experience life to find their inspiration. There is so much more to be said for your travels, people you have met, sights you have seen, and so on, than there is for that sneaky Inspiration folder on your desktop, that is really home to hundreds of ‘stolen’ images. Right?

In saying this, it’s awesome to follow other designers & see what they are up to, but I think its becoming more important to stop drawing on others work for your inspiration/ideas. Distancing yourself from the norm is whats going get you places I think.

Drawing on your interaction with a client, and own personal experiences are going to make for a much more interesting project next time you have to explain your reasoning behind why you did something the way you did. Don’t you think?

I have another personal project I am working on, which I’m pretty excited about, and something I think could be pretty cool, and inspirational! I will share more details as I near the end of the project, but for this I’ve decided to ditch the endless hours of surfing the internet for inspiration, and purely draw on my own experience, and places I’ve been, to fuel the concept & design. There will be no ‘inspiration’ folder, there will be no 5 page printouts of other work I am fond of. There will only be photos from my adventures, quotes from great minds, and my pencil + paper. I’m interested/excited to see how this project ends up, and how the process may change the outcome/reception.

Time to start taking my own advice. Focus on the concept & the process, and not so much on the perfection of the design, and rely less on what’s doing the rounds on the internet, and more on my experiences & what’s outside.

Would love to hear any thoughts on this!

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6 Responses to “Challenge The Conventional.”


  1. 1 Amy Potter October 27, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I am actually thinking you might be my thought-twin, separated at birth! I could not agree with you more. I also wish there were more talks like this in Wellington…

    My inspiration folder is bursting at the seams full of all sorts of stuff from my own photography to fffound images. But I guess that comes back down to the sad fact that as a ‘junior’ designer chained to my desk, I don’t get a whole lot of time to go out and get inspiration from the world day-to-day. Lunch breaks are 60minutes of quickly making or buying food, checking freelance emails, checking a few blogs, running errands etc. This year I have focused on trying to buy books that aren’t just catalogs of other people’s design work.

    I really hope it is in my future to have more control over my time spent designing and how I get inspired. I admire your commitment to side projects! I think I need to put more time into designing for ‘me’.

    I am also 100% guilty of too often ‘just making it look good’. Great post though! Thought provoking.

    • 2 SianRicho October 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Haha! Yeah that’s one thing I found about moving here, there is ALWAYS some creative talk/exhibition/etc to go and have a look at. I can’t keep up with it all!

      I’m hearing you on the ‘junior’ designer chained to the desk thing, as you probs know. That’s another thing I’m trying to do, build up my collection of design books/books in general, and not specifically examples of other peoples work, more about their stories etc.

      Thanks heaps! I only discovered the awesomeness of the personal project earlier this year, but as you can tell, I’m obsessed! They are what drive me. No one telling you what to do.

  2. 3 Rachel Magahy October 27, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    I love this post Sian, you’ve nailed it. The concept of looking inside yourself and drawing on your experiences for inspiration instead of other people’s work/ the interweb is such a good one. The thing with other people’s work is that it’s already been done. And yes, nothing is entirely original or new anymore, but if your work comes organically from YOUR OWN experiences, the result is always more interesting (and more rewarding for you). I also think that when you see the way other people do things, you strive to do it the same/ slightly better than them.. instead of letting your own imagination go nuts and see what comes out. Time outside, time away from the computer, from the influence of other people/ blogs etc is essential. Can’t wait to hear about your new project! xxx

    • 4 SianRicho October 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm

      You said it!
      I think it’s a lot more rewarding when you purely rely on your own experience & instincts to lead you.
      Sure, you can ‘get places’ by riding on the expertise & ideas from others, but I don’t think it lasts. People take so much more notice when there are real ideas behind the graphics, and something they can relate to, not just something that looks pretty.
      Can’t wait to share my wee new project, it’s a semi big/good one hopefully! xx


  1. 1 Sneako Peeko « T W E L V E B Y O N E Trackback on October 31, 2011 at 10:48 pm
  2. 2 Emily Macrae « T W E L V E B Y O N E Trackback on December 2, 2011 at 10:52 am

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Hey! I'm Sian, and I’m a free-spirited creative wizard. I have a passion for working with people who are on a mission to live their dream lives, and are electrified by the unknown beauty that the future holds. Twelve by One is my place to share awesome finds + write about this amazing world we're living in. Read more here!

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*All photos are my own unless otherwise stated. Please credit me if you're going to post them anywhere. Thanks yo!

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