We'd be remiss to not include Australia in this series. It takes little effort to find talented designers and studios throughout the country.
There is an obvious vibrancy to the Australian design community, so we were curious to learn more about what drives it, what kind of job opportunities Australian designers are finding and how COVID, climate change and other global trends affect that work.
Here Amery Johnston, founder of multi-disciplinary studio Thought & Found, fills us in.
Hey Amery, let’s talk about your studio. Is it just you behind Thought & Found or are you working with a team? Why did you decide to open a studio and what kind of work do you do?
Thought & Found is a multi-disciplined design practice based in Melbourne, Australia. It had always been my little side venture during university and full-time employment as a designer & developer. Early last year, I decided to dedicate all my energy to Thought & Found and have never looked back. The studio currently consists of myself, looking to expand in the new year if all goes well!
The studio was born primarily from an enthusiasm for providing individuals, businesses and communities alike access to services that clearly communicate their intent, cause and passion. A lot of the work produced is primarily in branding, publication, web design & development sectors; often catering to not-for-profits, small business or start-ups and social justice and awareness initiatives.
I know Australia has a great arts scene, but I don’t know much about its design community. It seems vibrant and engaged based on what I see online, with many publications, events and people actively talking and writing about design. Is there indeed a strong design presence and do many platforms or events exist that help you connect with other designers?
I would say there is a strong design presence, talking from my experiences living and working in Melbourne. There are often a number of events that run throughout the year that bring our community together both locally and nationally. Events such as "Semi Permanent" (often an international line up of different creative leaders), brings our design community together. Another nationally recognized association is AGDA (Australian Graphic Design Association), which hosts numerous events throughout the year, including awards and discussions targeting both young designers and established businesses.
I’ve read Australian graphic design described as “relaxed irreverence.” Would you agree with that description? Do you notice a certain style or influence in the work of Australian designers today?
It’s difficult to assess whether there has been one overall style or influence in our contemporary culture here. But I think, over the past decade, we have seen a real shift in design in Australia and its breadth of executions that pushes the scope of what might have been "typical," with a number of Australian studios pushing and exploring captivating outcomes.
What is design education like in Australia? Are most designers still seeking a formal education or are more and more self-taught these days?
Australia has a number of institutions that caters to higher education for design. From experience, most of my peers and colleagues have undergone formal education, typically at a university level, undertaking a bachelor degree in Visual Communication Design or similar. I’m personally formally trained and have a degree in Visual Communication.
What would you say are unique challenges for designers in your community right now?
I think securing full-time employment can be quite difficult within our community. It’s a competitive industry, with a number of young designers waiting arduous amounts of time before securing a role. Due to the industry’s competitive nature, young designers often face unrealistic expectations and poor treatment within studio environments – with working conditions that result in unfair renumeration, where designers have to advocate for their rights.
The other difficulty we face is often around having to justify the value of design, with a range of talented designers and studios competing with the likes of 99designs etc., which devalues our industry on a global scale.
Speaking of full-time employment, what are the main job opportunities for designers in Australia right now? I imagine many are working in advertising at agencies, in tech etc. like other countries with strong economies. But do you notice any specific trends right now? Has COVID affected those trends in any noticeable ways?
Yes, there are designers working in advertising, tech, in-house, boutique studios and the like. The most notable trend would be the push and growing awareness in web and digital marketing/advertising. COVID undoubtably has had a hand in this movement, with a lot of people and businesses having to communicate through digital means.
How much impact does your social media presence have on getting new clients and self-promotion in general? What works best for you?
The majority of my clients have mostly come through word of mouth, but most recently I have seen a steady increase in connections being made over social media channels. Primarily through Behance and Instagram; both of these have seemed to perform the best for me.
"Our country’s society has a lot to work through, but I think good design can bolster awareness and make people think twice."
With the recent fires and the surrounding doom of climate change, I know the environment is top of many for many people in Australia (and the rest of the world) these days. Is this an active conversation among Australian designers?
I would say this is an active conversation a lot of us are partaking in, having personally had a number of discussions with my peers and new generation of designers coming into the industry. Where possible, I try and look at methods of executing designs that limit the impact we have on our environment; assessing different print finishes and utilizing recycled materials when we can.
What does good design mean to Thought & Found, and how do you see it impacting your country’s society as a whole? Do you think it can solve larger issues it faces?
I believe good design should not only be visually engaging but speak to, and genuinely represent, a philosophy or cause. Our country’s society has a lot to work through, but I think good design can bolster awareness and make people think twice.
What are some of your favorite design studios from Australia that everyone who might be not familiar with the Australian design community should know?
How can all designers and design communities from other countries do a better job of communicating with each other? How can we become more engaged with the Australian design community? Are there any blogs or specific magazines we can follow?
Just talking, which is often easier said than done. But it would be nice for everyone to globally come together. One blog that comes to mind is The Design Files – it’s a platform that showcases Australian architecture, interior design, art and graphic design. There’s also The Design Kids, which has a great archive of interviews, studio projects/links both nationwide and globally.