An inspiration discussion with Andrew

What is my inspiration?

Lucy Glade-Wright a student studying visual communication at RMIT developed this questionnaire for an assignment ‘What is my inspiration?’ We felt that it maybe worthwhile for students looking for insights from a working studio. In 2005 the design communication was a more buoyant space, we will have Andrew to update these answers soon, for a 2010 twist.

Lucy Glade-Wright / What is the first thing that you do when you get given a new brief from a new client?

Andrew Ashton / There’s a lot of talking, visiting and finding out about the client. It’s quite a lengthy process. You really need to find out if you and the client can work together. Your heart needs to be in it. I will not do any work for companies that promote cigarettes, alcohol to young people or companies that cause environmental harm or exploit children.

Then there is a lot of talking to formulate a brief. We tend to deal with small/medium clients with whom we can work to formulate a brief that benefits them. Smaller clients tend to take more risks compared to larger clients who usually know exactly what they want and have very strict briefs. We like to find out what clients really need.

L G-W / How do you think of different ideas? Do you have any particular methods?

I used to go to the library a lot. But now with the internet, not so much. I search Google and I read books. I often use a written approach. For example with a carpet manufacturer, I wrote the word ‘carpet’ in the middle of a piece of paper and brainstormed ideas from that, anything relating to carpet. I also have a journal, which I take everywhere. I draw maps and a lot of written responses. I think that the better the designer, the more aware they are of everything around them.

L G-W / If you’re completely stumped for an idea, what do you do? Where do you find inspiration?

I usually don’t find myself stumped for an idea because I don’t get too hung up with things. The best ideas come with time. Some of my projects I leave until the last minute, I give the ideas as much time as possible to find a logical end. Whereas for other projects I give myself restrictions, for example for the AGDA ads I give myself three hours. There is a commercial force transforming designers into design making machines, because they have constant time constraints. The worst thing a client could do is come into the studio and want something done tomorrow, I have seen thousands of dollars wasted on breakneck projects that end up sitting in boxes somewhere unwanted. The funds are being undervalued, which means the work process is undermined, as is the potential impact of the finished products. There are exceptions of course, but what it ultimately means there is work out there not reaching its full potential. We tend to encourage our clients to slow down if possible.

L G-W / What other designers inspire you? And why?

AA / There are no particular designers that inspire me it is more so people like: David Bowie, Steven Hawking, Dylan Thomas, Brian Eno, Steven Riech, Robert Frank, Donald Friend. I appreciate things like the Roman alphabet, a kite, a bicycle; things that have the ability to change and transcend.

L G-W / I am also looking at the different processes that exist between artists and designers? Do you have any favourite artists that inspire you?

AA / Dennis Hopper, Edward Hopper, Joseph Beuys, Brendan Behan, Wolfgang Tillmans, Brian Eno, Yoko Ono, Marcel Duchamp, Jeff Koons. I find that designers tend to see themselves as bigger than they actually are.

We (designers) simply interpret. Designers curate, raid, steal, borrow from artists, normal people, celebrities, eccentrics, thinkers and craftspeople like type designers, illustrators and photographers. Type designers such as Adrian Frutiger, Firmin Didot, Matthew Carter, Claude Garamond and Paul Renner worked tirelessly and created something real; we, the designer without much thought pick their efforts for a project, we shape it in a contemporary context and send the client a bill. I mean look at Boost Juice. The genius is the original idea, the graphic design is just part of it.

When you are younger, everyone encourages you to be creative, to draw, to paint, to write stories. Then when you reach ‘big’ school (primary school), you are introduced to a world of commerce, politics, community and competition. As fewer paintings and drawings are being brought home from school, the sporting trophies and good school reports increase and the creative spirit is quietly put aside for ‘more important or worthwhile pursuits.’ Creativity from this point of personal development seems to be commonly associated with leisure, pleasure, excess and indulgence. However creativity remains active in all of us, even if untrained. It is a method people use to solve problems and make processes work better.

L G-W / When you approach a concept, how do you go about finding form?

AA / The writing process and the written word usually evoke form for me. I tend to approach it from an art sense. I like to challenge people’s perceptions that might go on to shape the form. For example: A job we are doing for Saxton was about beauty. There are several types of beauty. You have your ‘vogue’ beauty, which tends to be about trends and styles. Then you have the beauty that transcends these trends and styles, an essential beauty, a perception of an object. We posed this question of ‘what is beauty?’ in the piece and the great thing about it, is that it is open-ended and people need to fill in the gaps. They can interpret it whatever way they like. We like to get people to imagine it, not to tell them the idea. People don’t like graphic design, they like the idea. Design is just a verb. The richness is in the process.

L G-W / You’ve said before that Pip and Co. designers enjoy ‘stumbling across found things and recasting them into their work.’ Is it refreshing for you to almost accidentally stumble across something? Do you often photograph/collect random images/things?

AA / Nothing is accidental. Without sounding too hippy ‘If you stumble across it, you were meant to find it.’

L G-W / What do you enjoy the most about the creative process?

AA / The play. Working on something different everyday. One day you could be learning about furniture and the next you could be doing a brand for a coffee shop. It’s a great occupation.

L G-W / What do you enjoy the least about the creative process?

AA / Boredom.

L G-W / What is the biggest block to your creativity?

AA / Me, having preconceptions, my ego, being like a designer.

L G-W / Do you ever see the finished product in your head as soon as you are given the brief? If so, what do you do? Do you run with it? Or try and think of something else?

AA / If I have an idea I usually see where I could take it. I tend to feel that ‘genius is in limitations.’ The best design is often when someone can work within restrictions and not automatically need to change something, genius is those who work with what they have got and come up with a simple answer. Like saying, ‘We don’t need to change the logo, it may need to be moved over there or the colour scheme refined.’

L G-W / Do you get better at resolving briefs/solving problems with experience?

AA / Yes, definitely. You go from being really talented at school, into uni, where you find out there are a lot of other talented people, there you have to learn and demonstrate the process and become familiar with all the tools. Then when you get a job you have to adapt again and continue to learn, but you mature more with each job and it soon becomes more about expression and maybe wanting to develop personal ideas and themes.

L G-W / Do you think that graphic design is always about problem solving? If there is no problem to be solved, does it make the design less worthy?

AA / Design can’t exist without the problem. Otherwise it’s art, or decoration. In the end, the design outcome has to perform as it was designed too. If people don’t understand the message then it is highly likely that it will fail to meet its goals. I feel that the main difference between successful Graphic Art and Communication Design is that one is designed to achieve an aesthetic problem and the other designed to solve a communication problem.

L G-W / Is there a difference between the work that you do for yourself and the work that you do for a client? What is the relationship?

AA / I love photography and writing. I don’t know if people are as interested in graphic design as graphic designers are, as the intention for the design is mostly commercial. People appear to be more receptive to ideas that seem not to have any obvious commercial and marketing intentions. The personal projects on my website projects have no other motive, than the pleasure I receive from discovering the project and somehow making sense of it. The original Pip and Co. website wasn’t about Graphic Design specifically and yet thousands of people logged on and shuffled through the pages, even though the content hadn’t been updated for two or so years.

L G-W / Should design be personal? Do you think that designers should always express their personalities in their work?

AA / There is an enormous amount of graphic design in our lives, and I believe that standout design is what it is because of the people behind it. Those standout designers and studios have a distinctive style; clients approach companies because of that style.

L G-W / Have you ever done a job that you did not agree with? Or have not been proud of?

AA / I have done a lot of work that I’m not particularly proud of, work that I wouldn’t want to show anyone or put in my folio. I have done projects for products that I don’t believe in, or sometimes one just gets to the end of the project and you don’t like what has been done.

L G-W / What is your biggest fear in design?

AA/ Not having clients. It sounds obvious but it is true, If you don’t have people out there that believe in what you do and are prepared to give you work, you’re… And if you’re a designer and you don’t have clients prepared to work with you, it probably means you need to reassess your situation.

L G-W / Do you have any particular weaknesses in graphic design, something you wish you were better at?

AA / I suppose administration is not a strength. I run a sound business, but I know that I could do it better. I am always assessing administration issues. I could also manage my time better. I also wish I cared more about finicky design detailing. Being a designer that likes to keep effects to a minimum means that things like foils, varnishes and bronze rivets seem to be left out again. It’s not that I’m lazy. The dilemma for me is ‘do you waste a ton of paper for French folds, or few thousand rivets’ when the project communicates effectively without it. This process was hammered into me as a kid on the farm, farm people think about waste and excess with anything.

L G-W / How would you describe the work that you/ Studio Pip and Co. create?

AA / ‘Graphic designers to the stars, the down trodden, the well healed and far flung.’ It’s for everyone. We want to attract people that really want to communicate with people.

L G-W / Is there a formula to success for creating ‘good’ design?

AA / Listen. Read. Work

L G-W / What is your work philosophy?

AA / Listen to all ideas and options. Reading anything and everything, as much as you can, is paramount. Be prepared to work on anything and everything till you are over it and that was a month ago. As a young boy my grandfather left a dump truck, an endless supply of gloves, my brothers and I in a paddock on his farm covered in surface rocks. We were left for a week to fill up the truck with rocks time and time again. It was agony at all levels, and yet priceless.

L G-W / What would be your ultimate dream project?

AA / If I had a good voice or had vision … I’d love to do something like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Brian Eno pulled off. I admire their ability to tap into broader expressions outside making music; like characterisation, theatre, film making, art and writing. I would love to work on something at that level.

L G-W / If you were not a designer, what would you be doing?

AA / I am fixated on the idea that design is something more than graphic design. I would like to be working on projects that have the ability to help and impact upon people in positive ways. Graphic Design employs people, however its impact in everyday life is more ambient. To me a great logo doesn’t seem to be as fulfilling as building a bridge, or entertaining people or making an everyday process more efficient. In some small way I would like to help everyday people tap into creative problem solving techniques, as one of the approaches used in tackling everyday problems.

© 2005 Andrew Ashton, Studio Pip and Co. and Lucy Glade-Wright.