7 insights to make you a great designer

Writer - , Photography - David Simmons


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AGIdeas Attendees 2010 Hamner Hall Melbourne Australia

AGIdeas Attendees 2010

Two months on and most of the hype and excitement surrounding Agideas 2010 has mellowed. After three days of intense creativity, insights and inspiration I suspect most minds were numb with creative information overload.

Such an inspiring event has a tendency to create a heightened sense of motivation, generating spontaneous plans of action, a little like New Years holiday excitement bringing out a collection of well intended resolutions. But did the excitement and enthusiasm distill into underlying themes with a classic longevity that can sustain designers looking to ‘make it’ with their chosen design practice?

Interestingly, looking back over the course of the 40 something presentations, the speakers kept coming back to similar ideas, themes and advice. Here’s a summary of the top seven, bookmark this page to reignite your inspiration whenever you have a ‘designer’s moment’.

There are no instant geniuses

The majority of speakers have been working away at their chosen profession for over 10 years. A well known name, identity or practice is most unlikely to happen over night. But it’s not about festering away in a safe little corner until you’ve done your time then looking for accolades either. It’s more about constantly striving for excellence in your practice, and always looking to innovate. In fact, you’ll be so absorbed in the journey and discovery you’re generating though your creative process, that when a recognition of your creative genius happens, it will probably take you quite by surprise – especially as you will most likely be claiming that you’re not doing much special, just your job. Wayne Thompson developed his skills over 12yrs in an ad agency before starting the Australian Type Foundry.

Work hard

Long hours are usually required to make something from nothing. Put something in to get something out, and the rewards will be much fuller. Nothing to be afraid of. Build a good support system, people who understand what you are striving for, and collaborate see below. – Amazing things can happen if you put in the hard work “Ricki Wallen” (by Michael Mabry).


Share the workload, share the ideas. Two heads are better than one. Many of the speakers highlighted the power of collaboration as one of their key messages. As a solo creative, you can achieve a lot, but as a collaborative team the possibilities and achievements will be extraordinary. More contacts, larger networks, deeper financial pool, stronger support when times are tough, and a bigger party when the successfully completed job is signed off. GhostPatrol ~ ”Share, inspire and be inspired by others”.

You don’t have to sit still

It is perfectly acceptable to move around different fields of design as your career progresses. Many of the speakers at this year’s AGIdeas considered themselves as ‘multidiciplinary’, working in more than one accepted creative field. Of course time is relative, and many of the speakers have been practicing for over 10 years in the arena of design, so when they mention all the twists and turns in their career, they are talking in terms of years, not weeks or months.

The key idea is that you don’t have to feel locked into one particular discipline of design, keep learning and follow new paths that interest you. Perhaps you have studied Graphic Design, and you like it, but recently discovered that moving graphics and the introduction of a timeline in your creations really gets you going so you make a jump to animation.

Learn more about what interests you, and follow what excites you. Skills and ideas you uncover in one discipline of design, will more than likely improve and inspire your work in other creative fields. Ghostpatrol was halfway thorough an IT degree, when he began creating street art. Annabel Dundas (TILT) and Jacques Reymond followed their interests around the world for years as they developed and refined their skills and professional practice.


Research is more than a request made by your lecturers in order to collect credits towards your formal qualification. It is an on-going part of your design practice, reflecting your interests, thought processes and informing you with past ideas, solutions, influences and learnings, forming the backbone for future projects and possibilities. Collect ‘finds’ to use and inspire later. Collect photos. Travel. Choose a different way home.

Stopping your research is a sure way to put the brakes on the progression of your design career. So don’t sit back and take the pay check – stimulate your brain and keep your creative genius alive! For many speakers, their research directly informed specific projects, like visual notes on the required look and feel needed to communicate the project idea successfully to the audience. Spanish multi-disciplinary designer Javier Mariscal used countless photos, film footage and culture emersion to inform colour pallette and authenticity in the base illustrations in his Havana film project. He studied the culture and mannerisims, emersing himself into the Havanan life to ensure an authentic and recognisable Havanan environment is communicated throughout the animation.

Not just the computer

Good design goes beyond the computer. Technical wizardry is definitely a valuable asset, and digital workflows are the backbone of any visual output these days, but traditional media skills can make a difference. Experiment, trial and error. Make mistakes, and at the same time new discoveries. “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to draw, learn hands-on manual art techniques, then digitise it, and your work will stand out with it’s own flavour and originality.” ~ RESN (NZ). Michael Mabry goes out of his way to make technology look invisible. i.e to look done by hand. Michel Bouvet sketches by hand, then uses illustrator to finish, but prefers to work with paper rather than digital.

Believe in yourself

Believe in your work. Believe in what you do. Do it because it’s your passion, and not only will you most likely enjoy yourself, but you will have the energy to continue when times are tough, and your passion and originality will lead the way.

Robyn Beeche: “Don’t worry if the commercial world doesn’t like what you are producing, if it is timeless, continue”.

Jacques Reymond – Passion was/ is his life journey, leading all round the world. Michael Mabry – “It’s never to late to be what you might have been”.

Amanda Henderson – “design philosophy = be who you are, not held by design style”.

Joseph Campbell – “Follow your bliss”.

Dean Gaylor (Mance Design) – “you do your best work when you are most passionate about it”.

So there you have it, the top seven insights distilled from AGideas 2010. That should keep us all going until the excitement of next year’s conference.

16 Responses to 7 insights to make you a great designer

  1. Mike Denham - July 14, 2010 at 9:27 am

    great, inspiring piece. It seems obvious but it really makes you think and evaluate where you stand

  2. Rob DJ - August 25, 2010 at 7:20 am

    This was an inspiring article.

    i work at a radio station and i guess you could say i design in sound. i love the idea of taking a different route home to see something different.


  3. Raph Goldsworthy - August 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts :-) Its great to hear those from industries other than Industrial/Product Design and traditional design disciplines are finding this article useful.


  4. Oscar Escobar - August 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Very, very good article, best way to begin working today.

  5. tramon - August 27, 2010 at 12:34 am

    great piece. I, like rob, am working at a radio station also. I am a music producer/screenwriter and these 7 ideas have been scrambling around in my head for the past year or so. I am just now starting to believe the unbelievable, think the unthinkable, and do the impossible. Its really mind blowing when you look at the big picture.

    I think collaborating with others who think like you was the greatest idea I ever had. The ability to create with others who share the same passion is not only fun but useful.

    Thanks for the article

  6. CSSReX - August 27, 2010 at 2:01 am

    Wonderful Said! I would love to implement these ideas..

  7. Raph Goldsworthy - September 8, 2010 at 8:56 am

    @Oscar – great to hear you found it a good way to begin the day. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    @tramon – Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I agree collaboration is pretty key to new ideas.

    @CSSReX – Good luck with implementing these ideas in your creative practice. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  8. viswamurthy - October 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Really really…..inspiring article….which gives an insight…..

  9. Katja Bak - January 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I was at that conference- you summed it up well. Great post!

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