Friday, March 30, 2007

Raw and Honest

An interview with graphic design Christian Teniswood

Who are some of the clients you’ve worked for?
No naming dropping here but big ones. The type that make students spit when they hear your name in sell-out disgust. But it was what I always wanted. I need to feel compelled to wear a suit to presentations. A bit of public speaking pressure and a thin tie bring out the best in me.

What should design students put in their folio?
It doesn’t really matter. I’d focus on your coffee making skills.

Anything else?
Oh, ok. Ideas. Ideas. More Ideas. Then a range of styles. Emphasise your design strengths. Don’t try to sell any poor imitations of the latest design trend. If you can’t do abstract 3D crystals with twenty five glowing layers of photoshop wizardry better than everyone else, then don’t show it. You are not Rinzen, you are not David Carson, you are not your khakis. You are the same decaying matter as the last fifty juniors who proudly showed up with a folio of cloned work. Unless you’re not. Then you'll be remembered.

What salary range should I be expecting as a junior designer?
That’s dependant on experience and the quality of your cappuccino.

Do you work long hours?
Think the eye scene from a clockwork orange. You do this job for love, not money. I walk uphill both ways to work, barefoot in the snow, just for the privilege to be in this industry. Someone is buying your ideas. Sure, they seem to come cheap compared to other career choices but it’s still the only thing I can ever see myself doing. Except for jelly wrestling, I could have been great at that. Damn trick knee.

Do you get to design much in your first year at a design studio?
On the good days the creative director will look at your best etch-a-sketch doodle and give you some feedback.

What was your first project as a junior designer?
It was an in-house exercise to develop a new 27th letter for the alphabet. I was asked to present my sketches to the team. I was full of enthusiasm as I pinned the work up on the wall in front of the assembled designers. The creative director then asked me to vocalize each so he and the excited congregation could better understand the concepts behind them. I pointed eagerly at each sketch and through lemon sucked lips vocalised my literary inventions. ‘Xerg!…sshdtx!…psssthx!…mthuph!….ghweghle!” I combined unheard before tones and flying spit into new worlds of alphabetic wonder. Saussure would have been proud.

As were the assembled creatives who were almost crying in an attempt to contain their laughter. ‘Well done’ said the creative director as he patted me on the back and handed me an etch-a-sketch. ‘You’ve earned this.’

How important are ideas?
Stupid question really. The more ideas you can have, the better a designer you become. What’s even more important is to never criticise an idea ever again, especially in team environments. Trust me, this isn’t easy. Your colleague shows you a mark that looks like a limping donkey in need of a mercy killing. You’re tempted to load your gun and say ‘Clipart might be free, but it’ll cost you your soul’ but instead (and for the rest of your career) you say ‘Interesting. Let’s keep it in the mix, and keep exploring’. He might come up with something better, or not, but his confidence won’t be dented and he’ll pay the compliment back the next time you proudly present your own struggling mule. The last thing any studio needs is fear of presenting ideas (you need lots of ideas to find a good idea, even more to find a great one).

Are the deadlines strict?
I don’t want to talk about it. We’ve lost good men to those ‘deadlines’.

Do you work with the latest technology?
Yes. The couches in reception impressively fold out into beds.

As a designer do you see the world differently to others?
I sure do. Where others see buildings, streets and corners I see strategic locations from which to launch water-balloons at unsuspecting passerbys. This is what separates us from the monkeys.

Is a career in design everything you thought it would be?
Absolutely. My children will be dentists, but this career is everything to me.

Is a little arrogance required to succeed in this industry?
I’m not sure. I don’t talk to other designers much, their lack of talent sometimes annoys me. I just focus on myself.

Other advice?
Be nice to each other. Backstabbing has no place in this industry. I’m going to steal an analogy used by Luke Sullivan in his fantastic book ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’ in regards to teamwork. Whether you’re the mac master, mac monkey or coffee boy (read junior designer) just remember it’s a three legged race. One falls, we all fall.

So work together and don’t be afraid to ask for help or opinions from the guys you work with. We’re not here to practice the gentle art of making enemies (and coffee boys have long memories and a revenge list of people to crush on their rise to the top).

Thanks Christian
No, thank you.

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