Kate speaks to three designers at different stages of their career on advice for navigating the beginnings of a design journey.
5+ industry years
Ryan Romanes is a graphic designer and art director from Rotorua, New Zealand. He is currently based in Melbourne, having previously worked in Auckland, New York and Dubai. Ryan works on branding and design projects for a range of clients, both local and international.
“The first job I took was at a studio in Auckland. I intended on staying several months but only lasted a couple of weeks.” Ryan quickly learnt that working for himself would be the best fit. He explains, “the thing I like most about working for myself is having the ability to work on the kind of projects I find stimulating. The work environment at the studio was a large open space that I personally couldn’t concentrate in. There was a lot of repetition in the designated tasks and I always dreaded the 5pm finish time because I wasn’t able to complete everything in that time frame.” He now spends his days as an independent freelance graphic designer, working directly with his own international clients and with larger studios. “Although I typically label myself as a graphic designer, my day-to-day tasks are a lot more varied than computer-based work. The projects I work on alternate between branding, packaging, editorial, digital, photography and image making work”
For Ryan, there was (and still is) a fair amount of self-teaching involved. “The biggest challenge is the speed you’re required to work. To sustain a freelance business you typically need to work
with many clients at once and this was the ultimate test in my productivity and time management skills.”
15+ industry years
New Zealand born Nicole has worked in the UK, Australia and US. She is now based on the coromandel peninsula and has a unique work arrangement that is the envy of many. She manages to successfully divide her time between both her professional practice (nicoleap.com) and passionate practice (typographer.com) where she curiously explores the world of typography and experiments with analogue print processes, as well as collaborating with the Design Assembly team!
“In my professional practice (Nicoleap) I design documents with emphasis on clarity, creativity and the effective delivery of information. I do this about 20 hours per week – but it ebbs and flows depending on clients needs and deadlines throughout the year. My clients are typically architects, authors, publishers and property developers. But I also work with local government, creative agencies and small business clients from time to time too. In my passionate practice (TypographHer)… I research, test and play with visual communication ideas and printmaking methods. I publish ‘Typographic Musings for Curious Creatives’ via books, journals, art prints and a blog. (I do this about 20 hours per week). I also spend about 10 hours per week on the admin, finance and business development stuff that comes along with running the two businesses. And I teach throughout the year – at universities, colleges and workshops in Australia and NZ.”
“I was working part time (18 hours per week) throughout my certificates and bachelor, so I think the transition was probably a bit easier for me… But one of the biggest adjustments going into full time work was understanding the value of collaboration and the importance of continued learning. For each design brief you undertake while studying, your teacher is obligated to give you feedback that is constructive, so you learn, they work with you, nurture your skills and help you to advance. In the workforce you need to be proactive in partnering with your clients and colleagues to foster your own advancement and to seek meaningful and constructive feedback for you work (so you don’t stagnate)!”
Nicole did not start off as a full time designer. She began working at an apparel company in Auckland carrying out tasks such as event coordination, administration and customer service. Spotting opportunities to get involved in the design side, she got to work on posters, event invitations, flyers and artwork for Lee tees. Travel then took her to the UK, where she continued to work in marketing-type roles, incorporating as much design as possible. After returning to New Zealand, Nicole began to take on more freelance work. This started out mainly from friends and family and grew to small commissions from clothing brands, small businesses and a couple of publications. This led to full-time mid-weight, and eventually, senior roles (Typesetting and Book Design) within publishing companies. A desire for something a little different took her to a multi-disciplinary design studio, where she collaborated with architects and urban designers, learning more about designing for the built environment. After becoming an associate of the practice, Nicole was given the opportunity to lead a small team of designers in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, and Abu Dhabi. They worked on projects in the UK, US, Middle East, Asia and Australia. Despite loving the job, long hours meant that had little time to explore her own interests. She decided to leave the position and “bought my first letterpress machine so I could play with type and make a mess in my spare time!” She continued to work by day on freelance and studio work and in the evening has fun with the letterpress. Since then, her practice has slowly evolved to her current approach – a balance of professional (client driven) and passionate (self-initiated) practice.
25+ industry years
Karl is the Design Director at the multidisciplinary studio Sanders Design in Auckland.
Originally from Auckland, Karl wanted to study in a far off city… which led him to Christchurch. Following graduation, a lack of job opportunities meant that he found himself back in Auckland where he worked as an office junior. His first role involved working on all aspects of brand identity and packaging using traditional methods, i.e. no computers! One of the more restrictive aspects of the job was client, project and brief limitations, yet he also recollects the lighter side, “Lots of talking and laughs probably due to Bull gum and magic marker fume inhalation.”
Three years later, he travelled to London where he found a job as a packaging designer for a design company which produced a lot of Tescos own brand packaging work.” Fast forward another three years and he returned to NZ to work part time and freelance. Acquiring a mortgage and kids meant that he needed something more full time, so he worked for a few companies before landing a Senior Designer position at Sanders Design. Now he is the company’s Design Director and Owner. Over his career, Karl has observed some transitions in the industry, the present climate features more start-ups and digitally focused companies, “Obviously demand for print is reducing so there is more focus on digital platforms.”