This is the first of four interviews by recent AUT graduate Nicole Redman. (Each interview was first published in Unveil, an editorial publication conceived in Nicole’s final year of study). The interviews explore professional designers unique personal narrative as each shares challenges, inspirations and industry insight. In this instalment, we hear from celebrated educator and filmmaker Welby Ings.
What led you to pursue a career in the design?
I believe in the power of clarity and beauty. They are two powerful forces in the face of passivity and cynicism. There is no career/life separation for me. I see both things integrated in how I live and value my life. Even if I lived in another time – in another world, I believe that I would be pursuing clarity and beauty as driving forces in my life. My the logical ‘career’ is in something that shapes the physical and conceptual world in better ways for people. This is why education, visual communication design, film making, architecture and social reform are all part of my integrated life; they are all manifestations of design.
Growing up in small-town, did you have some challenges trying to pursue graphic design?
At school and in our community, nobody knew what graphic design was. There was a career in ‘sign writing’ and a vague thing called ‘commercial art’, but both were seen as lacking practicality and job security. The horror of any child in my community becoming an artist was an association with poverty, moral debauchery and the vague notion of dying of syphilis in a dilapidated tenement building at 30. I was destined to be a farmer like all of the other boys in the district but I could draw … really well … and that had mana. It made me an exception. There was no senior art at Te Awamutu College in those days so I had to study on my own, but. It meant I could wag the classes I hated.
Was there a specific point in your childhood when you knew you were going to go down a creative pathway?
My parents have said it was there from the start. I grew up the eldest twin in a family of 6 kids. I was always the odd one out. I dressed up, constructed wings for myself so I could fly, built floats for New Year’s Processions around the house and assembled huge puppet-like skeletons constructed from the bones of dead animals on the farm. These creatures I suspended in trees and operated with pulleys and hinges.
What are some of the challenges that have helped you learn or grow as a designer?
I couldn’t read or write until I was 15. I learned to draw what I saw and imagined when everybody else was reading. That was a big help. I wasn’t a ‘cool’ designer so I didn’t fit into a box easily. I have no great interest in having heaps of money or being a celebrity, so I have never been ‘forced’ to become a designer that I wasn’t in my heart. I am profoundly attracted to beautifully realised things, whether they are thoughts, communications, environments, political policies literature, architecture, art or a person. Being around such things reminds me of the value of questioning and that it is fine if you don’t fit in with what is sanctioned and approved.
How would you explain what you do as a job?
I consciously orchestrate things [design] in the pursuit of something better [be that a product, information or environments for learning, living or social reform]. In flattened terms I am
a professor of design, a film maker, an advisor to the New Zealand government and a visual communicator.
What does your typical working day involve?
There is technically no such thing because my life is integrated. There is no work/life division. I get up just before dawn, eat, run, shower, teach or research or make stuff, then in the evenings I garden or draw or write. I have no TV, no radio, no microwave or mobile devices.
What advice do you give to young designers?
I am loath to give advice. My best things are learned by making mistakes and having some wise friends who help me make sense of the consequences. Each of us is a different designer because we are different people. Personally, I have found fashionability a constraint, anxious consumerism a toxin, the desire to be ‘cool’ a rabbit hole and timidity a limitation. I work passionately, live passionately but simply … and try to be a good man.
How does being an advisor at AUT shape the way you work as a film maker and designer?
I don’t think of myself as an advisor. I just try to reach out to thinkers who seem to be trying to expand themselves and ask them questions about how they think and feel. This is a helpful thing to me, so I hope it might work for them. I don’t believe that we actually interrogate our potential enough at university. Working in a design school I get to co-habit in a hothouse of productive disobedience. This is not a given with everybody who works in a university, but there is an unusually high proportion of such people [both students and staff]. This propensity to push an idea into the unknown is an emotional arm around my shoulder when I journey into the unknown with my film making and design work.
What do hope for in future for the design industry?
I think design as a profession will always cover the gamut from fashionable, uncritical service provision and intellectual, critical reform. It has the same future of human thinking; to be capable of inertia disguised as change and to have the ability to help us understand what it is to be a human being. Technology won’t change this… only the quality of some people who use their skills to shape information and environments into something better.
Contact Nicole Readman at email@example.com or @nicoleredman on instagram
Contact Welby Ings via firstname.lastname@example.org