By Day By Night is an interview series that profiles graphic design tutors from design schools throughout New Zealand. We learn about their role as a teacher and their own personal design practice.
Today we hear from David Lewis who works at Victoria University of Wellington
What is your official title at work?
I am currently the Principal Advisor of International Brand at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Previously I was the Head of Marketing, Brand and Creative at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland (http://aalto.fi). This role at the university is totally new, so I am just getting into the mix. Learning about what’s happening here. Being a well-intentioned pain in the ass. Drinking coffee and trying to map the best lunch spots.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your career path, and how you got into design work?
Of course. I am not a designer strictly speaking. I’ve been more of a creative director or concept designer at Aalto. Managing creative teams and production. I studied film and new media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago which had a strong post-disciplinary approach and I think that somehow stuck. I was more interested in narrative and design as a means to that end. I guess this could be traditional design work, but it also could be videos, printed collateral or other communication pieces (media releases, events, merch, etc).
Somehow, I wound up leading brand work at large international universities. I think the sector is really interesting. I love the idea that we do purpose-driven work, but because universities are such complicated places it is very difficult to have a purely design-led process. Ideas get chewed on by so many people. Not just inside the university, but in the community too. This was the case at Aalto at least. This is natural because universities are places of discourse and rigorous debate. So that makes the work compelling. If you are able to simplify and make your messages beautiful via good simple design, you really can help elevate the university on key topics in society today: sustainability, education or creativity itself.
Outside of work hours what creative projects are you involved with?
Outside of juggling kids I also run a record label called Lovitt Records (http://store.lovitt.com) with Washington DC based Brian Lowit, we mostly release records by mutual friends of ours, this includes Polish band Trupa Trupa (http://www.trupatrupa.com/en/about-us), Wedding Dress and Des Ark. In his spare time Brian manages Dischord Records (https://www.dischord.com) in DC and oversees an amazing catalogue including Fugazi and Minor Threat, but he also owns an ice cream shop, Mount Desert Ice Cream (http://www.mdiic.com), where I curate a monthly playlist. Fulfilling some secret ice cream store DJ dream.
I guess it’s worth talking about Brian, or any number of creative people, because we are all juggling our passions into a career somehow. The balance between these different elements is tricky and when you are young you can see life as being singular. The more you can understand that the process is not linear, or comfortable, the more you can see your work as an extension of your interests over time. Different pieces will ebb and flow and what is important is that you are chasing ideas, falling down and learning as you go.
How does your personal practise feed into your role as a branding expert?
I think my practice is as a storyteller. This is a super nerdy thing to say, but it does feel true somehow. We are telling stories. Sometimes with type and sometimes in copy, but either way we are trying to engage with people. Get them excited. Tell a joke. Someone told me that good design is always, “set up and punchline” — I don’t know what that means, but it sounds right.
Over the last few years, I guess my personal practice hasn’t been a focus. I’ve been slowly returning to it and have some projects that I’m excited to work on including a podcast with my Victoria University of Wellington and Aalto University colleague Zach Dodson (http://zachdodson.com) who is a super talented writer, designer, educator and storyteller in his own right.
What are you inspired by, and how do you keep the momentum for your personal work alive?
I like the challenge of it all. Whatever seems impossible, or the thing you are told you can’t do, those are the things I want to pursue. Then you have to find a way to slowly weave that impossible work into your process. Momentum is a funny idea. I spend a ton of my life whining or feeling trapped by the process and then having bursts of success or glimpses of hope. It is impossible and that is what keeps you going. Total flat-out defeat and depression followed by small wins.
What are the best bits about working at Victoria?
This role is so new and I am stepping into it with my eyes wide open, but so far the best part is two-fold.
First, the community is really engaged. This can be daunting too, but I don’t see this as a place of complacency. People care about the university. They are passionate about it. That means we can do great things.
Secondly, the team is great. They are super nice people. They have started to make fun of me which is a sure sign that I’ve somehow been accepted (I hope). They all are interested in new ideas and want to experiment.
And, finally, where can we see more of your own work?
I think everything I do and have done is collaborative. So rather than my own work I would think you should check out my Wellington colleagues and friends Liisa Tervinen (https://chemarts.aalto.fi/index.php/the_chemarts_cookbook/), Jamie Knight (https://www.iamjamieknight.com/), Laura Yilmaz (https://www.lauraemelyilmaz.com), Mary Adams (http://maryadams.co.nz), Tonya Sweet (http://tonyasweet.com) and their projects.
Victoria University – Graduate Studies Brochure (w. Mary Adams)
Aalto University – University Brochure (w. Anna Muchenikova)
Aalto University – What If Campaign (w. Anna Muchenikova)
Aalto University – Unfolded (w. Anna Muchenikova)
Aalto University – Flow Festival Installation Campaign – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73PzeIixJYI
Aalto University – Web Renewal (w. Anna Muchenikova)
AITO Magazine (w. Anna Muchenikova & Joosung Kang)
Aalto Festival (w. Anna Muchenikova & Babi Brasileiro)
Aalto University — Strategy Materials