Each summer DA profiles a selection of the top design graduates coming out of our tertiary institutions. We welcome these talented emerging professionals to our industry, learn about their passions, final projects, developing creative confidence and ambitions for the future.
Was there someone (or something) that inspired you to pick design as a career path?
A few years ago when I hadn’t even considered design as a career, I was working in an administrative role in Wellington. I had some basic skills from school and previous study, so I managed to pick up some small design jobs for the office. While in this role I discovered that the design process, working with printers and creating printed collateral gave me a real buzz.
Can you tell us what your graduation project focused on?
It started as a study about the relationship between brand and sustainability. The project eventually became about equipping the next generation with the skills and habits needed to live sustainable and ethical lives, and grow into conscious consumers.
I designed a toolkit called Good Things, which came in the form of two activity books, both consisting of 5 days worth of content; one for smaller, simple habits such as conserving water and energy, and one for larger, more time-consuming habits such as composting and growing your own food. The toolkit also contained stickers and posters which helped children track their progress.
What were some of your most exciting or unexpected discoveries to come out of your project?
I pushed my skillset a bit further in this project. I’ve never been one for illustration or collage, so
I was really pleased to see that all come together. I also learnt that printing in white ink is expensive!
What did you enjoy most during your course at MDS?
I loved that we were allowed enough freedom in our briefs to explore different ideas, and use mediums that suited us most. Of course it didn’t always suit the project, but personally I loved when I could create printed, tactile work, as I’d always push myself to learn new techniques in areas like packaging and bookbinding.
What was your biggest challenge while studying and how did you overcome it?
I definitely felt pretty burnt out at times this year, especially as lockdowns coincided with our final year and graduation projects. Looking back now, I missed the collaboration and energy that comes with being on campus and amongst other designers. Falling back on my strengths in design was often my go-to; the aspects of design where I felt most confident and happy working in. Jumping on a video call with a designer friend always helped too!
How has your ability and confidence progressed since the beginning of your studies?
The one thing that sticks out is that I became more confident with subject matter. In the first couple of years I played things pretty safe, often working with a similar medium, for a similar target audience. I’m really pleased I was able to turn this around in my final year, designing for some younger audiences and utilising different skills.
What does your creative process look like?
I mostly follow the different phases of Design Thinking, but my personality definitely comes into play here. I tend to spend a large part of my time in the earlier phases of the process, as I like to be as sure as possible that I’m designing the right ‘thing’ – although this can sometimes lead to tighter deadlines towards the end of the process.
In the production phases of the process, I turn my attention and focus towards the details – sometimes to my detriment. Working on the New Zealand Lager conceptual rebrand, I nearly lost a whole weekend simply looking for the perfect shaped glass bottle!
Which piece in your portfolio are you most proud of and why?
I’d say the New Zealand Lager conceptual rebrand project, even though it was pretty early on in our degree. The brief was to rebrand any regular supermarket item as a high-class, luxury product. It was the project I enjoyed the most in my time at MDS, as a result of how much I was able to focus on packaging details such as the bottle type, closure and the style of handwriting. I was really sure of my target audience and design style, which just helped everything click into place.
Why did you choose to study at MDS?
After some previous study at Massey University in Wellington and a year or so of work experience, I was looking for a course that would be hands-on, industry-led and fast-paced. I found the Bachelor of Media Design ticked these boxes, and also provided the opportunity to explore the different mediums the course is structured around – Graphic, Interactive and Motion Design.
How are you feeling about the future?
I’m feeling really good about the future right now. I’m grateful that I’ve managed to secure some full-time work as an in-house designer with Barker’s of Geraldine. I’m surrounded by some great people, helping launch great products and learning so much about brand and packaging!
What does your dream job look like?
I’d love to be a part of a small, collaborative team bringing innovative products to life through brand and packaging design. I’m constantly inspired by the work of Red Antler in New York, who have worked with some of the biggest start-ups in the world. Helping launch products like they do would be pretty cool.
How can people get in touch and see more of your work?
I’m on Instagram at @tomgraham.design, and you can see my full portfolio at tomgraham.design. You can also email me at email@example.com.