2021 Hot New Things: Ruby Spark, AUT

8 months ago by

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.

Today we speak with Ruby Spark, AUT’s school of Art and Design

Was there someone (or something) that inspired you to pick design as a career path?

I love writing and storytelling, I would have all of these lovely pictures in my head, but I hadn’t found a way to catch them and share them to others. Up until I took design in year 12 and I sat in front of a computer and began to create the things in my mind. I spent as much time in the studio as I could and my kaiako pushed me to think about design as a career path, her faith in my creativity and my enjoyment in creating beautiful things gave me the courage to study Communication Design at AUT.

Can you tell us what your graduation project focused on?

I wrote a short story in my creative writing minor, set in Cuba in the 1930s pre-Communist revolution. My graduation project was the publication of this story in both English and Spanish to deepen my understanding of translation as a tool in both design and language. The duality of this publication shows the differing perspectives and beliefs of Latin American and Western society, highlighting the contrast by placing them side by side. El Lector, the publication, also included found artifacts images, newspaper articles, paintings and poems from both Latin America and New Zealand around this time period to add depth and texture to my fictional story by placing it alongside its factual world.

What were some of your most exciting or unexpected discoveries to come out of your project?

My understanding of Spanish is pretty poor so I was really lucky to have a friend in Mexico who was able to translate my story. This process was way more interesting and enjoyable than I first anticipated and I end up doing quite a lot of reading of translated books because of it. The ability for a text that was created in my head to be reinterpreted and become a very different text that was created in the mind of someone else was quiet lovely and gave new perspective and voice to an initially very individual project. The text lead the design of this publication and this subtle differences in translations inspired the slightly off inverted cover design.

What did you enjoy most during your course at AUT?

Studying at AUT was a really cool experience, coming into the studio and working with and alongside my pairs expanded my views of design, engaged me in thinking critically about my work and pushed me to find myself as a designer. AUTs connections with partner universities internationally enabled me to go on a 6 month exchange to Tec De Monterrey university in Monterrey, Mexico. This exchange was such an amazing growth opportunity for both me as a person and as a designer. I loved the full emersion into a culture and world I hadn’t experience at all before. AUTs facilitation of this exchange created an experience I will never forget.

What was your biggest challenge while studying and how did you overcome it?

I found having guiltfree time outside of studying challenging. When I was working on semester long briefs or even quick three week ones I felt I needed to dedicate all of my waking hours to the project and found it hard to enjoy small hobbies or work outside of study because I felt as though I wasn’t giving it my all by having other interests. Over time though I realised how valuable having things outside of study actually really helped the progression of my projects and allowed me to pull from a wider range of knowledge and experience.

What’s the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies?

That there is and will always be so much you still don’t know.

I think going into the course I expected to be an all knowing ‘Graphic Designer’ after the three years of study, I would know everything about adobe, design history, layout, grids, file packaging. But having come out the other side I realise how much there is still to learn, and always will be, and that thought is really exciting. I really like the idea of being a ‘lifelong learner’ and I think the creative fields are the perfect place to do that, because of the pace the industry works at, there is a constant stream of exciting new things being made.

How has your ability and confidence progressed since the beginning of your studies?

When I started studying I hadn’t touched indesign or photoshop, I just made everything in illustrator. I was super nervous about picking up the new programs and spent the whole of my first year avoiding them at all cost. My final project this year was a 140 page indesign book, masters pages, paragraph styles, character styles and all! Looking back I wish I didn’t let the fear of not knowing stop me from trying to learn, but also I realised how much you learn when you keep making yourself just that little bit uncomfortable. My confidence has really started to progress now that I have finished my degree, the publication I made in my final semester really felt like something I would like to continue making in a career. Finding something that I really loved doing and seeing it become real and tangable gave me the confidence that what I am doing is something I really care about.

What does your creative process look like?

My creative process is very research driven, my final semester project started with a story I was told while studying overseas about a man who reads to Cuban cigar rollers. This small snipit of information became pages and pages of research about Cuba in the 1930s. My process starts with a narrative and word so the initial stages are lots of reading and note making in my phone, notebooks, and on random pieces of paper. I have always really enjoyed creative writing and make an effort to incorporate my writing practice with my design it helps me to organise my thoughts and create context and reasoning for my designs. I struggle with knowing when I have gathered enough research and background information, there are just so many tangents to go down and avenues to explore that I feel I won’t do the project justice until I know absolutely everything about the world that surrounds it. When I do finally make the decision to start making I use my hands, in the publication I made last semester I painted 12 little artworks inspired by the styles and philosophies of Latin American artists whose work was circulating at the time. Getting away from a screen and doing things myself allows me to put the research into practice and make mistakes that lead me to unexpected ideas. Going through the process of making helped to create a more concrete idea of what my publication would look like and added more texture and context to the outcome. Finally I collate everything and bring it all back online.

How do you see your work and practice developing, and what are your main aspirations?

During this last year I focused on publications, a medium I really love to consume. In looking further than the book as a form of entertainment I realised how much I enjoy it as a medium of creation also. Physical printed material is defiantly the direction I want to continue in with my practice. Joining creative writing, or just text in general with intentional design to create things that feel important and have a sense of longevity. I would love to work in the publishing industry in some way in the future.

But in the short term I am currently training with the organisation Ako Mātātupu complete a post graduate diploma in High School teaching. Quite a direction change from some of my longer term design aspirations, but I found when I left university I really felt that I needed to dedicate a significant amount of my time and energy to something that felt really good and positive in Aoteroa. Ako Mātātupu is a tertiary institution helping to overcome the educational inequality in Aoteroa, this is something I am passionate about and a space I am really excited to be working in, as a technology design teacher for at least the next couple of years.

Which piece in your portfolio are you most proud of and why?

At the beginning of the first lockdown this year, when uni was shut down and we were all calling into class over zoom there was a pretty over whelming sense of hopelessness, that we as students really couldn’t do anything but sit at home and wait. My mum and I got thinking about this and got in touch with Lumo digital billboards about using their empty billboards to write messages of hope to the essential workers in our communities who still had to get out on the roads every day and do their jobs. I asked a bunch of my peers to help design these billboards and they were rolled out across the country. It was pretty surreal to stand under these massive digital versions of our artwork and not only gave us a sense of purpose but the opportunity to use design to bring a bit of joy in a pretty scary time.

How (if at all) do your interests outside of design inform the work in your portfolio?

My design work is massively informed by my life, I think everything I do does and should influence the next. But in saying that lots of the things I enjoy doing, like running or reading are not usually visually represented in my design but more spaces to mull over ideas of come upon new ones.

My final semester project though, is the perfect example of combining a bunch of things I am really interested in, Language, Latin American Culture, Revolution, creative writing, painting, poetry and history to create a design output that was informed by my time overseas and the interests I found while there

Why did you choose to study at AUT, and what do you feel you can take away now that you’ve completed your course?

I was really tossing up between AUT and Massy University in Wellington, all I knew was that I wanted to get out of Christchurch and figure out life on my own. I choose AUT because they offered me a scholarship because my hair went curly in the Auckland humidity and I knew one other person in the whole city. I chose AUT because it scared me and I knew that if was the perfect environment for that fear to turn into growth.

Independence was a massive take away from studying at AUT. Having total control of the outcome of a project, the hours you put in and the pace you work taught me so much about time and expectation management. It felt real and the tutors gave us the trust and space to create for ourselves. I loved the ownership we had over our space and our work, but also the sense of community within the studio the teaching and learning a reciprocal process.

How are you feeling about the future?

I’m feeling pretty nervous really, the thought of standing in front of a classroom of teenagers and engaging them in design is a little daunting. But mostly I am really excited, to see the minds of these kids and help them believe there is space for their talent in the creative industries. I have a couple of personal projects in mind also that I am also really looking forward to creating the space for. But my main intention in the next couple of years it to engage students in creative industry and deepen my knowledge in different cultural values and practices and how they can be represented in design.

What does your dream job look like?

We spent heaps of time thinking about this in our last semester of university, lots of mood boards and brainstorms of who and where you want to be. The only conclusions I came to really is wanting to work in a big, large windowed creative space biking distance from my house, so really I’m easy.

Before I started studying my dream was to work for Frankie magazine. I wanted to write, take photos, draw pictures. The multidisciplinary and physical medium aspect of that dream job are still super relevant to what I want to do in the future. I am just currently trying to balance creative desire with social justice and how I can create things that have a true purpose in our society.. Maybe the ministry of Education curriculum designer?

How can people get in touch and see more of your work?

Flick me an email at ruby.j.spark@gmail.com or check out my website https://rubyjspark.wixsite.com/spark


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