Graduated – 2002
Mike began his career at The Chase, he has also had stints at Imagination, Pentagram, True North and Landor. He joined Interbrand Australia as a Creative Director in 2010 where has helped to establish the studio as one of the most creative in Asia. Mike has been fortunate enough to win over 40 international design awards.
In 2012 Mike has continued his awards success with in-book for D&AD, Best of Show at the Brand New Awards, recognition of typographic excellence by the Type Directors Club and is the recent winner of The Bill Bernbach Award for Creative Brilliance, an award that recognises the most creative individual within the DDB group. Mike is a council member and strategic advisor to the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA).
The Disciples of Design Q&A
How and where did you secure your first job?
I was very fortunate to be offered a job at The Chase by the great Ben Casey having completed a placement there between my second and third year. I had a few other offers from London agencies but The Chase always felt like my spiritual home so it was an easy decision to join full time.
What was it like starting out?
It was exciting. There was a new generation coming through at The Chase and we all wanted to add our own small chapter to the significant history of the agency. We did some good work, won some awards, drank a lot, had a laugh and looked out for each other.
Looking back, I learned a hell of a lot, and I still carry The Chase principles of ‘a great idea, well crafted’ into every new project I begin today. Simplicity above all else – communication not decoration. University taught me how to think, The Chase taught me how to design.
Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
Absolutely. Preston has given me much; lifelong friends, a philosophical framework and many unforgettable memories (and hangovers).
To me it’s always felt like being part of a big family and I’m genuinely proud to say that I studied at Preston. You only need to see the calibre of graduates the course has produced over the years and the positions they now hold. Look into many of the UK’s most successful design studios and you will usually find a Preston student there – from Pentagram to the Creative Director of Apple Europe – it’s clear the influence of the ‘Preston Mafia’ runs deep within our industry.
How has the industry changed over the last 10 years in your experience?
There have of course been some significant shifts; from Corporate Identity to Brand, from traditional media to digital and social media…etc. It’s an industry that is and should always be changing. That’s what design is: it’s a search for new and better ways of doing things. It’s part of our job to understand and embrace new technology and thinking. Therefore you should always feel on the front foot.
Having said that, there are things that will never change; Bob Gill put it best by saying ‘now that everything’s different, nothing has changed’. In other words, we will always need great ideas, executed well.
So how do you generate those ideas?
Of course you should look for ideas anywhere and everywhere but the truth is they often come when you stop looking! Reading a book, taking a walk, watching a film or having a conversation.
I’ve always found the more interesting my personal life, the better my ideas. It’s one of the many pleasures of being a designer; your personal interests can inspire your professional output. It’s therefore crucial to make time for outside influence. Think of the books you read, the films you watch, the people you meet and the events you go to as fuel for your next idea.
Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
Starting out at The Chase we would usually get a few days thinking time and then come together as a group to choose which ideas were worth pursuing.
These days I’m far more likely to be generating ideas in small teams of three to four people. This does rely on having a good creative rapport with the other collaborators. I’m very fortunate to share a strong design ideal with the creative team at Interbrand Australia.
What’s the best thing about branding?
It’s often said that a brand is a lot like a person, to which I would add that branding is about finding the best in that person.
We try to work with clients that have something important to share; be it an important message, a brilliant idea or a great product. It’s really rewarding to help communicate something worthwhile. All of this does mean choosing our projects carefully and I’m happy to say that we politely decline far more work than we take up.
And the worst?
L-o-n-g hours I’m afraid.
What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
My family, friends and mentors. I have been fortunate to work with people like Andy Bainbridge, Peter Richardson, Alan Herron, Lionel Hatch and Ben Casey. Not just great designers but great mentors, who were more than happy to give all of their knowledge away (thank you!). I now aspire to do the same.
What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
At Interbrand Australia we don’t talk about hiring great writers, strategists or designers. First and foremost we hire great people (who also happen to be great writers, strategists or designers).
I have hired designers that may not have had the best portfolio on offer but had an amazing attitude. I’m looking for humbleness, passion, enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard. All backed up by strong conceptual and layout ability of course. At the end of the day you work with the person not the portfolio.
Any advice for students entering the industry?
Michael Bierut once said that making your name in this industry simply comes down to ‘doing great work and telling people about it.’ So build a website and send your best work to your favourite blogs; It’s never been easier to promote yourself. Of course the trick is doing great work in the first place! That’s obviously where your focus should be.
One final piece of advice would be to get excited! You’re about to enter one of the most dynamic, exciting and creative industries around. Design at it’s best is transformational. It can challenge perceptions, revitalize businesses and on occasion, change the world.
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