Design Currency: An Interview With Alison Fort
23rd March, 2010
In the latest issue of AGDA's Agenda newsletter (due out next week!) we focused on the theme ‘design currency'. To coincide with this, a number of AGDA members were interviewed to see how they stay current, focussed and inspired in their design journeys.
Members were randomly selected and will be profiled in the ensuing weeks, so stay tuned!
This week features Alison Fort who is based in South Australia and has been working in the design industry for over 25 years.
How do you keep yourself up to date within the design world?
I have, and always have had, a love of all things design. As well as the obvious methods of keeping up-todate: mixing and working with contemporaries; attending exhibitions; reading books and publications; and visiting websites, I simply keep my eyes and mind open to what emerges around me. The ‘design world' surrounds us in ways too subtle for us to even realise. And it is this that truly inspires me.
Do design events, magazines, web sites, business networks help you in your work and in what way?
These all have their impact and can be generally motivating and energising, or more specifically, can be the spark of a new insight. I have a hunger and passion for design, so I try to absorb as much of it as I can, in whatever form it presents itself.
Do you have any mentors to whom you refer? Are you able to tell us how this relationship impacts on you as a designer?
Mentors, as such, no. However, I am fortunate to be working with an amazing bunch of contemporaries and clients, all of whom have their impact and serve to lend energy and momentum to myself and my work.
Can you name your favourite web sites/magazines that are must haves for you? Explain why?
Communication Arts is my number one ‘must-have'. I have issues dating back from as far as 1979. Each edition holds a tremendous showcase of work from various disciplines of the industry. Although time does not permit me a very deep wallow, I find inspiration in brief visits to both current and back issues.
What about technology, do you currently use the latest and greatest available? What are some advantages/disadvantages of this?
Having been in the industry for over 25 years, I have enjoyed the days of drawing boards, markers (squeakers], visualising and rendering, PMT machines and darkrooms, rapidographs, letraset, galley typesetting, ‘lick-and stick' artworking, cow gum, spray glue, wax and white paint, the introduction of the Mac Classic [with 8Mb RAM] and thence the sophistication of this tool to the magical beast it is today. Having said this, technology, as we know it, is a valuable tool for our industry, but it is just that, another tool. Using the latest available is necessary to maintain industry standard and has obvious advantages over traditional methods in areas of accuracy and speed, however, the danger is that we lose touch entirely with these traditional methods. Technology is not always the solution, sometimes we need to pick up a brush.
How do you maintain a strong connection with your professional and social networks? Do you feel it is important to do so?
Strong connection professionally and socially is very important, and the line that divides the two in my life is not very defined. Having a proactive approach to communication, I like to just ‘keep in touch', mainly via email, with clients, contemporaries, friends and family alike.
How have your client relationships evolved over the past 5 years?
The past five years have seen a pivotal change in my career and client base. I returned to Adelaide after 15 years in London in April 2005, and started freelancing with a blank canvas, so to speak. Initially my clients were design studios and agencies in town, sourced through Aquent, along with a number of existing clients in London, whom I still service. Over the years the balance has tipped and I am now mainly working directly with my own clients. My client base has grown through my own initiative in networking, and, increasingly, the impact of word-of-mouth. However, the relationships I have with my clients, or the way I proffer these relationships, has not essentially changed. Working mainly with the small business sector, these relationships are very close. I believe in, among other things, integrity, transparency and reliability, and I am fortunate to be in client relationships where these values are reciprocal.
What do you do to keep your ideas fresh? Any hobbies or passions outside the studio?
My hobbies outside the studio include painting, mosaics, cryptic crosswords, camping, eating, galleries, movies, etc. Some of these help to keep my ideas fresh and spark new insights, others freshen me up and give me the impetus to get back to it. Working on your own means a lot of self-discipline and attention to time management. Even when working to the tightest of deadlines, sometimes the most effective thing to do is to have time out. This serves to clear headspace and enliven senses, making for a more productive return to task.
Have you ever found yourself wanting to pursue another business avenue as a result of something you have learned through your work as a designer?
No. When I was 16 and dropped out of school to go to art school, I made the most astute decision I have ever made. I have never looked back. Design is my passion and I feel very fortunate that it is also my career and that the industry has employed me for over 25 years, to date.
As you grow and develop as a creative person, do you find that things become easier? Or are some aspects still a challenge?
Some things become easier. We learn and apply processes and methodology, we gain confidence in ourselves and our work, we know the questions to ask, and sometimes the answers to give. However, without challenge the spirit dies, and without learning we stagnate. Each new brief gives me the same thrill and the same nerves as if it were my first. Each new project lays out its own set of problems to be solved. This keeps me searching and exploring, and sufficiently challenges and motivates me.
How do you manage office resources so that you get the most out of them with minimum impact on the environment?
My studio is the front room of our home, so my commute to work has little impact. I use low energy light bulbs, print documents only when absolutely necessary, recycle all paper [firstly for notepaper and thence for pulp], turn lights and appliances off when not needed and reuse and retain as many tools and materials as I can. In fact, I still use tools I have had since my art school days.
How do you sustain a motivated and cohesive team?
As a sole-trader my team is very small! Self-motivation and cohesion, although difficult as a novice, with experience soon become part of life. Being interested, truly interested, in what you are doing and the reasons behind it, building close relationships with clients and suppliers, maintaining work flow and impetus are all paramount and conducive to inspired work.
How do you adapt to growing trends in design, if those trends don't really tie in with your own design processes?
I am not sure if we are talking here about trends in design ‘style' or trends in design ‘tools'. As far as style is concerned, I adapt as far as necessary to the current time, however, I have my own design style, which I try to keep essentially timeless and appropriate. As far as tools go, keeping up is important and necessary to maintain industry standard and processes need to adapt accordingly to accommodate new tools.
What influenced you to become a designer? Did any stem from perhaps childhood experiences and do these come through in your ideas?
Since childhood, I have always been a ‘maker' of things. I used to draw avidly and write little books and design then and bind them and so on. School did not hold my interest long enough for me to finish. In 1980 I was in year 11 and a friend brought in a prospectus for college courses. There was one in commercial art [as it was known at the time] and it sparked my interest. I went for an interview. Having no portfolio from school, I was encouraged to first complete the fine art course, and thence the commercial art course, which I did. When working on projects now, there are moments when I realise my thought process is harking back to these art school days. Snippets of information and learned methodology are still there and still valid. And sometimes the solution to a current design problem can stem from a much earlier project.
What sort of changes can you see happening in the design industry over the next 5 years?
I would not know where to begin to think about answering this. With technology advancing on a logarithmic scale, who knows where it will lead. One trend I have noticed over the last five or 10 years is the reduction in printed collateral. I still design annual reports for many clients, for example, but the print runs are decreasing and in some instances, non-existent, with the reports being published solely as PDFs for download. Having said this, I imagine that more and more publications will become virtual rather than tactile, which I think is a shame. We will miss the smell and feel of ink on paper.
Think back to your last project; what were some of the things that influenced your ideas and process?
Many things influence everything that I work on, so it is very hard to pin anything down in particular. I think this is just how it works. Ideas come from within and without and meld together until possible solutions are found. These possibilities are then explored and further insight found. This can be quite a journey. With each project my main concern throughout its duration is to maintain focus on purpose and end-use. I tend to develop a bit of a mantra to keep me on track. This can be as simple as repeating a company name or product when thinking about ideas for a new branding direction. It's about taking the journey, but sticking to the brief!
What new and useful lessons did you draw from this project?
Often it is the first idea that comes into your head that is the right solution, but if we do not take the journey, there are many things that we will never experience or discover for ourselves. And, we will never know that our first idea is the right solution, if we have nothing else with which to compare it.
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