Design Currency: An Interview With Malcolm Koch
29th 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 Malcolm Koch who is based in Adelaide. Malcolm is the Creative Director for Malcolm Koch Design which has been running since 1989.
How do you keep yourself up to date within the design world?
Mostly my clients keep me up-to-date. Their needs drive me to research their requests to resolve problems and produce appropriate solutions.
Do design events, magazines, web sites, business networks help you in your work and in what way?
I find people in general a source of ideas and inspiration. Often the connections within your industry are people on your level of understanding. They help to reinforce and validate what you're doing but it's people outside this sphere that are more likely to aid you in building meaningful and relevant ideas.
Do you have any mentors to whom you refer? Are you able to tell us how this relationship impacts on you as a designer?
Generally any elder is considered a mentor to me. However, I tend to admire a 'stoic' kind of person. I see them as happier people. Their nature and basic virtues influences my approach to the everyday.
Can you name your favourite web sites/magazines that are must haves for you? Explain why?
ted.com Its tag line is: Ideas worth spreading. Baseline Magazine is essential reading and a constant source of reference. It focuses on type and typography, so it puts me in the right frame of mind to approach my work.
What about technology, do you currently use the latest and greatest available? What are some advantages/disadvantages of this?
All we need is a stable and reliable platform to aid us in production. The best design solutions are often simple and memorable because they're well-thought out. This is what makes an idea effective - not technology. However, we all need technology to help manufacture our ideas and as a consequence of this we fall prey to 'planned obsolescence' and must upgrade our equipment and complete systems every now and then otherwise we become cumbersome or incompatible. My last upgrade was last year, prior to that it was seven years ago. However, that's not to say my next upgrade will be of a similar distance, and I don't allow it to affect my ability to work.
How do you maintain a strong connection with your professional and social networks? Do you feel it is important to do so?
Yes! It's healthy to keep connected with friends and peers. As I said earlier, the associations within your industry are people on your level. People outside the 'design world' are more likely to aid you in building meaningful and relevant ideas (clients, partners, family etc). Both are necessary, in balance, to be a well-rounded individual.
How have your client relationships evolved over the past 5 years?
They are constantly evolving. That's what keeps work interesting and as they evolve the relationships get stronger, my understanding of their needs becomes more comprehensive and often more valued. The relationships with clients, like any relationships, require work from both parties to maintain continuity of ideas.
What do you do to keep your ideas fresh? Any hobbies or passions outside the studio?
I like to paint with oils. I enjoy the challenge of working with pure colour and texture on canvas. Its really just an extension of what I do commercially. Team sports have and will continue to play an important role in my life. It has introduced me to positive mentors, kept my ego in check and been a reason to keep up skills and maintaining my general well-being.
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?
As you grow and develop as a creative person, do you find that things become easier? Or are some aspects still a challenge?
Personally I don't like to use the word 'creative', it is misleading. I believe that design evolves through a process. Understanding the processes and defining this has become easier, but not the challenge. The challenge is making the work exciting to do.
How do you manage office resources so that you get the most out of them with minimum impact on the environment?
In a small office you can't afford to accumulate. So I usually say no to samples. Also, we try to re-use before we recycle. Being mindful of what you really need keeps you 'light-footed'.
How do you sustain a motivated and cohesive team?
Deadlines usually automatically do that. The stronger the relationship is with my clients the better we all work as a cohesive team (and long-term relationships create a sense of loyalty on both sides).
How do you adapt to growing trends in design, if those trends don't really tie in with your own design processes?
The clients I am working with don't generally find a need to adapt to trends. I respond to what is appropriate for my clients at any given time. I may research trends but we may not necessarily adapt or follow them.
What influenced you to become a designer? Did anything stem from perhaps childhood experiences and do these come through in your ideas?
Growing up in a deaf family meant that I was surrounded by highly visually aware mentors. The syntax of sign language is transferable to visual communications. So, it was just an unconscious natural progression.
What sort of changes can you see happening in the design industry over the next 5 years?
More complicated logistic needs from clients. A challenge for us all.
Think back to your last project; what were some of the things that influenced your ideas and process?
Our last project was a typical design development process. The brief was to produce a brand for a small winery. We started by investigating and researching the location and who they are. We established that it was their unique, isolated environment and long-standing sustainable vineyard practices that define them. We then set about developing solutions for consideration incorporating all the other necessary criteria, including: its practically, budget, effectiveness to adapt and appropriate use of materials.
What new and useful lessons did you draw from this project?
All projects are a useful exercise in relationship building.
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