Design Currency: An Interview With Peter Saunders
13th April, 2010
In the latest issue of AGDA's Agenda newsletter 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 Peter Saunders who is based in Tasmania. Peter has been studying design since 1999 and is currently studying a Masters of Visual Communication.
How do you keep yourself up to date within the design world?
I try to check regularly and read through a few design related blogs and forums. Some often link to a bunch of things I never would have seen otherwise. There are also a few designers that I pay particular interest to, and try to keep track of their new work. I try to read as many magazines as possible, but it's more difficult than online blogs, since so much of my time is spent researching and designing on the computer.
Do design events, magazines, web sites, business networks help you in your work and in what way?
I tend to find that the more I read or look at works or attend meetings and exhibitions, the more I am influenced in one way or another. Sometimes work I see that I don't like influences me more than work I do like. Events like AGIdeas are definitely the best thing I've been a part of in the last four or so years. There is just so much exposure to so many world class designers, ideas and having the chance to talk to not only them but your peer group - it is probably the best boost of inspiration, often when it is needed most.
Do you have any mentors to whom you refer? Are you able to tell us how this relationship impacts on you as a designer?
I've had a couple of teachers throughout my undergrad and postgrad studies that I get along really well with. I respect them as designers, but also I am able to talk through my ideas with them and gain some valuable feedback. I find that I get so caught up with specific details of projects that they often lose their core concept. It helps to talk through this process with someone more experienced, and they often help me get back on the track I originally intended.
I am also in constant contact with a couple of designers in America. Speaking to them reminds me that I am often a little insulated and stuck in my own world and due to the current state of the design world, I should be thinking a little more globally. For some reason, trying to think globally tends to ground me a little more, but I don't know which recessive gene causes that.
Can you name your favourite web sites/magazines that are must haves for you? Explain why?
I tend to spend more time on Swissmiss than anywhere else. I don't really know how that came about, but the site seems to link to so many aspects of design (resources, tools, quotes, photography or just generally awesome industrial design). Flicking through these collections of so many different things tends to allow me to relax for a few minutes and see what else is out there.
What about technology, do you currently use the latest and greatest available? What are some advantages/disadvantages of this?
I try to be as aware as possible of what the latest and greatest technology available is, but I don't have enough money to spend on it. For example, a phone I use for four months of the year still has a killer MIDI ringtone. I think it is really important to be aware of what is going on around you, so you can make sure that the design work you're doing (especially if it is based online) does not fall by the wayside or is replaced by the new "best" thing. As far as advantages go, I really enjoy learning new things, so I can constantly immerse myself in new design tools or ways of presenting media. Of course, the disadvantage of this is that you can never really take a breath and just enjoy some of the work you've created thus far.
How do you maintain a strong connection with your professional and social networks? Do you feel it is important to do so?
As much as I hate to admit that sites like Facebook have started to control our lives, I have to give them kudos for being amazing networking tools. It is so much easier to contact people who may be able to give you some assistance, to freely advertise work that you're showing, and to keep up to date with what others around you are doing. These sites have just become essential marketing tools, so it is vital to keep up to date with them. Except Twitter. Twitter breeds stupidity.
How have your client relationships evolved over the past 5 years?
My client relationships have evolved from none to...some. I'm still pretty new to the game, so I'm learning as I go. But definitely in the last couple of years, I've learned to become more confident in my abilities as a designer and I feel they're reflected in how I interact with my clients. For example, it is no longer just a matter of me putting together what they think they want to see, but being actively involved in the process to create more interesting and hopefully successful outcomes.
What do you do to keep your ideas fresh? Any hobbies or passions outside the studio?
I ski. I work every winter (our summer) in America as a ski instructor. I like to shoot video and make movies, I love to listen to music. I enjoy writing, I try to read as much as possible, take photos, explore new countries and make new friends.
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?
Although I work mostly with print, I really love the idea of video work. Working with audio and visual creates so much more of an overall sensation to me. I find that if I'm filming something I am passionate about, I really get into the project and it becomes more personal, and (hopefully) better. Some of my happiest days have been spent in the middle of nowhere filming my mates ski down ridiculously steep slopes.
As you grow and develop as a creative person, do you find that things become easier? Or are some aspects still a challenge?
I've never really found the creative process very easy, so I think if it is too good to be true, it probably is. The technical side of things always becomes easier, as you become more accustomed to the programs you use but working out what you want to make and why is still a difficult process.
How do you manage office resources so that you get the most out of them with minimum impact on the environment?
I try to either store or recycle all the paper products that I use. Most of my work is done on my laptop though, so the whole thing is relatively paperless. The one thing I am mostly conscious of is natural lights - I like to have windows open as often as possible.
How do you sustain a motivated and cohesive team?
I think it's important to know from the outset what we're trying to get out of a project and why. When people start to forget, it's good to remind them. Beer and bribery also works (not necessarily in that order).
How do you adapt to growing trends in design, if those trends don't really tie in with your own design processes?
I find that I don't really have a set design process. Sometimes things happen, sometimes they don't. Trends are good because they provide obvious new things to try out. If they seem to fit with how you work, you keep them. If they don't, you block your ears and close your eyes and wait for the next trend to hit. It doesn't take long.
What influenced you to become a designer? Did any stem from perhaps childhood experiences and do these come through in your ideas?
I was always intrigued by the things I saw around me. Throughout school, I was really good at maths and science, but was never excited by the prospect of making either of those into a career. Since "recess" wasn't a valid option for further education, I explored what was possible on a computer and how to design posters, web sites and animations. Then, as I traveled around the world, I started to see what was really possible through these mediums and that made me more excited to try and learn new things and get to that level. People seem to be improving at a much faster rate than me though, so it's probably going to be an endless task.
What sort of changes can you see happening in the design industry over the next 5 years?
The main change I have seen recently is that the big name designers (the Stephan Sagmeisters and David Carsons of the world) aren't where people look to for ideas. I think that it is now the people that blog about design that really dictate the latest ideas and trends. They bring together so many different people and designs that viewers are inundated with ideas, concepts and inspiration. I can only see this increasing in the next 5 years and beyond. Hopefully, too, people will realise that everything "Carbon Offset" is pretty much just a scam.
Think back to your last project; what were some of the things that influenced your ideas and process?
This was one of my first projects creating a legitimate corporate identity for a new business. I had to be really studious in looking at competitor's identities; what worked and what didn't; what I liked and what I didn't. It was really the things that I didn't like with what I saw that lead me to the outcome I created. I also spent most of the day time skiing, so I could look at the project with fresh eyes every day. I wish that could be every day...
What new and useful lessons did you draw from this project?
For the first time (outside of University), I was given pretty much free reign of a design identity. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the rationale I included clearly explained all of my ideas to someone who was not design-orientated, and actually sold the project as a whole. I used to view them as a bit of an afterthought, but now I know they are pretty much vital in explaining something to a person who doesn't necessarily see a design for what it is. Just made me realise that although I can see my own ideas clearly, a little bit of a write up goes a long way in selling the concept. It's also a nice feeling when someone really likes your ideas.
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