Out West: Interviews with WA Designers : John Emery
7th December, 2009
Sean McKay bring us a series of interviews with some of Western Australia's most renowned graphic designers.
John Emery has been working in the design industry for 22 years. Based in Perth, WA he is currently Creative Director of REB Design, a design studio dedicated to producing premium branding (packaging) and communication programs.
Why did you become a graphic designer?
Prior to studying graphic design, I studied cartography and worked as a cartographer for 10 years in what was then called, the Department of Lands and Surveys. I worked in a division that produced tourist maps and atlases. Even though my cartographic skills were highly applauded (by my peers), I felt that I needed other influences, so after some investigation, the department allowed me to take leave without pay to study my degree at Curtin. On completing my degree, I was offered a design position by Neil Turner at Turner Design - I was 34, our first child was about to be born (she turns 22 this year!) and trying to renovate a house in Subiaco! It was a dramatic life change. I quit my cartographic position, took a massive pay cut and joined the Turner team.
Who were you influences earlier in your career?
Locally: Neil Turner, with respect to running a serious design shop that doesn't produce rubbish.
As designers: Roland Butcher, Steve Castledine and Andrew Stumpfel.
Eastern states: Barry Tucker
Overseas: Michael Vanderbyl, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Duffy Design.
Where did you work?
As mentioned earlier, Turner Design. Turner's had an exceptional team of people at the time - Steve Castledine, Roland Butcher, Paul Denis to name a few. It was a very good studio to get a grounding. Neil Turner may have expected his pound of flesh, but he did allow and encourage the designers. He had an exceptional client base which allowed everyone to work on a lot of premium projects. Working late into the night was the norm, which one doesn't see much of nowadays.
What were some of your favorite projects that you worked on?
That's a tough question. REB has always generated lots of good work, but the great jobs were more often than not, a result of the team spirit and the enthusiasm of the people involved.
I've always liked to be challenged, not only from a design perspective, but also in terms of management.
With respect to packaging, my favourite projects have always utilised the juxtaposition of classic cues with a contemporary twist. They include: New Norcia Bakeries, Dom Salvado and Nut Cake; Baldivis Estates Cabernet Reserve; a gift to the Tokyo Stock Exchange from the Bond Corporation (while at Turner Design); Dandaragan Estate Olive Oil range; Colonial Brewing Company; DOT AU Vodka; Bunnings Warehouse; Sun Plaza Medan Indonesia; Colonial Brewing Co.
Environmental works - stuff that requires attention, an understanding of materials and some design sensibility (I studied architecture for a while in my cartographic years, worked in engineering while studying cartography, built furniture and renovated a home - hence my desire to always want to know the details).
What is the most fulfilling aspect to your job?
Design works that have longevity, deliver the bucks for the client and satisfy my design sensibilities. I've always maintained that one should be proud of what they produce - it's a reflection of oneself. To date, I haven't let myself down.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
Heading a good studio with a good name (it has been sustained for the better part of 20 years). Churning out designers who have gone on to work in great design studios in London, Toronto and Melbourne - they all (thankfully!) inform me that their current job positions were won as a result of their times with REB
How do you feel graphic design has changed in Australia since you began work?
I can only speak about the local market. There appears to be less loyalty amongst younger designers. Most of them may be very capable on the Mac, but don't posses many design or life skills beyond that. The successful translation of a concept on the screen, to say the production of a bottle out of France or China or the development of a unique proprietary package is something very few of the current crop can manage.
What are some of your professional goals for the future?
To keep on enjoying what I'm doing.
How do you see the direction of graphic design in Australia going?
Where's the crystal ball!
What do you feel Western Australia will contribute to graphic design?
Sadly, less than it used to.
Of late, one finds the advertising fraternity regularly muscling their way in, providing the ‘one-stop-shop' service, taking over projects they are not qualified to handle, principally so that they can manage the media placement.
More designers are leaving university or college, to throw up a shingle at home and proclaim themselves ‘qualified' designers with little to no real experience. The results for the client and in turn the industry, speak for themselves.
What has been your personal key to success?
I wasn't aware that I was successful.
Be humble. Be honest. Be loyal. Do unto others etc
What do you feel are the most important skills to have as a graphic designer?
Depth, maturity and a desire to learn from others.
Life skills are important too: a passion for the written word, getting down and dirty renovating a home or re-building a car, having kids and worrying about them, listening to the tales the old love to tell, treasuring the past and embracing the new.
The more you learn the easier it is to identify with a client and understand their problems, and more importantly, how to help them.
What wisdom can you offer a graphic designer embarking on their career?
Find a company or someone who can teach you things you never learnt in uni or college. Enjoy working into the night. It can be very rewarding.
Be loyal to your boss - ya never know, one day you may even become a business partner!
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