Frequencies Podcast by WGI: Shaping the World Around Us With James Gilmore


James Gilmore, Creative Director of DesignStudio joins us to share his journey—starting off designing for the coolest underground labels, DJs, and bands to present day of shaping and guiding some of the world’s most revered brands. He discusses what it is was like when he started and compares it to what it takes today—solving complex problems for global companies. He dives into some big decisions he’s made in his life, what it’s like to guide the team at DesignStudio, unlocking and unblocking creativity, and reminds us we shouldn’t be creating work that everybody loves.

Here is the transcript from the conversation.

Please note we use an automated transcription process that is not 100% accurate. If you read something that seems a little off, it may not have been transcribed correctly. We try our best to catch them. If you catch one, shoot us a note so we can update it!

James: [00:00:00] You know, we have an incredible opportunity to use creativity, to shape the world around us. Whether that's making someone stop and smile or contributing to kind of really big, complex problems out in the world, create work, which is. Brave, which some people love and adore and connect to you and others hate. If everyone likes your work, it's probably really boring.

Ian: [00:00:30] Welcome to frequencies the podcast by world's greatest internship and butcher shop creative that share stories and practical advice from. Creative leaders around the world. I'm the Ian Ernzer. And I hope you enjoy my conversation with the talented James Gilmore.

James a designer and creative director with over a decade gage experience, working with global brands, including the premier league, sweat lodges tech enrollee. After spending the first eight years of his career, working at studios across the UK in 2016, he moved to Sydney and rejoined design studio to open and lead their first Southern hemisphere studio in 2018.

Alongside his work within the studio is actively involved in Australian creative and education sphere, mentoring and teaching at university technology, Sydney and returning for the fourth year to mentor students through DNA D new blood

James Gilmore. Welcome to frequencies. It's great to have you on here.

James: [00:01:26] It's good to be here.

Ian: [00:01:29] Let's kick this off with telling us a little bit about who you are, where were you born and raised and what did you think you'd be when you grew up?

James: [00:01:37] Wow. So I grew up, I was born in the Northeast of England in a place called Stockton, which is a fairly unremarkable. Town. I don't think even many people in the UK have already heard of it. And I grew up there for a little bit, and then in York, which is also in the Northeast of England, in terms of always wanting to kind of work in creativity, I think I'm really fortunate that from a young age, I was quite exposed to the possibilities of that. My dad was a teacher, but also really passionate photographer. So it's always kind of aware of, of those pieces and I sort of bounced between. Different versions of design when I was a kid. And I kind of wanted to see those, whether it's architecture or I got really into car design at one point, I think I quickly learned that both of those potential careers involved, a lot of studying, which turned me off of them quite quickly and which, you know, it's, it's a fairly well-trodden well-told reason, but the thing which kind of really connected me into the possibility of graphic and visual design was.

So music and culture, you know, growing up in the UK, kind of deeply exploring, underground music culture and especially DJ myself and a lot of stuff that was fed to me by my older brother, Christie, and that sort of leaping off point of here's this world that I love. And there's a visual, verbal articulation of it connected me to the idea of.

Hey, I could potentially perceive this as a thing to spend my life and spend my time do.

Ian: [00:03:31] So you always had that inkling, that intonation, that you'd be doing something creative, you just didn't quite know. And it seems like you sort of stumbled into it, but try it a couple of things that eventually led you to some, some bigger opportunities or maybe some, a little more clarity around what's possible.

James: [00:03:49] Yeah, definitely. It's always interesting to talk to people cause I don't, I don't, I think as an industry, we do a terribly good job of telling young people or the world outside of our own, outside of our own world and our own communities, that this is a potential career that you can pursue. And it has, you know, real social and economic impact.

And there are. Kind of variations and versions of it, which speak to lots of very different and diverse, personal interests and ambitions. There's someone standing around the studio, but there's this great meme collection of clips that someone's put together, which is. All of the characters in kind of like terrible eighties and nineties films who are graphic designers.

Yeah. It's all of the worst cliches. It's like the sort of angsty, moody, person who like listens to complex electronic music or really heavy metal. And then like the graphic designer or the poster artist. and so I think we, as an issue, we haven't really, we don't do a very good job of showing yourself to the world, but also at the same time, we do get a bit of a roll deal or what people think we do.

Ian: [00:05:09] Yes. Kind of a secret society in some, some sense. It's like if you know, you know, and for a lot of people, they don't, they don't know until maybe later on. In the car halfway through uni or college? it's sometimes not even until after, right after they graduate. Did you study creativity or design?

James: [00:05:27] Yeah, so I, I studied graphic arts.

It was called at the time a university. Yeah. Even that steak, suitably superbly vague. I studied graphic arts, Liverpool, John Moores university, which was Liverpool and like, I'm really. Awesome. Creative course. I think, you know, spoken about this previously, they didn't really teach us in terms of like hard skills, but to have three years to kind of experiment and try and, you know, find your voice and find your interests was really interesting.

I'm really excited. And I think it's really trusting. I often reflect on the sort of price and cost of education versus the access to it now, and whether it would be something which I would perceive in a formal setting. If I work on an 1819, I honestly don't know. I think the ways into this industry and the understanding of it now is light years on from where.

We were sort of 10, 12, 15 years ago. I think that's really exciting. I think it's really interesting, you know, you look at businesses and brands like Adobe and what they've done through kind of their engagement with the community, through whether it's kind of mass or, or perhaps in elevating the kind of voice and visibility of design, but also the access from a community side into, you know, The industry and into having kind of raising a public profile.

So yeah, I spent three years in Liverpool, which is if you've never been, it's a really beautiful, interesting city, you know, it's steeped in kind of cultural heritage with the Beatles and, you know, kind of Peter Blake and a lot of the arts, culture there, but it's, it doesn't have a huge design agents have seen, which is really unfortunate.

So. Kind of what would happen is everyone would graduate and then the startup know. And so if one, two man band themselves, or just do over and did an authentic kind of head to London or Manchester or Leeds and start finding work at an agency there. I moved back to my mom and dad's, cause I didn't have a job, any money and slowly started applying for internships and looking for those kind of graduate opportunities from yeah, from that from day one and, and, and spent about a year, interning in agencies.

Ian: [00:08:00] So do you feel like graduating, you were equipped with the skills that you needed to then go into that first internship?

or was it kind of learn as you go?

James: [00:08:10] I think it's a bit of their column and a bit of column B. I think that's a really interesting question. And if I kind of reflect on it from my sides now, it's like, what are the skills?

And in turn needs. And I think my perception when I graduated would have been, you know, I need to know all of these programs to be able to, you know, kind of knock out great concepts and deliver work. Now, sitting on the other side of that conversation, I think my expectation is much lower. Or more open, you know what I bring in an intern it's because they're a really interesting person and the intro, what's the view on the world, the things that they have kind of pursued through their own academic study, I find intriguing.

And I want to inject that way of thinking to the team and yeah, I think it's kind of constantly. Spoken about, you know, interns being industry ready or graduate as being industry ready. And I, I kind of think it's a bit of nonsense because it's, it's like, you know, industry moves so quickly and by its nature, formal education moves in, you know, three year cycles.

There's an in compatibility, which needs to be resolved. And I think a lot of that comes at kind of within the conversation of expectation as well.

Ian: [00:09:35] Yeah. Yeah, let's come back to that. Cause I think there's, there's a lot to unpack there and explore. But going back to your journey, you got your first internship.

Did you go right from that first internship into steady studio job?

James: [00:09:48] No, I, well I should, I should preface this by saying I graduated in 2008, which was the. Hi of the financial crisis, global financial crisis. So, you know, we all thought the world was ending. Banks were melting down. Economies were sort of going to the wall all around the world.

It's funny how nothing really changes. through my time at university, I had gotten really obsessed with a couple of studios, studio outputs, who were based in Nottingham in the UK, a small city in the UK at the time. And they were doing work for ministry of sound. And that was kind of my way, it was like, I love this, you know what this club represents in London, it's nightclub.

I love the work that they're doing. I would love to be part of that. I got really obsessed with. Designers Republic as most designers my age did, again for that kind of event and warp records, and a lot of the culture pieces they did around, the UK and also not the attitude though, based in Sheffield.

They're also based in Sheffield. Which is kind of former industrial town in the North of England. It's not particularly glamorous big, you know, they had a real kind of you about rejecting the necessity to be in London, to be where everyone else was. They had that, they've got kind of all these slogans, which, you know, they kind of really riff on.

Capitalism and consumerism and sort of poke fun at it. And one of them was North of nowhere, London. It's just like, you know, nice rejection. So I was really into those guys. And then the other one was an agency called give, give up art, which is run by Stuart Hammersley and they were doing and still do.

Incredible work for a radio station called SFM and a nightclub, which is also sorry, which is also a club night and a record level temper. And they were like really at the heart or dumpster in its early formative years of lots of experimental electronic groups. So I was just absolutely blown away by them.

And so when I graduated, I set about on age trying to get a job at studio output or an intentional studio and trying to get an internship, but give up art or designers public. Because as I spoke about this was my way of connecting the two of the things I love, which was design and creativity and music and culture, and understanding that kind of very immediate.

Impact that I did, could have on the world. And so I was really fortunate Stu give a path, getting my first internship. I've no idea why I just don't. Yes. It says submission. which, you know, I think it is, I mean, a couple of things it's really small shop. It's essentially students, his wife, Emma, the agency.

And I, you know, I think again, kind of looking from the other side now, you know, interns. It sounds quite intense, you know, can be quite time consuming and having an incident can be quite time consuming because you want to give them the best experience. And they're kind of really invested in helping them grow through the process.

And so, you know, he respects you for, for doing that. And that, that was really interesting for me. So I was living in York and my folks at time. I basically, I jumped on the train to London, spent a couple of months sleeping on friend's sofas. So I could live for nearly nothing and yeah, I've got my teeth stuck into.

Loads of incredible record cover work club night work. And it just like having never lived in London to that previously, you know, kind of been exposed to that world, especially if you design it just absolutely blew my mind. And from there I kind of worked through consecutive. Internships with agencies in London place called OD who did a lot of really fun kind of retail work and fashion work for plants like Uniqlo.

and I just thought SAS stocks, Austin size, and that was comfortable with corporate report work. a couple of agencies up in the North and leads. We'll call it loud and clear. Another one called analog. And so I sort of spent about a year bouncing around, which was, it was really good actually, you know, got a lot of expense.

I learn what I love and also what I didn't turns out. I don't love doing corporate reports, which on reflection is not an absolute. Shaka surprise

Ian: [00:14:28] takes a special person.

James: [00:14:30] It does well, and I think this isn't, this is the thing it's like, you've got to, I do really believe that you got in there and what you don't want to do to, to help you find what you do want to do as well.

And so after about a year of, of that kind of bouncing around and, you know, getting, you know, getting paid something, the internships, you know, I didn't ever take any, I think that wasn't paid. I just couldn't afford to be like, be in London for months on end or be in another city for months on end unpaid, a junior designer role came up at studio Nottingham and I applied, I had a, I think it's like a two day trial, which is a really interesting process as well.

Kind of ENA using your skills I'm in life project to kind of when a piece, when I, when a job essentially, and. I was really fortunate. I came out of that with the, the junior design role. And so I think a couple of weeks later, I moved to move to Nottingham. Again, another city I hadn't ever lived in or really spent any considerable time in and started a junior role at the agency that I'd always wanted to work at, which was a huge blessing and loads of fun.


Ian: [00:15:32] So two of the big ones, I mean, you've had a lot of, you had a lot of stops in between, but two of the prize ponies that you had your eyes set on, are where you wound up, which is pretty cool. And I think you hit a good point, you know, about finding, you gotta learn what you don't like in order to understand.

What you do like, and what's a good, what a good fit is for you. And it's so, so crucial to understand

James: [00:15:57] yeah. A hundred percent, you've got to learn your kind of own interests and what you, what you love to do. I think as well, there are jobs or projects, which you might not enjoy or love that you'll work on through.

Through all of your career, not just your early years. And I think it's been very conscious of what the kind of learning or growth is that you can harness from those pieces. I was talking to a, sort of a designer the other day who kind of lives in another part of Australia. And we're talking about, so.

Join the team at some point. And they've been, you know, working in a role which has maybe exposed them to a lot more kind of corporate work over the last few months with large government organizations, which certainly what sets that heart. I liked, but it's incredible learning, especially at a young age to be working with like big corporate organizations complex.

They hold the management, it teaches you so many kind of soft skills and so much of what we all take for granted as you kind of grown and develop. But also to that point as has taught them that they don't necessarily want to pursue that as a, as a career path. And I think as well, it really made me reflect on when I went to Stewart give apart, I'd always, and actually kind of some of the music stuff that I did in my early years when I was working at studio output, you know, I'd always set up working in, in, in and around music and around kind of culture or sister.

That's the Holy grail. And then once I got my hand into that and I got to do a bit of it. I loved it. I really loved it. And it's funniest. You sent me an email probably about two weeks ago. He was going through some old hard drives and found a bunch of the work that we did together. When I was into the wild, it made me realize that I kind of want it more and something different as well.

You know, this thing that I'd always set my eyes on. Once I started doing it, I was like, this is wonderful. It's loads of fun. It's really exciting, but I want something else. I want to be bigger and maybe broader. And, you know, I want something with a yeah, like a non visual component. So whether it's kind of strategy or, or language, you know, I want to experiment with different mediums, whether it's kind of photography and art direction or motion or three day, or what reason to think that process and that process over the first three years, when I worked at studio output.

Ultimately led me to the position where I was, I was ready to say, Oh, actually what I want to try. It's branding. And ultimately led me to, to design studio back in 2012, when I moved to London.

Ian: [00:18:44] So it was a transition from almost going to this. I mean, the pinnacle of a young designer of designing posters and sleeves to doing that, to transitioning into kind of more of the problem solving or maybe connecting design and creativity and writing to business goals, you know, for other types of companies versus, an artist, a DJ.

James: [00:19:07] Yeah. And I think. One thing that has kind of really led me to that was Juma during my time at studio output. You know, I got exposed to a lot of different projects from kind of arts, arts council projects, working for the BBC. We work for Sony PlayStation, ministry of sound. Through that time, I started to develop a real interest in kind of motion and 3d in particular.

At that point I was getting really heavy in cinema four D and I got to this point and I was like, I want to go and. Develop my sort of direct art director, directorial skills a bit more. I want to push himself in this kind of motion space that I'm really starting to enjoy. And I want to get into yeah.

Bigger yeah. Complex organizations. And at that point design studio where. Doing a lot of work for Nakia. We were kind of one of their primary agencies and that meant everything from really kind of owning and helping refine the master brand through to lots of campaign work. Did you, retail pieces and as, and these come three D and product motion pieces, and so.

That's this look, those pieces lining up, drew me towards the agency at that time, because I saw her kind of a bigger opportunity for me. And again, to kind of try and do something, which I hadn't before.

Ian: [00:20:27] And so that was some of the early work and just those opportunities and clients and the people that you work with have kept you there.

Obviously you're still at design studio and you guys are doing quite well over in Sydney and it makes me wonder. You know, from when you joined to now, how things have changed, you know, and maybe even we can circle back to what we're talking about, you know, emerging creatives coming out of university, or even self-taught creative, self-taught writers and designers and people who are just really good problem solvers strategists, you know, and what studios are looking for or expecting from them.

James: [00:21:03] Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So, I mean, I joined in I don't disaster. Yeah. In 2012. And as, as a kind of mentioned at that time, we were really heavily involved with Nakia. And that client probably took it about maybe 70 or 80% of our work, with kind of a few small pieces peppered in, I mean, it's a radically different business now, you know, we've got studios in North America, Europe, Sydney.

We don't have that kind of big tentpole client anymore. You know, we've got kind of. Dozens of clients all around the world and, and it's all, you know, large branding projects, digital experience projects, kind of retail and spatial pieces, really kind of complex and rich strategy, visual, verbal identity.

And it's, it's a, it's a fundamentally different business. And I think so, I, I worked for. I was in the London studio between 2012 and 2016. And then I got to a point in my life. I was early and I just wanted to, I wanted to go live somewhere else in the world. I'd never done that. I. And I started looking around whether it could be and what it could mean, and actually your options narrow down fairly quickly.

in terms of being able to get a visa, being able to slot in relatively easy from a language point of view, potentially being able to, I work in and around the same space. It's basically Canada or Australia, and I'd never been to either and fancy going a little bit further away than Canada was to the UK.

And so I ended up in, ended up in Sydney. And so I actually, I left design studio. I left in 2016 and, with Sydney worked, a small agency here for about nine months. And during my time, during my time here at Ben and Paul, who. Founded, DS where we're over here, speaking at a conference called semi-permanent, which is, is an incredible, incredible conference.

I've been lucky enough to speak there as well. And we just started having a chat about, you know, what was the agency landscape like? Did they, did they think there was kind of room for a sort of design studio kind of agency, you know, an independent brand agency, which kind of really pushed clients was very ambitious, global reach.

And I mean, I'm, I'm not going to lie. I knew what they were asking like, and so obviously I started kind of trying to plant that seed and push the conversation along and, and naturally that evolves. And to them, since you're asking me to rejoin the agency to open up the Sydney office and to come on board as creative director, which, you know, huge respect to those guys for kind of giving me a stake in and kind of a, you know, a bit of responsibility for the thing that they, they built.

And I loved and have grown over the past. 12 years. And obviously I didn't turn down. I don't think opportunities like this come around very often if ever. And so, yeah, I kind of took that hand off and in February, 2018, we opened up. Design studio Sydney originally just with myself saying that we work is the way from where we are now.


Ian: [00:24:31] got to start somewhere.

James: [00:24:32] Yeah, you do. You do. And it's yeah, it's, it's a really exciting journey to be on and I'm sure as you can kind of attest to it's, it's one that's never really done, which I think is what makes it a kind of. Continuously energizing and interesting.

Ian: [00:24:49] Totally. Yeah, you gotta, you gotta always have something to look forward to tomorrow.

So there at, at design studio, you work with all different types of people, writers. Project managers, designers, strategists. What's your, your relationship with creatives look like? I mean, what's that day to day, you know, as far as you driving projects forward and really help nurturing creatives to do their best work.

Can you share some of that with us? About what your day to day kind of process?

James: [00:25:19] Yeah, definitely. I think the thing, one of the things I love is, you know, my daily routine is often. Radically different day to day in terms of the relationship with the team, it's it? I think it falls into a number of buckets or areas, you know, I'm there to provide.

Support and security and kind of reassurance to the team. So as they move through a project, being able to provide, to kind of counsel them and help them pick some of the challenges that maybe they're working through a certain point in the project, it's about. Building and shaping processes, which are gonna get the best out of people.

So how do we, you know, how do we run that whole project? What are the stages it's within it, which we're all looking to hit and building kind of common understanding of what we're looking to achieve along the way. I, you know, I have a dual responsibility to the client as well. It's going to push the team to achieve their best work and probably frustrate them a bit as well.

It's kind of part of my role to be a bit of a, a challenge to them, I think. And then, you know, kind of down on an individual level, it's, it's really about sending time, you know, answering the questions, working through the problems that everyone may have, or I may see, and, and raising them with people to make sure that they're aware of it and powering them to feel like they're part of.

The process really get them involved in the, in the relationship with the client, you know, whether that's making sure that the most junior member of the team is kind of presenting and fielding questions and being part of the key moments in the project so that the client is kind of really aware and knows what contribution as well.

You know, it's not about me. Kind of owning the client relationship in the sense of like, I'm the only one that they meet and they participate with. So it is kind of where sometimes like you can have the busiest days and your contribution can feel so sort of a morphous, and kind of gaseous that I'm like, what am I doing?

What, what might they be. or what have I done? I just feel like you've got all these kinds of spaces and places to sort of slot into, that it can feel a lot less defined than maybe, you know, kind of senior designer design director roles. But, you know, if I look around at the studio and other kind at the work that we're doing and I kind of winning and.

The client relationships that we're building, it's all going in the right direction. doesn't say sometimes it does gotten the wrong direction. You know, it's all going in the right direction here that okay, cool. I can still feel my presence in that progress. That sounds really weird.

Ian: [00:28:06] Well, it's out some days, some days it's operator, some days it's more, hands on or driving and maybe some days it's more about getting weird and getting creative and seeing what works, what doesn't, how much of that process is about providing feedback to the team.

You know, what's that sort of, what does that look like? I mean, is that an everyday thing?

James: [00:28:24] And really, it really depends on the cadence of the projects. You know, we have projects which needs to kind of move much quicker and probably need a more frequent check in, you know, kind of progress, progress session.

There's bigger pieces, which are kind of much more longer running. And so it's less frequent. It's more about kind of those key milestones, depends working on it. You know, I think understanding. What different people at different levels need one kind of looking for in that relationship as well? There isn't, there definitely isn't a one size fits all model.

You know, more recently I've been trying to kind of be less involved, but just use my involvement less Courtney and put the owners. Back onto the senior designers, the design director to open those more regular kind of check ins, you know, Progress reports, smaller challenges with the teams so that they, you feel a bit more empowered.

I don't know. You know, it doesn't feel like I'm just sort of swooping in and trying to like micromanage every piece. but you know, a simple level, I just don't have time. You know, we've got seven or eight live, large scale projects going on. I didn't one time plus all the new business, plus all the operations staff, plus, you know, everything else that you need to do.

It doesn't make sense for me to try and, you know, be so hands on with, with every small piece, you know, getting people to kind of own their own decisions and their own mistakes is really important. And just building a process with kind of enough. You know, points of connection and check in that it feels much more like steering and guidance rather than, you know, micromanagement and, you know, being on the tours and doing it for someone.

Ian: [00:30:10] Yeah. What kind of advice could you give to somebody who's first starting off and they're trying to navigate that space of how to build their confidence, right? Like you're talking about getting. Inspiring the team to kind of take more of a hands on approach and not have to rely so much on their creative director or someone in a more senior position, but to have the confidence to really put together a story of why their, why their direction is the right one.

James: [00:30:38] Yeah, I think. On that kind of really junior end of the spectrum. you know, I think it's kind of simple things ask the dumb questions, but there is, there shouldn't be huge expectation for you to know and yeah. Send everything within this world within this project or process. you know, we were having a conversation.

a couple of weeks ago, Haley, who is our most recent? No, I know, pointed out the, you know, during the group session, I was kind of using a lot of terminology and language, which she, she hadn't come into contact with before and didn't necessarily understand. And it really made me reflect around the, I suppose, it's, you know, the kind of shared understanding or expected understanding that we have.

Once people start to hit certain level, you know, simple things like terminology around brand systems or, you know, assets or whatever it is, that you just don't get exposed to. Or I certainly didn't get exposed to when I was at university. so I think, certainly ask, ask the questions, you know, no one's going to think any less of you.

I think people will think less of you if you continue to sort of push on without. Like interrogating

Ian: [00:31:47] to pretend you

James: [00:31:48] notice those knowledge gaps. Yeah. Yeah. Did that ask for opportunities, you know, a good studio and a good. Team should recognize someone who's kind of really hungry and engaged in the process and the projects.

And if you start asking, you know, Hey, could I present this bit in the meeting or can I run the workshop or can I just show you my ideas for 10 minutes? It really shows people respect and recognize it, and you know, engage with everyone else. Because I think one of the best things about working in a, in a creative agency in a creative space is you have the cumulative learning of, you know, whether it's five, 10, 15, 50 people, everyone has a different line of experience and a different level, of kind of a crude experience.

And that's incredibly. Powerful. And I think being able to draw upon all of that and ask people how they feel, the problem that you're currently struggling with in another world and another life is really useful. you don't have to do everything on your own, you know, at any level, like it's not as like, you know, apart from the mechanic real time in terms of design, it's really not a solo sport.

It's it's a, it's a team sport. And I think remembering that in, in your work and when you're trying to figure things out, someone else might be able to help look at your problem from a different angle and help you help you kind of unpack it and see a different way.

Ian: [00:33:19] Yeah. So really honing in the communication and asking questions, showing up, being present.

I like the idea of smaller and sooner, not larger and later, small questions, small shoulder taps, flybys asking for five minutes of somebody's time, you know, and that's a great way to build trust

James: [00:33:35] hundred percent. Yeah. You know, if you're wandering around the studio, you see something interesting on someone's screen, ask about it, they get your, get your work.

Print it out, get it up on the wards, get it into a, get it into the eye line, people so that as someone's walking to make a coffee or a tea, they stop and take a look and then you can kind of sort of tease some info out. And here's a question into the conversation. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely some warmer and sooner like a good team needs to be ready to kind of open, communicative.

I don't think there's things which kind of lead towards that state and totally, you know, it's a lot of it. Isn't like honesty and kind of trust. I also believe like I was talking to much, I'm a Jane about this the other night. She was on a panel that we're talking about kind of studio culture. This week.

I think personally as serious as I may see, I, I think building a really healthy environment where people can be really kind of silly and, you know, be themselves and kind of goof off and have fun gets really contributes to the ability to build an environment where the kind of opposite of that is almost achievable that you can call out that work and it'd be like, Okay, because we've all had fun together.

We'd built like personal connection. It is not a judgment and critique on you as much as, you know, creatives love to, we love to attach self-worth to kind of thing that we kind create. It plants the worlds and you know, that is a never ending battle. but I think if you can build a space where people can kind of be honest and open and have fun and.

You know, connect on a very personal level when it comes to the time where you've got to be like, no, this isn't good enough. Well, this is wrong. Or why are we going this way? It's a much more, kind of objective conversation about the work rather than the muddying of, of, of me and my self worth and what I've built and created.

and it's feeling kind of personal.

Ian: [00:35:34] Yeah, you're not, you're not attacking somebody's personality when you're giving them feedback on the work. And I think that's, that's definitely a long road for some to get to that point to be okay. And I think that's actually what causes a lot of them that hiding of work, you know, where people are afraid to put their work up on, on the pinup board.

Just get feedback and get eyes on it. I think sometimes people are afraid of the feedback. And as soon as you get out of that mindset, as soon as you change that mindset to seeking feedback and wanting the work to be, you should know, to be torn apart and blowing up, the faster you get to producing better work and creating more of a connection with your colleagues as well.

That's sort of like communication is critical.

James: [00:36:19] Yeah, definitely. And I think, you know, the other side of that is, you know, I'm hyper aware and, You know, still learning how to do that in a way, which is most effective for different people. You know, some people really respond to being kind of pushed and challenged in quite a confronting way that, you know, it's not good enough.

We need to, we need to make it better. We need to work harder. let's go over here. Other people, you know, Kind of shut down under that sort of, conversation. So that's much more of a, it's much more about kind of helping them reach the conclusion that we're searching for as a team without necessarily just like shoving them in that direction.

and yeah, making it a bit gentler and more personable and more sort of supportive, I suppose, is the right word.

Ian: [00:37:09] So do you, in your opinion, as soon as somebody can know themselves and become self aware of the type of what type of feedback they thrive on and what works best for them, the better they can be

James: [00:37:18] a hundred percent definitely.

And I think on the flip side of that as well, like me understanding. What everyone like is all school knowing what supports and pushes us best is, is really useful. it's like, what are the sort of modes and, and ways of communication that will get the best out of you. and I think that's, you know, that's a real kind of journey, which takes, I think probably quite a long time to really understand what.

Helps you the most.

Ian: [00:37:49] Yeah. You don't care, wake up tomorrow and I'll,

James: [00:37:51] you know, it's kind of like therapy. you've got to learn your, your kind of triggers and things that excite you and engage you and help other people understand that as well. Like, you know, we're not all psychic. We can't understand what's going on in everyone's lives that may be shifting or shaping the way in which.

They bring themselves into that conversation at that moment. And so, yeah, you know, communication is here and I think this is my position in my view of what we do now, but. Ultimately, this is the relationship game. You know, it's not necessarily just the design game. It's not just great work. It's, you know, building strong and rich relationships with clients so that they feel kind of supported and encouraged and challenged and excited.

It's the relationships with the team. It's the relationships like, you know, out into the world and the industry, which help shape the perception. And. Kind of voice that you put out as well. And I find that infinitely interesting and exciting because there's always such an unknown when there's the other side of the conversation, whether it's the client team, the public, the industry, and it just moves it beyond the sort of like more functional aspects of, of what we do.

Ian: [00:39:08] If you were to give some advice to people to build good or even great relationships, what do you think? Some key elements of that? Like what goes into that building? Great relationships.

James: [00:39:18] I think spending time knowing you're coming to know yourself. One thing, if I, if I can then reflect on from personal experience over the past two years, two and a half years now, I suppose.

Building up the team and the studio, you know, that's an incredibly stressful and intense thing, I suppose, to kind of take upon yourself. And, you know, I noticed how it was changing my personality and changing myself in other aspects of my life. And some of that I didn't particularly like, so I started going to therapy, which if you haven't done, I, I.

Recommend to everyone. I'm getting the time to speak to someone who has little to none understanding investments or particularly strong feelings about what we do professionally, is really quite revolutionary. and like unpacking a lot of your own. So triggers behaviors, that, that kind of thing.

I think it's also, you know, if I think about it from, from kind of a, you know, an incident at graduate, do you need some point of view? Like seek out environments, teams, leaders, not only Persian engage you professionally, but you connect to personally, you are going to spend a significant amount of your working life, time, energy with an on these people.

It's got to be far. Like you've, you've got to get yourself into a place where you're really excited and motivated by the people and you have a connection with them and it feels like you've kind of, you know, pulling in a common direction. All others there's always kind of variations, you know, nuance.

Yeah. I mean, it's, it's all the stuff that, you know, it's like first day of school making friends. And just like find your little, your little tribe, your little club. totally. It's just rolled as people as well. Like

Ian: [00:41:22] yeah. So self-awareness honesty. that's a hard thing, you know, we always, we all tell ourselves stories and, you know, we.

Craft these stories and we, sometimes trick ourselves into doing things we don't want to do. So the sooner you can really know the things that you do want to do and the people you want to do it with the sooner you can start having fun. I think that's such a, such a great place.

James: [00:41:46] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I don't think that's, you know, you've got to enjoy it because, you know, I'm maybe 12 or 13 years into it, you know?

Is this what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life? Who knows, but right now I absolutely, I love it. And I think there's something really interesting about designers that you can, you know, you can kind of accelerate up. The sort of progress monitor pretty quickly, but it could be something that you could be doing for like 30 or 40 years.

And I think two sides to that, you know, find something you enjoy in it and kind of really pursue it and chase it down, but also recognize that just because you might, there might be some frustrations or tensions in what you're doing right now, there's still value to be gained from it. That will take you towards.

The thing that you are kind of chasing, looking for, that you really want to be doing. And also sometimes what you want to be doing when you're sat outside of it, you know, in my case, designing record sleeves. And then when you get your sort of, when you get into it and you expense the reality of it, it might not be the thing that you actually do want to do.

Ian: [00:42:50] Yeah, it's just so, so important to be having fun and to be our head of creative at butcher shop Ben McNutt, he was sharing that, you know, if you're not enthusiastic about the work, then how is anybody else gonna be enthusiastic or get on that same level and get excited about it. So it totally just, you know, it's magnetic.

And if you're not enjoying what you're doing, people are going to pick up on that. And of course, it's not going to go well, you know, of course, what you're working on is gonna fall on unexcited eyes and ears. Of course, there's days where you're not super stoked to be doing what you're doing, but as soon as you can snap out of it and control your attitude, you know, you can get back on the fun train.

James: [00:43:25] Everyone wants to be on the phone tray,

Ian: [00:43:28] plenty of room come up with everyone, get on board. And then that, that allows you. You know, we were talking before about having the ability to go bigger and broader and wider. You were sharing with me that that's maybe one of your responsibilities or that you set for yourself is to help people just go big and then narrow in and find more clarity around the thinking.

James: [00:43:48] Yeah, definitely. I think we've been doing a lot of thinking around our kind of own processes and ways of working with mine, which has been really fascinating, you know, reflecting on what doesn't work and what does work and what we want to be as a group of people. Yeah. Take the, take the sort of agency name away.

Like what do we want to achieve as a group of people that come together every day and work and create together. and I think for me, part of that is pushing the weirdness and. Trying to push our work, you know, into a space in a place which is much less expected. Much more playful, much more strange. And because of that much more exciting.

And there's, you know, there's kind of a lot of stuff which kind of contributes to that. There's kind of process pieces around how we work. There's, you know, myself and George, the design director kind of keeping that front of mind when we're. Working through those sessions with the team and, you know, interrogating whether this is the most exciting version of the idea in it, and then pushing it further and, and finding other avenues for exploration.

But yeah, I think increasingly my. My responsibility. And my role is kind of that it's that sort of challenge to the team. It's like, you know, is this the best work you're ever going to do with this brief, at this point in time? And then helping them get there and find their way there rather than the other side of the conversation, which is it's not good enough, you know, it's not exciting and kind of cool things off, actually trying to sort of clear the way for someone to get.

So the place that we all want to be like, we all want to do super rad, really exciting work. Let's find the sort of rhythm that's going to take as the,

Ian: [00:45:28] yeah. Yeah. It's exciting to be able to explore and reflect on the process and the ways to get there. I mean, everybody can, everyone can say we're going to this destination.

We've got this goal in mind. But when you give people the freedom to blaze their own path or trail to get there, that's exciting. You know, they might find some unexpected ways or process. And I think the challenge often with pursuing that, you know, kind of looking at process and reinventing, even for one's own self, when you want to change a behavior or you want to, what do you call it when you have a, not an addiction, but

James: [00:46:00] bias.

Ian: [00:46:01] Yeah. You know, you're becoming much more conscious of what you want to do. And intentional, the hard thing is when you're putting into action and you're out, I actually like the pressure's on being able to perform, being able to adhere to those things. Mike Tyson said everyone has got a plan until they get punched in the face.

James: [00:46:22] Yeah. Yeah. I think that that kind of bias point is really important in everything that everyone does. They always have. It's it's human condition to kind of find the easiest way through something it's like yoga. The makeup of your body will naturally lead you to some aspects of yoga and. Sport more broadly being like easier for you or, you know, more accessible.

And it's the same with creativity. Like if you're drawing upon muscle memory, especially as you get more kind of senior and you've, you know, you've run the process and you've run projects, which might have come similarities previously drawing of a muscle memory can be wonderful for speed and efficiency, but can also lead you to the same result because it is just not something that you've done time and time again.

And so I think there's, there's like a bit of a piece around being kind of really honest and open to your bias or where you might take a creative outcome and kind of challenging yourself to resist it and to look at doing something else. you know, because we are not. I think, you know, you know, in design studio, we're not a pentagram model where it's, you know, you, you either buy like Marina will our, or Harry piss or Michael Beirut, but you, you know, you go to that one creative director for their view, their vision, their opinion.

Their output, you know, we need to be a little bit more or a lot more kind of, you know, I suppose, flexible or less, or to like, to use the cinema actor. And so part of that is, is developing flexibility and allowing different voices and opinions within the team to kind of surface

Ian: [00:48:06] such a good point. I love your.

Analogy of muscle memory and the yoga one too about your body will sort of lead you to certain styles. Beautiful thing is that you can push yourself and learn and try different things on, especially early on in one's career. It's so easy for people to want to create a system or a process that works for them.

But the truth is that from project to project and team to team, what got you here? Won't get you there. Yeah. You can follow a process, especially when it comes to branding, but it yields the same, same stale, boring work. You got to get weird.

James: [00:48:43] Yeah, you do. And yeah, I think building that, you know, it's kind of a sum of a couple parts, the sort of weirdness thing, which is, you know, permission, opportunity and kind of flexibility.

You know, I think building those behaviors or possibilities within a business and the team is probably a, a good description of why I'm employed to try and do. And it's kind of the responsibility, you know, maybe making people feel kind of secure and empowered in their decisions, pushing them a little bit, but also, so trying to open up the conversation about what a piece of work could be both on a kind of, you know, our own side, but also on, on the client side as well.

Ian: [00:49:27] Well, James, I know I only have you for a short amount of time here. So why don't we move into our lightning round here? I'm going to fire off a couple of questions to you, or what is the best piece of advice you've ever received?

James: [00:49:39] creative director, who I used to work with James greenfields, who now runs Cotto, talk about, imagine the feeling and the kind of the glass of champagne.

completing a project, so, you know, kind of project forward and then kind of work back. And I always really liked that because it gets you out of the, the real granular decisions of, you know, what's the next step. What's the next step? And it, it talks about the vision and the kind of. And go, and then you, you, you working back to, to figure out how to get there.

That's great.

Ian: [00:50:14] Cheers to that. I'll drink to that. Yeah.

James: [00:50:17] Alright.

Ian: [00:50:17] What's the best piece of advice you have for others?

James: [00:50:24] Well, I will caveat that with saying it's it's advice. I don't know if it's good advice. I think it's twofold. We are not doctors. We're not surgeons, not politicians. You know, we have an incredible opportunity to use creativity, to shake and well around us, whether that's making someone's stop and smile or contributing to kind of really big, complex problems out in the world.

Create work, which is brave, which some people love and adore and connect to you and others hates. If everyone likes your work, it's probably really boring. Also stop looking at design reference. Look at art, read poetry, go on a walk. Yeah. Looking at design reference. Doesn't help you.

Ian: [00:51:10] Great advice. What's been the biggest obstacle in your career thus far,

James: [00:51:15] myself, probably getting out, getting, understanding myself and getting out of my own way and knowing the problems I create for myself has been really interesting.

And it's an ongoing journey that has been probably the single hardest piece. I've kind of had to deal with along the way.

Ian: [00:51:40] How do you deal with creative life?

James: [00:51:43] I stopped trying to be creative and I get away from it. because I think running the same direction of wall is fruitless. I'm really fortunate.

I live by the beach, so I might go from surf or go for a walk or just chewed out, go do something else. You can't force there's this, there's this really interesting tension of like creative ideas and creative concepts and like design outcomes. And I think design outcomes, texts kind of time and craft and patience.

And, you know, almost like it's the kind of rigor and repetition in our job often, credit concepts and big, broad thinking, I think needs time and diverse stimulus. And, you know, you need to let them just bubble up sometimes. and so personally surfing is something which I took up when I moved to Sydney.

it's an extremely serving as an extremely slow and long learning curve, which is someone who is incredibly impatient is a really good thing for me to do. Cause it challenges me to kind of understand that this is a journey. And the, I need to just, you know, slowly chip away at it and enjoy it, getting slammed by the way.

Ian: [00:52:56] Yeah. That can, keep people from coming back for people that enjoy pain. It's a great activity. I love it. Especially after you have a good long surf, how sore your body is.

James: [00:53:06] Like I've never known, an exhaustion. Like it's very, it's very, it's physically exhausting, but it's also like very mentally calming.

I, I found. Kind of real purpose in it and value kind of equal to creativity. So I think find other passions, explore them, use them to kind of break yourself out of those little blocks.

Ian: [00:53:30] What do you, what are you streaming and reading these days?

James: [00:53:34] that's a really good question. I, reading. Bunch of stuff.

So going back through a couple of Kenya horror books, why at the moment terms of podcasts I'm listening, I was listening to the daily, New York times podcast. I love that. I love Monaco, big interview pieces. They also do an amazing one about kind of urban environments, which I find really interesting. And there's an Australian podcast called 7:00 AM, which is, it's kind of like the daily, it's like 15, 20 minutes every day.

And it talks around kind of culture, society, politics, and it's brilliant. Like, you know, having never grown up here, it's fascinating to listen to kind of the complexities of a political system. And so society, which I don't have a huge. Experiencing those. I love documentaries. I love documentaries. If anyone hasn't seen it, definitely go watch the Beastie boys documentary on Apple TV.

It's beautiful. It's really beautiful. It's really moving. It's a real touching tribute. Bye Mike D and Adam Horvitz too. yeah, she passed away probably eight years ago now. Yeah. It's it's and like, as someone who grew up loving their music, I never really reflected on just how weird and experiments and a lot of it was, and this sort of telling of kind of how they.

It's really actually, it's a really interesting telling of how someone finds their own creative voice and vision and how the band, they kind of invented who they were. And it's amazing because they just documented everything from kind of the age of 15, 16 that's photos, film of kind of every moment in that journey.

And so it's, it's a fascinating look back. It's an incredible story of kind of creative. Vision, and just like a really beautiful, personal reflection on. On friendship and you know, those guys just really missing their best friend.

Ian: [00:55:38] It's been high on my list. So I'm going to bump it up. Maybe watch it tonight.

What are you focused on in the next six to 12 months?

James: [00:55:45] I'm getting married in a couple of weeks. Congratulations. Yeah. Thank you. that's super excited about that next six, 12 months. We're working on some really exciting projects at the moment. Things, which I never thought I'd have an opportunity to do some really stoked to see those kind of come out into the world.

Some of which have been, will have been going on for about 18 months. By the time they sort of see the light of day. I think continuing to kind of grow and develop the team. And as I mentioned previously, for us to find them, define our voice as a group of people, and I almost want clients designers to forget the name of the agency and just know that they want to work with us.

And, you know, I think there's a long road. But I think it's a really interesting and exciting challenge

Ian: [00:56:38] you always have to have in your desk drawer.

James: [00:56:42] Ooh.

I actually don't have drawers in my desk trying to think back.

Ian: [00:56:53] That's great.

James: [00:56:53] yeah, we

Ian: [00:56:56] should get some drawers under that

James: [00:56:58] personally. I'm not a fan of Juul. Cause, Jay and my partner will give you a very opinionated, view of my hate of kind of clutter and stuff. yeah, I'm not a fan of like, just giving, creating space to just fill it with, with stuff I'm very much alike.

Try and clear the desk, kind of guy. it's definitely not my drawers, but something I have to have and it's, you know, Yes, personal rhythm is I'm always in the studio probably an hour before everyone else, but, you know, taking the time to just like, yeah, coffee, go out and see we've got a lovely bit or sort of balcony out the back of the studio.

Just take 10 minutes to kind of decompress. Think about the day, get a bit of time for myself and, bit of Headspace. So certainly knowing my drawers, but it's, it's kind of personal rhythm and, and daily support that I definitely do need. Great.

Ian: [00:57:49] Alright. What's a song that reminds you of your childhood.

James: [00:57:53] and Oh, it's gotta be, beach boys.

It's the Pat Sans album. When I was a kid, we used to. Drive to the South of France, which just sounds ridiculous now. So from the Northeast of England, the South of France, my dad would drive me and my brother and my mom and my dad was out the friends and we'd go camping. And he used to have this sort of metallic green Audi 80.

I think the model was. Yeah, definitely. and it had a tape that, you know, really old car and we used to listen to beach boys, pet sounds, Bob Marley and the Wailers and, an audio book version of Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, especially beach boys. I mean, I love the beach boys and I think it really, it kind of reminds me of those, like.

1516 hour drives when me and my brother would be like crammed in the back of this car fighting in amongst all the stuff that we're going camping with. Yeah. I don't know what parents were thinking.

Ian: [00:58:52] You're the I'm totally blanking on who it was, but, the remix of, I think it was pet shop. Totally like not MF doom, but, he's passed away.

James: [00:59:05] Yeah, there was one, it must've there's one Lexus, six or seven years ago. I'm not sure it's this one

Ian: [00:59:10] J Dilla

James: [00:59:11] was

Ian: [00:59:12] producer. Yeah. For pet sounds. That was what I was thinking.

James: [00:59:16] Yeah. It's such a brilliant album. Like

Ian: [00:59:21] amazing. It just,

James: [00:59:22] it just lasts and it's got so much, it just stands up to the test of time, so, well,

Ian: [00:59:28] Yeah, the film, I think, I think it's called smile.

James: [00:59:31] the

Ian: [00:59:31] story about the beach boys, specifically, Brian Wilson, so good. You know, about the struggles that he had, the genius and the drugs and how that, you know, rips through the band really, but really good.

James: [00:59:45] Yeah. It really makes you, I've heard a lot of that stuff and it really makes you listen to it and kind of interrogate it through a new.

Lens as well. Cause it just, it all sounds so kind of. Sunny and positive and warm and carefree. I just keep that, all that stuff. I said, wow. Yeah. Quite harrowing.

Ian: [01:00:07] Yeah. Yeah. When you go back and listen to it, you can almost pick up, I think as one gets older and knows more of the story, but the struggle is you can almost pick up some of those undertones coming through.

James: [01:00:18] Yeah, definitely

Ian: [01:00:20] to make genius, I guess, even in any kind of literature or film, you know, when you've got these multiple things happening at once, that's the hard part, I guess, even in the work we do

James: [01:00:29] it is, and I think there's a tangent, but there's always. There's always that really interesting debate, which I think is definitely comes to the fore a lot more in recent years.

Right. And so around, you know, forgiving people who are, you know, if someone's an asshole, but that work is amazing. Like the is sort of problematic, the, Hey, you wish thing has been, you know, historically true of like, Oh, you know, they're a terrible person, but it works incredible. It's like, well, no, let's recognize that they're a terrible person.

And they probably have to kind of make some other people feel awful along the way to get it. And yeah, I think getting away from that idea that we can forgive someone for that when, their creative output is, is incredible. I think it's really important, but that's it, that's a whole other podcast.

Ian: [01:01:16] Yeah.

Yeah. There's that saying? What you permit you promote.

James: [01:01:20] Yeah, that's true.

Yeah, totally

Ian: [01:01:26] cool. James, where can people find you online?

James: [01:01:29] I do have an Instagram. I don't, I wouldn't say the quality or content is worth a follow, to be honest. Yeah. Kind of. I try and keep myself resonant as much as possible. I'm on Instagram. I think it's James LinkedIn is probably the place you're going to find me.

And then obviously generally through the studio channels, but. You know, if you want to reach out, if you want to say hi, is there anything that's, kind of come up through this, please do like IgE is probably the best place to do it. I'm always happy to have a chat and kind of follow up conversations with anyone.


Ian: [01:02:09] James, thank you so much for your time and a pleasant man.

James: [01:02:12] Cheers to this man.


Ian: [01:02:19] for listening to this episode of frequencies. You enjoyed it. Share it with a friend and head over to Apple podcast. To leave a review and a comment you can find us online at world's greatest at butcher. See you out there.

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