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For the last, oh I don’t know, since it’s been trendy, brands have been wading into the social justice cheer squad with shiny pom-poms and witty banners. Recently, they’ve been bravely pinning their rainbow flags to the mast of marriage equality in what is surely the largest no-brainer in Australian business circles since Alan Bond’s corporate fraud trial.

While it takes a monumental cynic to poo-poo any effort to support worthwhile causes, and I’m hopefully not Robinson Crusoe on the matter, I’m about to poo-poo the efforts of mainstream corporate Australia for their recent ‘support’ of today’s “oh FFS just get it done already and move on” hot-button topic.

I’m not entirely sure of the long-term strategic benefits brands get from virtue signalling, but there’s no denying it provides an amazing sugar hit for the here and now. Finding five people you are friends with on Facebook who openly said Alan Joyce should stick to keeping planes in the sky during that whole ‘Margaret Court thing’ is less likely than ruining your mahabis by stepping in unicorn poo. Why? Because backing this stuff online is an absolute, no-look slam dunk. Brands have a ready-made fan base to give them a standing ovation and anyone with a dissenting view is either ripped to shreds or smart enough to leave it the hell alone for fear of being ripped to shreds. But enough about how social media skews our political views, let’s get to the actual point.

Over the past fortnight in Australia, the ‘debate’ around marriage equality has descended/ascended into a cyclonic shit-storm of WTFs and WTAFs. I’ve got so many friends currently occupying the moral high ground on this topic that I dare not open Facebook for fear of suffering some kind of contact-high vertigo.

But where have all the brands gone?


Where are the hand-on-heart, high-horse riding crusaders and their trumpeting trumpets?

I’d love to know.


I would love to know.

If the point of getting behind social change and political driven campaigns comes from a legitimate desire to make the community/country/world a better place – surely they should be making as much noise as possible right now.

If the point of getting behind social change or politically driven campaigns is a cynical exercise in bandwagoning low-hanging fruit – surely they should also be making as much noise as possible right now.

But here’s the rub – right now, there’s no slam dunk. Even within those who are for marriage equality there are wildly varying views on how to respond to the ‘plebiscite’. Some are saying boycott, some are saying it’s illegitimate, some are challenging it in the High Court, and some are pragmatically saying ‘well, at least it’s something!’ and clapping softly for fear of offending the rest.


For a brand who was simply hanging with the popular kids online without truly considering their actions only a few months ago, it’s quite the conundrum.

If getting behind causes is a tap that you turn on and off whenever it suits you, then you probably need to question why you were throwing your hat into the ring in the first place.

Or do we have to admit that being there for the sexy bit where we all hold hands and say ‘love is love’ is a lot easier than standing by your man when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, sleeves-up boring process? Is it too much for us to expect corporate Australia to do more than us (change our profile pic for a week)?

The next few weeks/months will make all the difference.

It’s going to be interesting to see who in corporate Australia has the guts to ride along side during this part of the journey and (hopefully) get the job done.

5 tips from Albus Dumbledore that I used to get a great job

Two rather important things happened at work last week. Firstly, my boss wrote a lovely article about my efforts to get a job at Shabbadu. Then I came out of the cupboard under the stairs to my workmates as a massive Harry Potter fan. So, I’m responding to one with a nod to the other for everyone who has asked for more info on my modus operandi. (Bear in mind that this is coming from a sample size of one. I’m not an expert. This is just what worked for me.)

“The wand chooses the wizard, Harry”

Work out who you want to work for. You can choose your employer in the sense that its up to you where you target your campaign. Employers don’t come and look for grads. You have to make yourself known to them, and the way that you do this needs to be magical – in other words, you really need to stand out.

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow up to be”

If you come from a rural town, like I did, you may think that the big smoke is impenetrable. It isn’t. Whether you grew up in the ‘burbs or you’re from a recently discovered tribe in the Amazon basin, it’s what you take on board as you grow that makes you the person you are. By all means, a degree matters, but it’s your personality and that will get you hired – you need to fit in with the team to become a part of something long-term.


“It is our choices that show us who we really are, far more than our abilities”

What choices have you made that signify you’re the person for the role? Think about experiences that have proven challenging or where you’ve learned something valuable. Tell these stories at your interview. Others may have the same degree – but you’re the only you. You’ll know you’ve found the right job when you can be yourself and not compromise your personality. You’ll also be happier overall.

“Of course it’s happening inside your head Harry, but why should that mean it is any less real?”

You need to have a solid understanding of your goals before taking any action. You need to steer your ship in the right direction, and this doesn’t have to be literal. Once you know where you want to be, starting acting like you’re there. I’m not saying fake it to make it, I’m just saying that your identity is of your own making.

“Don’t count your owls before they are delivered”

If you’re a graduate, you probably suck a bit. Either way, your seniors are definitely better at what they do than you. Which is why you need to open your ears and listen to them. If someone is willing to teach you, don’t take it for granted. Don’t ever think you’ve hit the big time. And never stop learning.

If you’re waiting to graduate before looking for a job, what are you studying for?

I’ll just leave this here for anyone currently studying with a view to working in a graduate position in the New Year.

A few years ago, from out of nowhere we received a request from a young lady who wanted to spend a week with us on placement during her (uni) school holidays.

We had no idea who she was at the time but she had clearly done her research before she called and when she spoke she was polite and keen. This was quickly followed by an email, which, surprisingly, contained no spelling mistakes and no obvious grammatical errors.

We made the necessary arrangements, made some space in our (then) small office and spent what we thought was a relatively low-key week with her in tow. At the end of the week, she thanked us very much for her time and all we’d taught her and sincerely stated that she wanted to work somewhere like Shabbadu when she graduated – we thought she was joking.

A year and a bit later I received an invite to attend her graduation. Unfortunately I was unable to attend as it was on a Friday evening during the ‘Christmas rush’. Still, within a fortnight she had requested an hour of my time to take me out to lunch as a thank you for all the advice and motivation we’d given her during the preceding few years.

When we met up she presented me with a 38-page bound document all about how she still really wanted to work at Shabbadu. It detailed the starting salary she was after and a list of all the things she could now confidently bring to the role. I was blown away. The amount of effort was astonishing. Yet there was no gimmickry or stunts involved. She simply set herself a goal, worked out a way to reach that goal, and did everything she could to achieve it.

Thousands of advertising, design and marketing students will graduate in the next few months. If you’re one of them and the place you want to work at doesn’t know your name, what the hell are you waiting for?

P.s: That girl’s name is Leah. She’s our graduate hire and she’s going to be an absolute gun. You might be too, but who’s going to give you the chance to prove it?

You are about to be advertised to.

Pretend for a moment that this is an advertisement.

We’ve got your attention with something eye-catching yet appropriate for you, the target audience, so now we’ll introduce a premise. The seed we want to plant in your mind is that you’re missing out on something as vital to your ongoing survival as water or oxygen. This is intended to give you a nudge – nothing huge -just enough to get you off balance. Then we’ll hint that you’re probably feeling off-balance now, so you’ll think we’re really on your level, possibly even psychic.

This establishes trust – something we’re going to take advantage of immediately by listing things that make currently being off balance the worst thing ever. Which is terrible news for someone only recently suffering from being off-balance. But don’t worry, these things will be so commonplace that everyone will feel them on at least a semi-regular basis. They’re the kinds of things usually found in click-bait articles entitled ‘Six words successful people never use’, or ‘Failures do these five things every morning before brushing their teeth’.

See, we use phrases like ‘at least a semi-regular basis’ for good reason. They sound impressive but are so vacuous and malleable that they’re almost useless as definite descriptors. Then there are ass-covering modifiers like ‘may, can, could’ and ‘one of ‘. Instead of accurately describing what something ‘will’ do or precisely ‘how’ it measures up against its competition, these let us overstate any benefit. But you don’t care by this point. Your self-esteem is sinking rapidly and you’re looking for the nearest life raft.

It’s about now that we’ll subtly attack your ego by associating people who don’t do the thing we want you to do with failure and ineptitude. Suddenly, you don’t just want this thing we haven’t even mentioned yet, you are getting a little pissed off with yourself for not knowing what it is already.

By the time we let you know, you’ve practically punched in everything but your CCV number and have posted about it three times on social media to ensure you retain the moral superiority over your peer group/colleagues/friends and people whose opinions you don’t even care about.

You won’t even know you’ve been chaperoned down the garden path. Your brain will release some serotonin as soon as you make the purchase and once more when you use whatever this thing was for the first time.

The effects will wear off over time. Long enough for the next shell game to be hastily erected in your browsing path.

This is how some people would like to think marketing communications work these days. It’s all based on great data, grand schemes, digital breadcrumbs and clever traps that consumers can’t help but fall into.

Closer to the truth is that most day-to-day campaigns are a hodge-podge of rushed work that’s been watered down by layers of approvals, compromised by budget constraints, or researched into a beige abyss with no time for real post-analysis or even a vague sense check that the train is on the right track, let alone being driven by someone with a license.

Funnily enough, it appears to be more palatable for a marketing department to put their business out for pitch than look back and examine their most recent work.

And, why not? A pitch is only confronting for the incumbent agency, a review, or communications audit is potentially uncomfortable for everyone.

Then again, you might find out what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, what you should be doing but aren’t, and what you shouldn’t be doing but are. You could use it to strengthen your relationship with your current agency, prove you’re all doing a great job, find budget savings or build a case for an increase, or, if you’re so inclined, give yourself the ammunition you need to get rid of some dead wood once and for all.

The Shabbadu Comms Audit may, can and could do all these things for you. In fact, you could say, it’s one of the best comms audits available today.

Words are wind.

Here’s a startling admission for someone who writes words for a living: I seldom read books. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. It’s not that I can’t make the time if I want to. I simply just don’t. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an active choice. There has been no resolution to shun the professionally published writings of others. Nor is it a reflection on my need to be up to date with whatever is currently perched upon the nightstands of Readerati.

To me, reading a book is a luxury and an investment. The kinds of books I traditionally read put me in foreign places, strange times and inside the minds of characters that demand you obsess over every little detail of their fabricated lives.

The other thing holding me back from devouring paperbacks at will is that I am what most people would class as a terrible reader. Not in the sense that I lack the requisite comprehension skills to absorb the information, more like I read every single word. That’s right. Every. Single. Word. Sometimes more than once. And if a particular sentence is exceptionally well crafted, I’ll deconstruct it and try to figure out what it was that made that string of words sing so beautifully.

The last two books to cop the word by word workout have been A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons – books four and five in the A Song Of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. Approximately 2000 pages in total. Needless to say, they took a while to wade through.

A phrase struck me as I read, and has stayed with me in the months during and weeks since: words are wind. It’s an utterance made by many, diverse characters from a made up place in a nondescript time, but its relevance to today resonated with me strongly.

In an age where more and more people are communicating on behalf of brands, not just externally in mainstream and digital channels, but internally among our colleagues, the way we use words has never been more important.

Not just because we are consuming more bite-sized information than ever before, but due to the sheer amount of information being pushed to our tvs, laptops, tablets and mobiles, we need the right wind to blow our audience away.

agIdeas 2013 – a conference in tweets.

agIdeas 2013 – a conference in tweets.

Over three jam-packed days, 40 of the world’s leading designers and creators gave us their insights into how to become a great designer. There were three commonalities that revealed themselves during the conference: design is empty without context; hone your craft skills and empathise with your end user.

Let’s Start With Day One.

    1. #agideas2013 now that’s 500 years of design experience standing on stage right there @agIdeas
    2. Neville Page (@nevillepage) talks creature design, working fast and drawing. It’s easier to sell a design to the client when you can show its emotion at play.
    3. The ultimate in design context – Nadine Chahine (@arabictype) talks about the redesign of Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper and the font they commissioned her to create.
    4. #agideas2013 Claire Kahn from Wet shows us her fountains. One looks like synchronised swimming made from water.
    5. Lighting departments now control back drop video screens. #foreheadslap of course. Great insight @paulcollison #agideas2013 @agIdeas
    6. Paul Collison – “being creative isn’t a licence to be flaky”. Turn up on time wearing the right footwear. #agideas2013
    7. Can I replace my body parts? @OronCatts is out there. Lend me your ears. #agideas2013
    8. #agideas2013 “sometimes the rules are the mistakes” -Heribert Birnbach
    9. At the end of Day One, there’s plenty for the organising team at The Design Foundation to be proud of. The day has run smoothly and there have been plenty of educational insights for experienced and aspiring designers.
    10. Congrats @kristinmccourtie (not on twitter) @kazsorensen @LeniKaponis @sampaverd on massive 1st day of Forum. @agideas rocks! #agideas2013
    11. agIdeas Business Breakfast – early Day Two.

      No rest for those seeking inspiration. agIdeas business breakfast presents design researcher and thinker Dan Formosa followed by the man who helped reinvigorate Teague design, John Barrett.

    12. Don’t design for ten thousand people. Design for ten of them. Much harder but results are much better. @danformosa #agideas #breakfast
    13. Think about the relationship the thing you’re making is forging with the user. That’s where you’ll earn your 5 stars. @danformosa #agideas
    14. “It’s personal relationships” says @danformosa “treat them like you’re dating” #agideas #breakfast it’s all about getting five stars online
    15. @J_Barratt from @teague1926 talking about work for Boeing. They make full-scale model planes! “Designers need to get tangible” #agideas
    16. After getting up early to speak at the breakfast, Barrett was also the last speaker on that day at 6pm. Totally different talk but same level of insight.
    17. 2000 people in the auditorium, end of a long day. No fidgeting to be heard. @j_barrett awesome presenter #agideas2013 #agideas
    18. @j_barratt keep a compact core team, define small number of goals, do prototypes, keep you design team close, always have a plan B #agideas
    19. “Taking risks with people builds loyalty” – @j_barratt from @TEAGUE1926 #agideas #agideas2013
    20. “I’ve spoken at a lot different conferences, but the diversity of #agideas is like nothing in the world.” @j_barratt Teague #agideas2013
    21. @danformosa says establish trust by doing more quick iterations in the drafting process. @j_barratt says “shut up and listen” #agideas
    22. Day Two

      First speaker on Day Two of the conference is poster genius, Alain Le Quernec. It’s obvious that english is his second language but it really doesn’t matter for this expert in visual communication.

    23. Alain Le Quernec knows 2 or 3 things: 1. reflect what is happening around you, #agideas
    24. #agideas Alain Le Quernec me:my client
    25. Alain Le Quernec they are not real posters if they’re not in the streets #agideas
    26. Alain Le Quernec – clever#agideas
    27. Alain Le Quernec – the Kleenex logo – use it throw it away – perfect for a truly famous client – let the client be the famous bit #agideas
    28. @davidnobay “what would have been helpful when I was nineteen?” What you think is great may not be what your client thinks is great #agideas
    29. @davidnobay “the most important thing about the relationship with your client is trust.” #agideas
    30. Diabetic jewellery. Empathy at work. Leah Heiss. #agideas
    31. How do you design? Empathise with the end user – walk a mile in their shoes. Leah Heiss #agideas
    32. Reiko Sudo – half of design is using the right material. #agideas
    33. Design is a service. @janvanschaik and his adventures in Mildura. #agideas
  1. @chris_khalil from News Corp talks UX – rational and emotional come together to make engagement. #agideas
  2. Ian Anderson from Designers’ Republic.
  3. Ian Anderson – create a piece that resonates through time, great. create design that WORKS through time – genius #agideas
  4. Ian Anderson – if you work for money you end up with a tongue as brown as it can be. #agideas
  5. I’ve never seen a really good designer who is really rich – Ian Anderson #agideas2013 #agideas #CheerUpIan
  6. Eve Clone Series / Lin Pey Chwen / Taipei MOCA
  7. Eve Clone is an attractive and dangerous woman – just like the technology around us. Pey Chwen Lin #agideas #agideas2013
  8. @voice_of_design battle the “same same” Shatter the rhythm of routine with relevance. #agideas2013 #agideas
  9. Don’t risk unless you’re prepared to die every so often. Then pick yourself up and start again. @voice_of_design #agideas #agideas2013
  10. Awesome work, @voice_of_design #agideas #agideas2013
  11. Day Three

    We were all designed-out. Or so we thought.
  12. Build a font from a bridge. @Spin_TonyBrook #agideas #agideas2013
  13. “Even when you’re busy, give yourself an hour of play. Because design is PLAY.” @Spin_TonyBrook #agideas #agideas2013
  14. George Poonkhin Khut different approach to interaction. Use your heart to change the display #agideas #agideas2013
  15. Rest & digest. Fight & flight. “too much time with an interface transforms you.” George Poonkhin Khut #agideas #agideas2013 #hypercard
  16. ‘6 breaths per minute is the sweet spot in many different traditions.’ KhutAmazing thinking on computer interfaces. #agideas #agideas2013
  17. Creation thru destruction. But construction informs result. Interesting oxymoron @_DION_LEE_ #agideas #agideas2013
  18. “Fashion is change. Reacting to what worked & didn’t. So there’s always experience in a collection” @_DION_LEE_ #agideas #agideas2013
  19. Seasonless approach to fashion marketing because there is no geographic context on social media@_DION_LEE_ #agideas2013 #agideas
  20. Context makes my brand unique@_DION_LEE_ #agideas2013 #agideas
  21. It’s hard to talk about design without talking about business-the product needs to be relevant to exist
    @_DION_LEE_ #agideas2013 #agideas
  22. The people who do well in design are constantly creating. Fear and self-doubt drive creativitySoren Luckins #agideas2013 #agideas
  23. Who do we design for?Greed, humanity & your family. The dynamic tension of the three. Soren Luckins #agideas2013 #agideas
  24. Curiosity – to create new you need to be soaking up new.
    Soren Luckins #agideas #agideas2013
  25. Smaller cities are conducive to serendipity.@petaheffernan #agideas #agideas2013
  26. The light on the hill.Again, the designer’s message is CONTEXT IS A STRONG SOURCE OF INSPIRATION.@petaheffernan #agideas #agideas2013
  27. The more interest you have, the greater your insight and the better your work will be.@petaheffernan #agideas #agideas2013
  28. Moooo.Daydreaming is fundamental to the design process. It’s not madness.Robert Foster #agideas #agideas2013
  29. @aurora__design fear and a capacity for obtuseness. That mismatched pair are a great couple of mates for the creative. #agideas2013 #agideas
  30. Robert Foster (with a small factory in Queanbeyan) agrees with the mega-design co @TEAGUE1926 – prototype, prototype#agideas #agideas2013
  31. Portraiture is about who we are.A different approach?Christopher Chapman #agideas #agideas2013
  32. Stony Cherng
    A designer who draws inspiration from her own world.
    #agideas2013 #agideas Should be subtitled CONTEXT
  33. Stony Cherng shows us how designers must be magpies and collect from everything and everywhere. #agideas2013 #agideas
  34. “Why not?”The challenge isn’t to find the answers. it is to find the new questions.@AndyStalman #agideas2013 #agideas
  35. It’s the “top of heart” not the “top of mind” anymore.@AndyStalman #agideas2013 #agideas
  36. Bon Jovi kick off from Sonia Payes #agideas2013 #agideas
  37. I don’t just click and walk away. I connect.Sonia Payes #agideas2013 #agideas
  38. Are we building for building’s sake?Sonia Payes #agideas2013 #agideas
  39. First things first.
    We’re not in business to make money. We’re in business to help people.
    @vincefrost #agideas2013 #agideas
  40. Too often design and advertising work for charity for their folio. Instead they should help. @OzHarvest
    @vincefrost #agideas2013 #agideas
  41. All the speakers are like living versions of their work.@kitweb #agideas #agideas2013
  42. And then Gemma O’Brien hit the stage. A rock star in the design student community, she was like a breath of fresh air. I got her twitter handle wrong, though (as she politely informed me a couple of days later). Her real handle is @mrseaves.
  43. Just draw, says Roger Dean.Someone’s listening, Roger.#agideas #agideas2013
  44. “If you can defend a space you felt good. If you can’t, you feel bad.”Roger Dean #agideas #agideas2013
  45. “Where do my ideas come from? When I’m sitting calmly they come from over here.”Roger Dean #agideas #agideas2013
  46. Hope is critical to the creative process.Roger Dean #agideas #agideas2013
  47. Presenters clearly love it. They’re all on stage watching the summary of the three days #agideas #agideas2013
  48. Foyer Action

    But agIdeas isn’t just about sitting in an auditorium and listening to a collection of monologues. This is the conference that prides itself on having its speakers available for dialogue in the foyer. It turns out that they’re all up for a chat, too. Apparently they’re all into design.

  49. @nevillepage sharing his time with students at @agideas #agideas2013
  50. @Spin_TonyBrook checking out the bookstall in the foyer. #agideas
  51. Sharing her wisdom with conference guests in the foyer at #agideas @arabictype
  52. Alain Le Quernec shares his thoughts with a conference visitor in the foyer. #agideas #rockstars #greataccess
  53. @janvanschaik talks boganistas and possibility of design with guest in the foyer. #agideas #talkwiththestars #foyer
  54. Ian Anderson Designers Republic walks thru foyer #agideas2013 #agideasDoesn’t look that miserable.#CheerUpIan
  55. John Crawford checks out his work turned into fridge magnets. @agIdeas #agideas2013
  56. I’m at @agideas #agideas2013
  57. the end.

Day 3 of a design festival through the eyes of a writer who wasn’t there ~ agIdeas 2013

It was sometime during Pey Chwen Lin’s talk yesterday that I started feeling uncomfortably warm. By the train ride home I was shivering, and by the time I woke up on Friday morning, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to day three. So, here’s day three of a design conference interpreted by a writer through the notes and tweets of people who were actually there.

A font built from a bridge.

A font built from a bridge.

First speaker walks out and I’m already seething. I really, really really, wanted to see Tony Brook. As a ‘non-designy-type person’ his work really appeals to me. That’s not meant to be offensive. What I mean, is it’s clean, simple and it all works. There’s no bullshit. I get the feeling the man himself would be similar. Plus, he called his studio ‘Spin’ because he loves cricket. I wonder how close he came to calling it “Left-arm Chinaman’? Anyway, if I had have been there, I would have heard him speak of his work and offer up a great piece of advice regarding ‘inspiration’: It’s not where you get it from, it’s where you take it to.

Artwork created with biofeedback from the audience.

Artwork created with biofeedback from the audience.

George Khut could very well have been Friday’s Oron Catts: that guy you hadn’t heard of but blew your mind. Heard of biofeedback? Get your head around it. It’s awesome. George has already developed a game/app for hospitals that calms the player/user down as they use it. George’s presentation was a visual representation of the crowd’s feelings on a screen. It was confronting, beautiful and I’m super annoyed that I missed it.

Unique perspective is your point of difference.

Unique perspective is your point of difference.

I don’t know much about design, but I know even less about fashion. So 20 minutes with Dion Lee seems like it would have done me the world of good. Dion waxed lyrical on the importance of fabric choices (mesh, rubber, vein-like structures, thermal imaging in 3D) although visualising a concept always comes first. “Be honest with yourself to have a unique perspective”.

Soren Luckins is the Design Director of Büro North. He looks like he’s got a bit of swashbuckle about him. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm or deny this. He asked the crowd “Who do we design for? Greed, humanity or family?” Which is enough to put any crowd on the back foot. But that’s exactly where Soren likes to be. He shared with the crowd that fear and self-doubt make him a better person, and while he’s an optimist, failures and future challenges push him forward.



Gliding onto stage next, oozing class, came Peta Heffernan, Architecture and design eating out of the palms of her hands. She introduces us to Liminal Studios in Hobart and firmly agrees that answers arrive only if we collaborate and then outcomes often feel like magic. So I’ve got a mental image of her as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North from the Wizard of Oz.

The ladies love a man who can operate serious machinery.

The ladies love a man who can operate serious machinery.

I know quite a bit about the next speaker, Robert Foster. See, I told my wife to bravely carry on without me and go to the Gala Dinner on Friday night. She had quite a big chat to him. Robert Foster is a silversmith who’s acclaimed studio FINK delivers works that sit comfortably alongside Stark and Alessi. Robert Foster is so talented. Robert Foster is so amazing. He’s a free living daydreamer who believes new ideas fuel the mind. Yeah, I’ve got my eye on you, pal.

There's more than one way to paint a portrait.

There’s more than one way to paint a portrait.

Someone who definitely won’t try to steal your wife while you’re on your death bed is Chris Chapman. As senior curator at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery, he took the audience for a platonic walk through the rooms he’s put together in Canberra. If there’s one thing he wanted the audience to get to know intimately, it was the architecture of the gallery and the element of human scale which augments the audience’s pleasure. I’m told he made the audience feel at home and comfortable, like a true friend. Nice one, Chris.

Strong design.

Design that sings.

Stony Cherng burst onto stage amidst dry ice, ceiling fans and backlit venetian blinds and burst into song. Before the last note had hit the back of the Plenary, the audience were on their feet cheering wildly. Following the tweets from home, I did a search on the iTunes store. Nothing. I tried YouTube. Nothing. Turns  out she’s a better designer than she is a singer. Her style is clever, well-crafted and leaves you thinking ‘I wish I thought of that’. Just like her intro.

I knew something was up when I was tweeted a hug by a colleague. According to ‘Branding Expert’, Andy Stalman, the amount of gratification we get from social media, devices, etc is the equivalent of eight, six-second hugs. No wonder people are roaming the streets holding their phones rather than their significant others these days. Anyway, from the notes of others, it would appear that Andy was today’s speaker that missed the brief. Turning his talk into a big pep talk with audience participation. “Who’s in the centre stage of this era? ALL OF YOU! Don’t be afraid to be a superhero no one has heard about. New ME is WE. etc”

Bon Jovi fans are everywhere.

Bon Jovi fans are everywhere.

From hugging to listening to Bon Jovi, ‘It’s my life’ and a time-lapse of raw shots from Papa new guinea, Japan and China by Sonia Payes. Sonia lives and breathes photography, she’ll put herself in front of anything with an attitude. As long as she’s there with her camera she’s happy. Beyond the camera she experiments with digital mediums, processing and 3D. As we’re immersed in her depth and raw passion for photography, she educates us how pollution can work as a filter and effect rather than a photo of landscape. Her photos left you feeling as though you had met the subject and knew something they maybe kind of didn’t want you to know. Sonia explains, “I can do that I’m an artist, not politician.”

Vince Frost was one of the major draw cards of this year’s event. Once again, majorly cut that I missed him. If you’re reading this, he doesn’t need an introduction. As a designer he’s done it all, and today he spoke of how he’s using his powers for good. OZ Harvest, one of his current clients, rescues excess food and delivers it to those in need. Today’s Frost Design is all about giving from the heart, helping people to be better at what they do. There’s a focus on generosity. Giving to those who truly need your help. Clearly he’s won at design and now he’s angling to be the next President of the United States.  I’ll vote for him.

Come out of the cave, man.

Come out of the cave, man.

There’s something about the last grouping that seems to always throw up an unexpected hit. In my notes, this sentence leaps out at me. Kit Webster: a man who once called himself a hermit has now taken video, sound and mapped out lighting to a new level.  Words like compelling, spectacular, sensory, woah, and a few others that are a bit sweary were used to describe his work/presentation. Hands up who missed it! <waving>

Typography, not topography.

Typography, not topography.

If anyone was waning and daydreaming of the bar, Gemma O’Brien soon woke and sobered up their thoughts. Gemma burst onto stage in a bubble of energy that didn’t seem to stop. Ever. She’s probably still going. Talking about how she was discovered on social media and flown to Berlin to talk about her all over font body protest against graffiti art. She’s probably still effervescing of all the fonts she’s designed commercially since. She wasn’t just a breath of fresh air, but a fire hose of confidence. The kids loved her.

"Just draw" he said. Someone was listening, Roger.

“Just draw” he said. Someone was listening, Roger.

Roger Dean. A drawing legend who deservedly teased the day out just a little further than scheduled. He reminded the audience early in the piece to draw and take your sketch pad everywhere. As the talk augmented to a display of genius, you apparently just had to glance to room to see more emerging talent busily drawing. He effortlessly talked through slide after slide pointing out sketches that took him ‘20 minutes’ which looked like a good days work. Truly timeless work of an artist who’s drawings, font’s, album covers will be world renowned for decades to come. And a fitting end to another quality chapter in agIdeas history.

A design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas Design Forum Day 1

agIdeas has a reputation for bringing together a top-notch line up year-in, year out. In his opening address, Ken Cato beamed that this year’s speakers were among the best collection ever. Looking through the list, it was hard to agree. Not from an informed perspective. I simply had no idea who most of these people were. I sit here now, at the end of day 1, with a greater understanding of what all the fuss was about. For the purposes of science, I took no notes. This is all from memory. Hopefully it reveals who and what made the most impact. I will be, however, referring to the agIdeas program to inform me of the correct spelling of all speaker’s names.

A quick sketch from Page.

A quick sketch from Page.

First cab off the rank was Neville Page. He pitched himself as an Industrial Designer. Yeah, ok, sure, if coming up with the massive ‘labia monster’ (his words not mine) from Prometheus is now considered ‘Industrial’. He was confident, articulate and clearly massively talented. Neville managed to mix in some good advice while giving us a great insight into how he works. Basically, grab a plucked chicken, take a photo of it on Photobooth. Use a few tools and filters and voila – terrifying space monster. Genius.

Creating an Arabic font that works in harmony with its Latin counterpart.

Creating an Arabic font that works in harmony with its Latin counterpart.

Nadine Chahine was disarming, charming and brave. Probably too soon to make jokes about the Boston Bombing, but it kind of seemed ok in context (an Arab being thankful it wasn’t one of their own). Nadine’s love and work is typography. Specifically, creating complimentary Arabic and Latin fonts. She’s clearly technically excellent, driven and was one of few speakers today who didn’t hide behind the lectern.

A man who likes his work to speak for him.

A man who likes his work to speak for him.

Andrew Ashton came out with something on his jacket. It looked like bird poo. It was a painted on Australian flag. I reckon if anyone wanted a ‘do-over’ today it’d be Andrew. As one of Australia’s better known designers, his content was great. Possibly too great. But his presentation was disappointingly lacklustre. Read off a script, fumbly, awkward. Clearly he’s done this before as his presentation suggested he’s talked at a few forums. Willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he just had an off day.

It's all about the dance.

It’s all about the dance.

Rafael Bonachela was born to dance. So he danced. Then he danced some more. Then he started choreographing other dancers. Then he danced into our lives for 20 minutes and made us all really happy that he started dancing all those years ago.

Cool like a fridge.

Cool like a fridge.

Aaron Hayward from Debaser reminded me of Tony Hawk. An effortlessly cool guy who is awesome at what he does but carries not a single pretention about it. He flicked us through his impressive back catalogue of album artwork, gave us an insight into his influences and work methods and then kind of floated off to go and be effortlessly cool somewhere else. #mancrush.

John Crawford knows that he's welcome in Melbourne.

John Crawford knows that he’s welcome in Melbourne.

John Crawford is a different kind of cat. He’s a Kiwi. He’s a photographer. He loves light. And he loves boobs. Ok, maybe he’s not that different. But we’ve been getting to know his work ever since the promotional material for agIdeas 2013 first appeared. He’s the guy who takes photos of words on gravestones. He also takes photos of aerial nudes, landscape nudes and a few other kinds of subject matter that may or may not involve nudity. Quirky. Interesting.

The fountains of Wet.

The fountains of Wet.

By the time Claire Khan hit the stage, my brain was feeling very full. So I’m not sure how much involvement she had in all the work she showed. But if she had even a tiny bit to do with any of it, I can see why she was here. Claire works for Wet. They do amazing things with water features. Not your garden variety type of fountains. The kind that sit out the front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In fact, Claire poignantly posited that the Bellagio fountain is the only real bit of original creativity on the strip. You’d think anyone with that on their CV would be full of beans. Or maybe she was just way too dry for a crowd with lunch on their mind.

After lunch Christian Van Vuuren came onto the stage and apologised for being there. He took us through his journey from being an advertising executive to a Fully Sick Rapper and Bondi Hipster. It was a great, uplifting story of how creativity and positivity can help the healing process. Then he gave us a lecture about doing work for passion instead of a paycheque (cough cough The Iconic commercial cough sellout). Still, bloody great chat.

Still, the tapestries were beautiful.

Still, the tapestries were beautiful.

You’ve got to feel for Antonia Syme. Some genius in scheduling put Australia’s highest authority on tapestries on after the Bondi Hipster guy. Still, she ploughed on. And the more she stuck to her guns, the more she drew me in. By the end, I was mentally measuring up my walls for a woollen hanging. Antonia was a study in presentation skills. Firm, to the point, authoritative. I learned a lot. Yet, at the end of the day, she was talking about tapestries after the Bondi Hipster guy had talked about surviving TB with a Macbook Pro. Hiding to nothing.

And he wears proper shoes.

And he wears proper shoes.

Paul Collison did the lighting for the Beijing Olympics and the Melbourne Commonwealth games – among a billion other things. Unfortunately for him, the two things that are sticking with me after his talk are his time as the sound guy on Here’s Humphrey, and his recent ski trip to Austria (and the $100 bucks he won off his mate for putting the photos into his presso). Actually, there’s another thing. He gave a couple of sterling pieces of advice, including this gem: ‘Being a creative person isn’t a license to be a flake. Turn up on time. Wear shoes.’ Listen up kids.

A beautiful Holden interior.

A beautiful Holden interior.

Kirsty Lindsay makes Holden cars look beautiful. Wearing a bright pink pashmina thingy, she said ‘if people don’t notice what I do, then I know I’ve done my job’. Well, if you keep wearing that thing, people will notice everything you do at all times. But seriously, she had a point. Her job is to make the interiors and detailing of the car sympathetic to the overall concept of the car. So if it’s right, it’s seamless. If it’s wrong, it’ll stand out like a bight pink pashmina on a red background.

It's no Dirty Old Town, but my five year old loves it.

It’s no Dirty Old Town, but my five year old loves it.

Shane MacGowan is a drug-addled, toothless singer from the UK. Shane McGowan is a brilliant illustrator from Australia. Being a Chris Taylor, I know what it’s like to have people more famous than you with your name, so I think I connected with Shane on a deeper level than most. The main things I got out of Shane’s talk was that you need to know what you love, love what you love, don’t be afraid to walk away from what you love and make sure you adapt what you love when the things you should love change. Lovely.

Someone should tell Chopper.

Someone should tell Chopper.

Oron Catts. Ok. So. Um. Wow. If Oron was wearing a lab coat, like most scientists do, had an assistant with stitches in his face and a limp, and the stage lit up with lightning to illustrate his points – no one, and I mean no one, in the room would have batted an eyelid. Oron has been trying to make synthetic meat for a while. Oh, and soon we’ll be growing watches in a petri dish. Apparently. This was exactly what the crowd needed towards the end of the day. Fascinating, mind boggling, out of your comfort zoning, über intelligence.

A Birnbach poster.

A Birnbach poster.

Heribert Birnbach knew his crowd. He started with a dragon reference. So every Game of Thrones loving attendee’s ears immediately pricked up lest he begin talking about Winterfell and the Dothraki. As a non-native English speaker, I was genuinely impressed with his command of the language. Successfully navigating his way through a couple of giggle-worthy puns. He showed us a great selection of his design work from over the years. It was all cool.

Great day 1. I better go to bed so I get up in time for breakfast.

Oh no, someone’s asked me to write a blog post ~ or ~ How to write a blog post if you’re not a writer.

Sooner or later it happens to everyone. We’re all being asked to write blog posts for someone. Why? Because search engines prefer sites with new content over sites with old content.

Those of us who work with words for a living are happy to punch out a five hundred-word rant on any topic you care to mention. But most people would prefer to stand in a crowded train carriage at peak hour with a stage-two hangover.


Of course, you could just hire a reasonably priced copywriter (cough) to write your blog for you. But it’s only a blog piece. Why don’t you just grasp the nettle and write the thing yourself? It’s really not that hard.

Here is an easy step-by-step guide to help you write a short piece you’ll be happy to link to on Facebook or Twitter. You might even send it to your Mum when she asks you how work’s going.

 Pick your subject and your topic (not the same thing).

What’s the thing you’re pretty good at that most people don’t really understand? That’s your subject area. Now pick your topic. Your topic is the thing you’ve got a strong opinion on in your subject area, the thing you like to talk about when this subject comes up in conversation.

It’s even better if your experience in the subject area means you can provide your readers with some real insight that they can’t get elsewhere.

“The great thing about audio production [subject] at the moment is the improvement in technology. You can capture a studio-quality recording while standing in an alleyway [topic].  The real challenge now is stopping the audio from sounding clinical or lifeless [insight].”


Make it interesting.

It’s the Internet. No one wants to read anything long or boring. Write about your topic like you’d talk about it at a dinner party. Simple, short and if you’re going to use jargon make sure you explain what it means.

Add in some images.

The Internet is a visual medium. Illustrate the points you’re making with pictures.

Don’t post it straight after you’ve written it.

Once you’ve finished, let it sit for an hour. Maybe even overnight. Then re-read it. Make sure it makes sense. Get someone else to have a look at it and ask them if they understand what you’re trying to say.

Then do a re-write. Why? Because every first draft needs work.

Remove all the first person personal pronouns – the I’s and me’s, the we’s and us’s. Then see if you can say what you’re trying to say with less words.

One last point…

You don’t have to do all these things at once.

This is the reason writers carry notebooks. Coming up with a topic you’re happy with, thinking of sentences that neatly capture a particular thought, crystalising an insight – these things usually happen after you’ve thought about your subject, jotted down some notes and then started doing something else.

Then, once you’ve finished and it’s posted, send a link to your Mum. She’d like to know what you’re up to.