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10 Years Since Shillington Brisbane: Janno Saft, Founder of frank wo

Originally from Estonia, Janno Saft took a leap of faith in 2016 and jumped on a flight to Melbourne, Australia. Once he discovered that design could become a serious career, he ate “1000 packs of instant noodles to save up for Shillington” and studied at our Brisbane campus. After graduation, Janno landed a job straight away at major ad agency Y&R, then worked as a nomatic designer across 14+ (!) countries and last year he founded frank wo, an Tallinn-based “independent design studio that uses creative strategy to build unique visual solutions across all channels”.

Read on to hear about studying at Shillington a decade ago, creating the popular design inspiration Instagram account @collectgraphics, why it’s important to integrate animation into branding and advice for aspiring designers.

What were you doing before Shillington?

I was in a search to figure out what else I like beside graphic design, because I never thought about it as a real occupation. Real job is something that includes a bit of a hate and some blisters. I didn’t think I could make money having fun. That was the vibe coming out from Soviet Union. So after high school (2003) I went to study Cultural Management. Only because it felt least annoying thing to study (other option was to become a waiter). But it was fun. I was responsible for designing posters to whatever was going on at university. So I was at the Viljandi Culture Academy being a graphic designer. There was a period of time later on in my life where I was actually a paid designer to my university. 

Why did you decide to study at Shillington?

In the beginning of the third year at University I decided to take a year off (never returned) to figure out what else is there in the world. In 2006 I took a flight to Melbourne and it was an eye opener. The art scene there was and is insane. I went out almost every day to search artworks around the city. The stencils were my favourites. That was the moment I acknowledged that this is my thing also.

Google told me that I have to go to Shillington College. Best short-term design school in Australia (visa restrictions). My bank account told me that I should start building a cardboard house. So I took a train ticket outside from the city and got myself a job that includes a lot of blisters and hate. I was so into making it, that I totally zoned out from the life I had. In every few months I did sent a text to my mom “I am alive” and she replied “I know”. Some of my friends thought that I am dead.

So thanks to Google I made my decision. It took me a year and 1000 packs of instant noodles (Shin Ramyun) to save up for Shillington, but I did.

You graduated from Shillington 10 years ago. Walk us through your creative journey since then! 

I took a flight back to Estonia only few days after graduation and at the end of the week I already had a job: Junior designer at Y&R.

I was so happy and full on confident. I am officially a graphic designer…but in an advertising agency. At that time I never thought that there is such a big difference between design studio vs. advertising agency. I went there to do identity design, but thanks to my pen-tool skills I ended up cutting out diapers for a catalogue. Now I am a father and I know everything about baby diapers. So of course I did quit. I didn’t learn much from that time as a graphic designer, but one thing I got was patience.

In 2011 I started my own business, but I also needed to do a bit of traveling and I combined those two. Traveling and Design. So I spent 4 years abroad. Working in the mornings on design projects and getting intoxicated and educated from afternoon on in Portugal / France / New Zealand / Thailand / Bangladesh / Nepal / Myanmar / Thailand / Malaysia / Vietnam / Laos / Cambodia / Oman / Spain. So I think the design quality was on a standstill. At that time my credo was “Done is better then perfect”. I learned to work really fast, because there was a lot of things to do and see beside design. Waking up in Bangkok knowing that you can not hit the city before a design project is done makes you work fast. I also finished one project while trekking on Himalayas.

I think it was not only a creative journey but also a journey about finding myself. Maybe even more about myself. I turned 33 on July. Now I feel ready to start as a full time designer. My studio frank wo is only six months old and I am so amped up to create.

How did Shillington play a role?

The biggest advantage that Shillington gave me is how to handle a pressure of time.

If something has to be done in an hour, then it’s done in 50 minutes. Thanks to that I had everything done before afternoon, so I was able to do some sightseeing.

You probably get this question a lot, but why the name frank wo?

I was banging out logos and posters in an hour to get money for a drag queen show in Phnom Penh or hidden parties in Hanoi. That was the vibe about me as a designer: cheap and fast. Once I returned back home, I needed to change my image. So I just came out with a name that has a nice global ring to it. frank wo. Simple and catchy. Also having a studio gives you more credibility. Can work with bigger projects and clients. 

What do you love about being a designer?

I actually get an adrenalin rush every now and then while working on a design project. And I start jumping around like a kid. But I never show or tell this to anyone.

I am a design junkie. Always looking for a new high. Maybe I should see someone about it.

Your independent design studio focuses mostly on branding. Can you tell us about your process for a favourite project?

One thing I learned during those years is that the computer is just a tool. You don’t need a computer to come up with something great. The best ideas come while doing something totally different. Of course you have to be aware with the trends happening around the world and this actually needs a time behind some kind of a device. I take around 1 hour per day for keeping myself up to date. I just browse Instagram and Behance. Trying to study other designers.

I get most of my ideas while I am out chilling with my baby.

I write ideas down as soon as they pop up into my mind (Clear app).

Because even the most simple and clear idea might be forgotten as soon as something more clear and better comes into your mind. There are always around 10-15 ideas about design on my list. To make the first draft I use iPad Pro (I got it after I realised that I do waste almost a block of paper on a logo). 

How does animation fit into your branding concepts?

I animate as much as possible. It gives an extra flex to a design. It is rapidly becoming a thing of necessity. Take a look what Pentagram is doing, there are loads of animated identities going on lately. Event the posters get animated now. 

We love your stunning Instagram account. How do you find social media plays a role in your work and finding new clients?

Once I started using Instagram, everything has changed. I am more connected with other designers and studios. Lots of feedback and new clients also. To be honest there aren’t that many of us in the world (professional graphic designers). Feels like around 700-1000. And around 100 is actually putting out constant hits. That means that you will be noticed sooner or later by everyone whom actually matters. You just have to put out great work. Simple, isn’t it?

Which other creatives/studios/designers are you inspired by?

I made an Instagram page from where I post projects that inspire me. Somehow it has turned out to be really popular : @collectgraphics.

But if you want to start with someone then it has to be Pentagram. They are always on point and a little bit ahead of time. Specially the studios in New York and London. It’s really mind-bending to learn about their new projects, because its so much different from what you expect to see. 

What advice would you give yourself on your first day at Shillington 10 years ago?

Stop proving that you are already a great designer, and see what other people are thinking and doing. It’s okay to be average while you learn. And please study the shortcuts, you will probably save a month in your life.

Follow and stalk other designers. I already feel like Paula Scher is my mother and Natasha Jen is a sister of mine.

It makes you more confident having someone to look up to, even if its bit schizophrenic. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

I have noticed that graphic designers don’t smile that often (as you see from my photos also). There is a certain seriousness following us. Is it because we are thinking of us as true artists but the world doesn’t take us that way? Well f**k the world, we are awesome. There is a lot to smile about 🙂 I will give more smiles out from now on also. I promise.

Huge thanks to Janno for sharing his story! Follow frank wo on Instagram, Behance, Facebook and Twitter for more.

Dream to run your own design studio? Study design 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time at Shillington in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, New York, London or Manchester –>

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