Interview with Mikeila Scheckenbach, Owner and Creative Director at Bandit Design Group

Based in Sydney and Canberra, Bandit Design Group is a small boutique creative studio doing big things in branding, web and packaging. Owner and Creative Director, Mikeila Scheckenbach, founded Bandit in 2017 with the kind of drive and vision that can be seen in the amazing client work that they have produced since the beginning. With all the great things Bandit are doing catching our eye, the news that Shillington Sydney graduate Ella McLean has joined their tight knit team was something we are so excited to share.

We caught up with Mikeila and Ella to talk more about the big things coming out of this powerhouse Australian studio. As business owner and Creative Director, Mikeila shares her insights and experience on taking the leap from working for others to starting her own successful enterprise and what she was looking for in her newest hire.  Ella tells us about what she’s getting up to as Bandit’s newest Junior Designer and how Shillington prepared her for this fast paced business.

How, when and why did Bandit Design Group start?

Mikeila: Bandit wasn’t born spontaneously or on a whim, it was born on purpose from a planned out process. I knew for a long time I wanted to start my own studio, but I knew I needed to gain know-how and experience, so I proactively sought out the opportunities which would eventually get me there. I went from studying and working in-house solo to working in-house within a design team, to working part time, all while freelancing.

After three years of freelancing I had built a solid client base and finally turned my side gig into the real deal, officially launching Bandit in 2017.

Creating Bandit was about having freedom, choice and helping others. Whether it’s helping people in their own business or through being a part of ours, we want people to feel freedom and choice too.

Since then, Bandit has been making tracks all over Australia and the globe. With a vision to support successful businesses by building beautiful brands which are founded on true purpose, open collaboration and good times.

Tell us a little about life before Bandit. What did you learn from working freelance and in other studios that helped you in launching Bandit?

Mikeila: Life before Bandit was a constant juggling act!

Freelance life taught me hard work, serious time management skills and how to communicate with clients. I would roll out of my bed in the morning and bang out some work before showing up to my full-time job. I would open up my laptop on lunch breaks to check emails and send off proofs (even squeeze in a sneaky conference call in my car on occasion). And after getting home I would do some more work! It sounds crazy now, but at the time I was doing what I had to do to build a solid and loyal client base and a lot of these clients are still with us today. Working in an in-house studio taught me teamwork in design, giving and taking feedback and the importance and power of branding.

What have the last few years of running your own studio taught you?

Mikeila: Running a studio has taught me so many great lessons so far, with many more to come I am sure. A couple of my favourites are…

There is a lot of good in the world. Meeting new people on the daily reminds me that there are so many good people in the world who are doing good things. All of our clients and so many others out there, run businesses to help others or better others’ lives in some way. And that is pure gold!

Design is not about you. Design is not about us, as the designers. It’s about the client and their audience. Don’t get so attached to your client work, it’s not for you.

Find your people—I have learnt how important it is to have a good team and support crew around you. It is no easy feat building a growing studio. There will be times when you want to throw it all in the bin, move to a remote island and never answer an email ever again. And those times are when you need your people around you to bring you back to reality.

What have been the biggest unforeseen challenges and highlights you have come across so far?

Mikeila: As I am sure any other business owners out there would be familiar, running a business is an insane roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Almost every day is filled with challenges and highlights.

As a self-confessed people pleaser, one of the biggest challenges I have faced so far is the art of managing expectations. After experiencing a couple of sticky situations, we now have clear processes to set expectations and make sure clients and the team can sleep at night.

A huge ongoing highlight has been the freedom that comes with having our own studio. That is, to challenge the traditional ways studios and agencies work and to make up our own rules every step of the way. We have the ability to tweak and change things which we feel are outdated or don’t work as well as they could for our clients or team. We are really passionate about creating a cultural change in the industry and it’s such a privilege to have the power to do that, so we take that pretty seriously.

And of course, a highlight has been winning clients I thought were far beyond our reach! I pinch myself everyday that we get to work with so many Aussie and global brands doing great things.

We especially love the fun and energetic branding Bandit has done for Oh Hey! Can you tell us a little about some of the stand out clients and projects you have worked with this year?

Mikeila: We have an amazing group of clients spanning over so many different industries. Some recent stand-out clients have been Luna Bronze, Luxey and Kerrie-Ann Jones Stylist. Ranging from branding, packaging and websites these companies have been so amazing to work with. They’re all absolutely killing it in their space and we couldn’t be more proud and grateful to work alongside them!

In an interview with The Design Kids early last year, you referred to the Bandit team as “The Three Amigos”. Can you tell us a little about the dynamic of running a creative studio with such a tight knit crew?

Mikeila: Having a small and tight-knit crew means we are super nimble, collaborative and always on the same page. It’s crucial all of our personalities work together, so we are super selective about who we let join our gang. We only take the cream of the crop and being a good person is numero uno! As we are currently working across two states, with Ash our senior graphic designer based in Canberra, communication is key. Slack and Skype are our digital home and it’s where we come together, throw around ideas and have fun.

We have been so excited to hear that Bandit recently hired Ella McLean, a recent Shillington Graduate. She now works with you as your Junior Designer. As a Shillington graduate, can you tell us what stood out about Ella that made her the perfect fit for the Bandit team?

Mikeila: We are super selective about who we welcome into the gang and Ella was a pretty easy decision. She stood out as she came across as a real human being—she reached out for a coffee, which I thought was super proactive and a chance to get to know each other without having the pressures of an ‘interview’. Her portfolio was really well presented, having covered lots of different types of design and she was able to explain all of her work in depth and the reasoning behind her design decisions which was a big ol’ tick for me! And most of all, her personality and passion for design were the winning ticket into Bandit.

This is for Ella. How did your experience at Shillington prepare you for working in the industry? And can you tell us a little about the projects you have been working on since starting at Bandit?

Ella: Before Shillington I had no design experience whatsoever, Adobe Suite was just a few icons at the bottom of my computer screen which I DARE NOT click on.

The course was amazing and taught me everything that I needed to know about design in the snap of just three months. The way in which the classes mimic the day-to-day environment of a busy studio has made for an easy transition into that real life design grind.

Since starting at Bandit, I’ve been working on print and digital designs both internally and for clients across a variety of industries—health, beauty, food, property, education—you name it. It’s exciting and the saying ‘you learn something new everyday’ is an absolute classic here for me. This team is always pushing my skills and creative thinking outside of the box!

In amongst all of your work with clients, we also hear that Bandit have been working with universities in Canberra to offer assistance to recent graduating classes. What led you to this work and can you tell us more about it? Also, can you share some of the advice you give to students and recent design graduates about getting a foothold in the industry?

Mikeila: As big believers in giving back to the community and helping others, earlier in the year we reflected on how beneficial portfolio reviews and advice about breaking into the industry would be for students from industry people. We created a short and sweet guide to take to the sessions we held highlighting some of our well used tips on snagging yourself an interview, what should be in your resume (and what shouldn’t) and creating a killer portfolio.

Our top tips:

How to create a killer portfolio

  1. Align yourself—Make sure your portfolio projects and overall look & feel aligns with the companies you’re applying for. If they can see you will slot right in that’s 5 brownie points for you.
  2. Best of the best—Only include your best work. Don’t include that project you didn’t love or struggled with the brief.

How to snag yourself an interview

  1. Do your research—Research the companies you want to work for: What do they specialise in? What are their values and ethos? Who are the people working there?
  2. Show how you fit—Send your portfolio and resume over with a short and to the point email. Briefly explain why you think you would be a good fit and focus on what you can bring to their company. Don’t forget to personally address the email to the Creative Director and team. Act cool.

And finally, what advice would you give to creatives looking to launch and brand their own businesses right now?

Mikeila: Take the time to think through your values, services and purpose. This will set you up for finding the right clients from the start. But, at the same time, just start. Don’t wait for your logo, website or tag line to be perfect. Perfect will take forever, so just launch and get started and improve over time!

Huge thanks to Mikeila and Ella for chatting to us about what Bandit Design Group are all about. Make sure to keep up to date with what Bandit Design Group are up to through their website and instagram

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