Stephen Grace is a Shillington graduate making us proud in Sydney’s design industry. After finishing up our part-time course late last year, he’s become one of the “Co” at Christopher Doyle & Co. Read on to hear how he landed the gig and what he’s learnt so far, accompanied by clean and clever work from his Shillington portfolio.
Congrats on your new design role at Christopher Doyle & Co! How did you land the job? What was the interview process like?
Thanks! I followed Chris on social media and he put a call out for young designers right as I was finishing at Shillington. By the time I reached out he had already filled the role. After a brief bout of disappointment I got an email saying there was another spot available and inviting me to come in. He went through my portfolio and politely laughed at my jokes. We had a follow up chat over breakfast where we didn’t discuss design at all—we talked about family, music and Sydney. At the end of our breakfast rolls he graciously offered me the studio role.
He’s incredibly down to earth, so—as cliche as it sounds—they didn’t feel like interviews at all, just conversations.
You heard Christopher Doyle speak at a guest lecture at Shillington Sydney. Tell us about that.
I remember Chris walking through the process of branding Elbow and the class audibly whoa’ing when he revealed the identity. A clever idea with a simple execution.
What he shared in his talk, however, was that design ultimately isn’t for designers, it’s for everyone else.
What type of projects are you currently working on?
The studio has a great track record with the arts (Australian Chamber Orchestra and Bell Shakespeare), so we’re working on a few projects in that vein, as well as developing identities for local businesses.
Any favourite projects in the Christopher Doyle & Co portfolio?
For sentimental reasons, the early work for The Jezabels is a favourite because it’s how I came across Chris’s work. More recently the Natasha Cantwell branding gave me a proper nose chortle when it clicked.
Everything needs an idea, then those ideas need to be distilled down into their simplest, purest, most beautiful form.
There isn’t decoration for the sake of decoration.
Any surprises or unique philosophies at the Christopher Doyle & Co studio?
I’m pleasantly surprised with how tight and collaborative the environment is. As we are a small studio, we all know what each other are working on and can contribute across projects. It definitely takes the pressure off: we can all solve a problem together and lean on Chris for support (not physically, he doesn’t let us do that).
Before Shillington I was living in Adelaide. I actually grew up in the Barossa Valley, but wine-making was never in my blood. From school I had been interested in graphic design and had been doing little self-initiated projects and sharing them online. Post-school I started a law degree, which helped me realise how much I didn’t want to study law. I dropped out and was lacking a bit of direction when I got an email from a digital studio in Adelaide called Boylen. They had come across my work and wanted to talk. They amazingly took me on without ever having worked, let alone studied, as a designer. They shaped and mentored me into delivering real projects and working with clients. I’m always grateful to them for taking that chance because I can’t imagine doing anything else now.
Although I was already practising as a designer, I had been primarily self-taught. I was curious what my blind spots were, since ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. I looked for a relevant course that would push me to think conceptually across every medium. My experience had leaned heavily in digital but I wanted to leave that cocoon and become a beautiful print and branding butterfly too.
Honestly it was exhausting, there’s no sugar coating it. Towards the end of the course I took some time off work so I could fully throw myself into creating the portfolio I wanted. At times it felt like I wasn’t going to finish and I hated everything I had ever done, but I persevered and ultimately it got me the interview with Christopher Doyle & Co. Getting my Monday and Tuesday nights back after the course was an incredible feeling—it’s basically 30% more free time!
And last question—what was the biggest lesson from Shillington that will carry throughout your career?
How to make myself generate more ideas.
The teachers forced us to sketch and sketch until our hands were sore and our brains were empty.
It’s easy to fall in love with the first solution, but I’m learning the first idea may be too obvious or already done.