An Interview with Studio—io

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 11.46.45 amOur Shillington Melbourne students were recently visited by Simon Bent of Studio—io for a guest lecture. He walked the class through two different design projects: one major project with a long timescale and big budget, and one with a very short deadline and small budget. Our students were amazed to see a peek into his concept development process and all the different points with clients. 

We especially loved his answer to a student question about creative block. His answer? “I do something else. Get away from it. Take a walk. Or build a typeface!”

Read on for more insights into the creative process of Melbourne’s Studio—io.

Can you share a quick run-down of your creative journey? What stepping stones led you to Studio—io?

I studied graphic design at RMIT then did the hard yards doing finished art at a large format printers as my first industry gig. I moved to a web development company as a digital designer mostly working on restaurant websites and began freelance work on the side calling on my friends and family as clients initially.

I had wanted to work for a cutting edge design studio and was lucky enough to be hired at Qube Konstrukt in 2008. I spent five years working in various fields from art direction and branding to typography, model making and animation. It was a true multi-disciplinary studio and we worked as a great team of creatives including Karan Singh, Pat Da Cunha and Janine Wurfel among many others. After a short stint at South South West, I set my sights on opening my own studio so I took on a part-time role at a marketing agency working with international big-name brands to give me the time and money to build up on my own network of clients. After a year and a half of juggling and finding myself working every conceivable minute of the day, it was time to take Studio io full time and quit my day job. 

You walked our students through two very different case studies—one major projects with a long timeline and big budget, one with a very short deadline and one budget. What different lessons did you learn from 8-Bit and 3 Ravens Beer? 

Different timelines and budgets have a direct influence on the process of each project.

A longer timeline can mean you have time to stray away from the brief and consider all possible solutions that may work for a new brand, and explore them enough for a client to make an educated choice. A tight deadline means you don’t have the luxury of exploring riskier ideas, thoughts or concepts; that can be a risk in itself but also pushes you to get creative quickly. The energy can help get a design over the line.

With 8bit, the client did take a chance on the concept we presented them, but they felt comfortable enough doing this because of the thought and consideration that had gone into the design process; this long lead time meant they could have apply their branding to virtually anything; the end product was more than an identity; a custom typeface, suite of icons and the concept allowed for brand extension. The 3 Ravens job was a challenge, but learning that pushing for a design solution in a fortnight and for it to be a success for the designer and client is exciting.

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You advised to “pick your battles” when working with difficult clients. Can you elaborate on that? 

I meant that when working on brands I try to play the long game and focus on the end result. Sometimes when a client throws a spanner in the works I try to keep the final result at the forefront of my mind and ask myself “will this compromise destroy the end result?” Often it’s much more productive to be flexible and spend the time understanding the clients perspective and what they are trying to achieve in order to find the common ground between a good decision solution in my eyes and a practical issue that the client needs resolved. 

 Can you talk about building restraints and parameters into your design projects? Why is that important? 

I have always found that limitations help to clarify the project.

They allow you to focus your attention on what you are trying to communicate rather than getting distracted and bogged down by the potential limitless possibilities the final design could take. Each project I take on where there is a lot of ambiguity, I work with the client to tease out a brief or if I’m given free rein then I set myself a challenge and place my own set of limitations on it, for instance an illustration style or a particular type.

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One of our students asked how you overcome creative blocks. How did you answer? 

Getting away from the desk; I like to break up every day with a walk at some point. I find that getting away from the computer allows my mind to wander away from the design problems. So if I put on a podcast and go for a walk, often by the time I get back my perspective on the design problem has completely changed and I can attack it from a new fresh angle. Good for productivity too.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for young designers?

Experiment and fail and experiment again.

You mentioned Na Kim, Ikko Tanaka, Karel Martens and Nejec Prah are designers who inspire you at the moment. Why? 

All of these designers have a very strong but very different aesthetic sensibilities. I guess I love to take influence from as may different designers and artists as possible. 

Huge thanks to Simon from Studio—io. Be sure to check out their blog and follow their work on Instagram and Twitter.