Alexander Wu-Kim aka @wupdewup studied part-time at Shillington to upskill in the design software and fundamentals. Graduating last month, he’s ready to hit the ground running in 2017. He’s continuing his role as Digital Marketing Manager for fashion label Local Supply, working hard on new boutique publisher Sydney Natives and kicking off a new freelance design career. Read on to hear about where he finds inspiration, his favourite student brief and why “Shillington isn’t a walk in the park, and that’s a really good thing.”

What were you up to before Shillington?

Before Shillington, I was at an agency that specialised in social media marketing called Society for roughly around 3 years. Working as a strategist there, I primarily looked over paid social, native advertising and content campaigns for NSW Government. In Layman’s terms, that means a lot of Facebook, working with online publishers like Pedestrian or Vice, and creating the videos or images that you see online. Before that, I used to work at the advertising agency called Leo Burnett in Walsh Bay. 

In the latter half of the year I switched jobs and moved into a Digital Marketing Manager role at a fashion label called Local Supply. It was a great change for me personally, as it was a position I always wanted, being more fashion related. It was here that I really began to harness my design skills. 

Outside of my immediate career, I had a particular interest in photography and fashion, and channeled these through my social accounts (especially my Instagram account @wupdewup), as well as being a contributing editor to sites such as ACCLAIM magazine and The Versatile Gent. 

You’re a big contributor to Sydney’s streetwear community. How do you think that scene influenced your decision to study design and now, your design work?

Well the streetwear scene itself sources inspiration from a lot of different areas, so over the years it’s exposed me to a broad spectrum of designs, concepts and ideas. From a really top-line perspective, it gave me a real appreciation of design as a whole—whether it’s sneakers, garments, look books, album covers or whatever else—they are all impeccably thought out and executed. Furthermore, it’s definitely exposed me to a lot of the different approaches, whether that be the more minimal and restrained designs that you can see in brands such as Norse Projects or Saturdays NYC, or the more illustrative ones like A Bathing Ape or Maison Kitsune. Being able to feed off such brands, let alone the larger street wear culture as a whole, has meant that all my design work has got some element of the scene in it. I have a great appreciation of the culture, and I think that becomes quite apparent when you see my portfolio. 

In terms of if that influenced me to study design, yes, absolutely. Initially, I actually went into the course because I wanted to get a better understanding of the programs so I can start designing clothes. I’d always loved creating logos and the overall development of brands, but I wanted to take it that one step further and feel confident enough to get my designs out to the world. While now I’d say that I want to push my skills further into other areas, that primary purpose still stands true. 

Why did you choose Shillington?

Before I started the course I had used Photoshop once in my life, and that was a visual design subject at school in year 11. Aside from that, I had absolutely no idea what the capabilities were, let alone understand what the difference was between the programs. 

Now that I have a good understanding of the software and the fundamentals, I’ve been able to do things at work I never thought I’d be capable of.

Something as simple as doing a .gif on photoshop, to creating logos for specific campaigns we have going, to creating 60 page brand books, I’ve been create pieces of work I would have only been able to admire from the sidelines before. That in itself I have found really rewarding – knowing the programs and keeping things like alignment and contrast top of mind has opened up a lot of doors!

In terms of why Shillington, there were a number of reasons. For one, the college fit into my schedule the best in terms of the type of courses available. As I work full-time, studying part-time was the only option for me. At the same time, I knew that I needed to be in a classroom environment where I can interact with fellow students and most importantly, the teachers. I knew back then, and even more now, that this time would be priceless. I’m no expert in all the other courses out there, but from what I remember, no other college offered such a comprehensive course catered for full-time workers. Having had a look at the course as well, it seemed really comprehensive in terms of what it covered and what you get out of it. With both those ticked off my checklist, I didn’t even think twice, I put my deposit down. 

How did you find juggling work and part-time classes?

I’m not going to lie, at times it was definitely a struggle. It required a lot of discipline to leave work on time, as well as to take advantage of every spare moment that you have to ensure you get your work done to a standard you’re happy with. Of course, I had my moments where exhaustion definitely kicked in, but after a while the whole thing becomes a little more routine and you adjust to ensure you have enough energy to follow through. 

It’s also important to mention that doing this course not only required the commitment from me, but perhaps just as importantly, the commitment of my two work places throughout the course. I can’t thank either of them enough for letting me leave early on Mondays and Tuesdays last year do to a course that at the time, may or may not have had any benefit to the business. It took a lot of faith and it really does help when you have the full support of everyone around you.

What was your favourite Shillington brief? Walk us through your creative process.

I loved every brief in my portfolio for different reasons, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be the homework brief. We were asked to create the branding – which included the identity and packaging – of a new beverage. The structure of the homework brief itself helped the creative process, being put into a number of different stages – from initial concepts, brand story, to my design direction, and so on. I decided to do a Korean Soju called ‘Ijji-Ma’, I won’t bore you with all the details here (you can see it on my website though), but I got to say, it was one of the most rewarding but challenging briefs I did. 

To summarise, the brand story was based on an ancient Korean commander called Yi Sun Sin, who led his 13 naval ships to victory against a 300 strong Japanese navy. Having such a rich story and heritage to draw my inspiration from really helped me initially, and I came up with a few different concepts that I thought could work – from designs that were based around the commander’s helmet, to interconnected type lock ups, maps of the battlefield and so on. 

As my teachers will tell you, it was here that I had a bit of a set back. While the designs were okay, they didn’t feel unique enough and had no ‘wow’ factor that we collectively wanted in this brief. There was a moment where I thought the easiest thing to do would be to drop the brief and move on, but thanks to my teachers, I persevered. Not only that, they gave me the idea of looking into lino print, and so I did, and that’s what led to what you see today!  

What were your teachers like? What’s the most important thing they taught you?

Leyla and Vanessa we’re awesome. It goes without saying that they’re both incredibly talented designers and absolute experts, and it really showed in the way that they shared their knowledge and skills with us. Whether it be about creating a new document, or their thoughts about gradients being good or bad, their own design woes and triumphs, to the overall creative process and much much more, they’re passion for design really ensured our class was engaged and energised to do all they can. They were also really good at giving feedback, which was so crucial for us, especially in the latter portfolio stages. If your design wasn’t up to scratch, they would tell you. If they thought it was great, they would tell you too. I don’t think I can emphasise enough how important they were and I’m sure my class will agree with me—we’d be a shadow of the designers we are now without them. Special shout out also to Ben who came in a few times and really helped me out! 

In terms of the most important thing they taught me, well it’s hard to pinpoint, but software and theory aside, I’d say that they really taught me how and why I should believe in my own ability.

I know that might sound cheesy, but they were incredibly nurturing and gave me confidence when I needed it most to believe in myself and keep pushing on.

I think through that process it really ticked that hey, I could really be a designer if I wanted to. 

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration from absolutely everywhere. I know that this is something that people often say, but I think it’s so true. I might be scrolling through my Instagram feed, or walking past a gallery, watching TV, or reading a magazine. If I see something I like, I’ll capture it and hopefully remember to bring it back up when I feel it’s relevant to me. 

But, if we were to whittle it down to one main source, it would have to be the streetwear scene as mentioned before. It’s such a rich source of creativity and artistry, and there’s so much incredible work that continues to come out of the culture which makes it such a great resource to keep tabs on and feed off. 

What’s your advice for someone considering studying at Shillington?

Well first and foremost, make sure you know what you’re in for. And by no means do I say that in a bad way! More than anything, you really do need to be ready for what lies ahead. Whether it’s the full-time or part-time course, be prepared to give up your week day dinners or favourite TV shows (remember: Game of Thrones on Mondays, the Bachelor on Wednesdays). The weekend will no longer be for hangover recoveries, but really an exercise in discipline, application, and a whole heap of getting over designers block. I think all of my class can attest to that.

This course isn’t a walk in the park, and that’s a really good thing.

It will challenge you, it will test your resolve, it will ask for your commitment, but at the end of it all you will come out being capable of doing things you could never imagine possible. That’s what makes it all worth it. 

My second piece of advice is to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve at the end of it all. Is it a design job? Or is it simply to learn photoshop? This will put you on the right path straight away and allow you to put the steps in place to achieve what you want. Of course, your teachers will help you with this, but having a good idea of the end game is really important as it will dictate which briefs you want included in your portfolio, how you approach them, and overall, give you more purpose with each and every step.

Third, get a few playlists ready to go. Your teachers will often ask you what you want to listen to. It’s best to be prepared.  

What are you most looking forward to in 2017? 

Well there’s a number of things that I ended up putting on the back burner during the portfolio weeks at the end of 2016. One of which being Sydney Natives, which is an online publisher that I created with a close friend of mine. The idea behind it being to profile the best tastemakers and craftsmen our city has to offer, capturing their story through images and a write-up similar to this one. We got some strong traction last year, but due to the course we put it on hold for a while. It’s now definitely time to pick it back up to see what we can achieve this year. 

Aside from that, now that I have the skills I want to start designing some short-run garments. I think I’ll start off with tees and if there’s appetite, perhaps go into other areas like jackets and accessories. It’s the reason why I got into this course in the first place, so it’s only right that I pursue it! 

Finally, I’d love to secure some freelance design work across the year! I definitely don’t want Shillington to be the end of my design career, and am so keen to keep working on exciting projects for people and brands (outside of my full-time job of course). It’s time to see what’s out there. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone at Shillington College for helping me be in a position that I never thought was possible! Was such an awesome experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone itching to be a designer.  

Huge thanks to Alexander for sharing his Shillington story! Be sure to follow him on Instagram and check out his website.

Interested in studying design part-time? Classes start again in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on 20 February. Remember—it’s your only chance for part-time study this year!