Emma Kaniuk as photographed by Sarah Allen
Hi, Sarah Allen here! I have been working behind the scenes with Studio Home since July this year. As a graphic design student, Julia and I have had many discussions around what content would inspire and inform students and grads across all creative fields. This conversation finally morphed into a new feature series exploring the stories of and gleaning nuggets of advice from top creative professionals. The “Real World” series includes photography and interviews by me (!) and I am so excited to present our very first one today.
Recently we visited the home of Emma Kaniuk, the young Design Director at Special Group. We sat down and chatted about the road she has taken in her career so far and pulled some pearls of wisdom to share with you.
From Massey in West Auckland, back in the days when it was semi-rural, Emma attended a primary school in Henderson, moving on to Lynfield College for her high school years. She admits to being strong in subjects such as Maths and Science as both her parents are teachers, but always had a curiosity for the creative fields.
Emma surprisingly never took art although she was in the very first Graphic Design class at her school in 5th form. Her teacher; Naomi Bell, was incredibly influential and pointed Emma in the direction of Unitec, helping her to secure an entrance interview in her last year of school.
Emma was subsequently offered a scholarship in product design. She turned it down, wanting instead to study graphic design – a real risk considering she didn’t know if she had been accepted or not.
After four years of studying, at the age of 22, Emma graduated with a Bachelor of Design (Hons). At the beginning of her final year of study, Designworks sent out invitations to apply for a fellowship with their company. After 2 interviews and three months wait, Emma secured the fellowship. She worked in their studio one and half days a week during her final year at university, along with juggling a part time retail job and studying full time. She stepped into a full time position at Design Works when she graduated.
Emma stayed on to work at Designworks for five years, sometimes working very long hours. In 2010 when she was 25, it felt like it was time to explore something else.
A chance meeting with Heath Lowe (one of the partners at Special Group) years earlier proved pivotal with what direction to head in! Heath and Emma first met in his furniture store, Markt, when she was in her third year of university and taking a theory paper on the subject of Dutch design.
Emma arrived at Special Group as their eighth employee. They now have over 40 staff including a Sydney based studio.
I was lucky enough to meet Emma and ask her a few questions……
WHAT IS YOUR WORKING PROCESS?
It starts with a brief. (Usually, not always). At Special Group, we like to invite other people along on the journey of our creative process — the more generous and open we are, the better it works. When we start talking about and interrogating the various seeds of an idea, one of the first things we do is not worry about who is going to make it. We know we can find the right collaborator to add their expertise. And we try not to get too caught up with trends as they can be quite distracting to the thinking process. Both of which gives us of a feeling of freedom.
I love the level of risk through discovery, in that you’re not quite sure exactly where a project is going to end up. Case in point: Gingerella was originally conceived as a tiger…
Overall it’s a very collaborative process. We have a fantastic team to bring our projects to life — designers, strategists, account/project managers, production specialists, as well as those we collaborate with on specific projects — which means I get to focus on what I do best: conceptualising and setting an overall direction. Though, I still love to get involved in finessing the details when I can.
WHAT WAS SOME OF THE MOST RELEVANT ADVICE YOUR RECEIVED WHILE STUDYING?
“To learn how to learn for yourself”
I didn’t fully appreciate this at the time! But learning how to learn is a great skill. So when you come across something for the first time — your first packaging job, your first way-finding project, your first powerpoint template — you’ll have the tools within you to go about figuring that out.
Becoming a well-rounded designer requires empathy, lateral thinking and an ability to understand things from a wide range of perspectives. So, if you look at things that way, everyone has experiences from which you can draw on to inform your practice. Some things you might filter out, but filtering out and figuring out what doesn’t work for you is equally as important as knowing what does.
WHAT ADVICE BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES CAN YOU OFFER STUDENTS + GRADUATES IN YOUR INDUSTRY TO HELP THEM PREPARE FOR FURTHERING THEIR CAREER?
“Just the basics: be nice and work hard.”
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A DESIGNER WHEN EMPLOYING?
Someone with a passion and a mind filled with great ideas. Passion is contagious, but so is lack of passion. Simply, I look for someone with whom I have a good rapport and mutual respect. For a designer starting out, having a great attitude and good intuition for design is essential; craft and technique can be taught and honed as you go along.
All imagery supplied by Emma Kaniuk of Special Group.
Interview and photography by Sarah Allen for Studio Home
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