Frankie Ratford as photographed and interviewed by Sarah Allen for Studio Home ……
Entering into my fourth and final year of study, I have found myself feeling rather overwhelmed by the intense year ahead, and even more overwhelmed that I am one step closer to being a graduate and looking for a job in the ‘real world’!
Julia had been spending some time with fellow web buddies; Frankie Ratford and Yve Johnson from The Design Kids (TDK) who are visiting from Australia and had arranged for me to meet up with them for a chat. Meeting these two creative geniuses could not have come at a more perfect time and I was SO inspired by their enthusiasm! Needing some guidance for the year ahead, I picked their knowledgeable brains about the creative industry and asked some questions to try to dig up some valuable advice and lessons learnt for us students and graduates!
TDK was launched in November 2009 by Frankie Ratford (then 26), initially as an online store selling products designed by students to give themselves some exposure during their study. Over the 6 years since, TDK (and its growing team) have been on a mad mission to bridge the gap between students and the wider Australian graphic design industry. 2012 saw the launch of their new site, providing students with ways to get involved in the community via events, competitions, exhibitions, a job board, directory, interviews, a wide interactive social network and city specific projects. Their tireless drive, enthusiasm and fresh approach to the Australian graphic design world has had huge benefit to students, grads and industry front runners a like!
I caught up with Frankie and Yve as they embark on a 10 week road trip of New Zealand, not only exploring the countryside but reaching out to connect with our own creative industry at large. As part of their travels they have launched an awesome project to engage and involve the design community (open to international entries!) TDF are calling for any of YOU to design and enter your own type based sign for each of their listed NZ destinations. The selected typography is then printed, used as their hitchhiking sign AND then included in the exhibition in April!
Frankie Ratford as photographed by Molly O’Neill
ALL DETAILS BELOW
When did you decide that the design industry is what you wanted to be part of? Was there a specific moment that set you off in its direction?
Definitely! I fell in love with a green kettle aged 14. I was on a ski trip with my parents on the French/Swiss boarder and while my parents were getting groceries, I wandered into the appliance section, and spotted this kettle. When my Dad came to find me, he couldn’t understand why I wanted it so bad. I think it was the first time I realised I saw the world differently to most people!Work by Luke Day // TDK Re-Launch Party 2012 // Byron Bay, Australia // The Design Kids
Why did you feel you needed/wanted to start TDK?
After 6 years of studio experience, I felt like my skills weren’t really being utilised. I didn’t want to sit still at a desk and eat at the same sandwich shop everyday! I wanted people, adventure, travel, and to give back in some way! So I designed my dream job, funded it myself for 4.5 years and then scored our wonderful sponsor, Tractor Design School. Sometimes I think you just have to pull out all the stops and make it happen. Even our design road trip where I spent five months on the road in five cities, I only had $64 to my name a week before I was leaving, and so I kept my lecturing job two days a week, and just flew to work! Some might call it crazy, but I wanted the income of one and was passionate about the other, so I had to find a compromise to make it work, and that compromise was getting up at 3am and heading to the airport!
Work by Georgia Hill, Jonathan Key and completed by Liz Roe.
Art by Kate Pullen and Madeleine Deneys // Photo by Tyler Alberti
How did you get your foot in the door and begin to grow your business both on and offline?
I was always interested in the design industry – in the studios I used to grill the paper reps on who had designed each project. A community is about the people who make it up, and I was interested in those people. Working at some high end studios meant I already had those connections (Sydney), plus my fellow honors graduates all got great jobs (Melbourne). Our very first exhibition – Terrible Twos Sydney (where we partnered a Creative Director with a student on equal terms) was a mix of people I knew and people I begged! From there (again, proving your worth before people believe in you), Desktop Magazine approached me to run a Melbourne and Brisbane version. That was a really big stepping stone for me and I’ll always be super grateful for Brendan McKnight (the then Editor) for seeing what I was trying to achieve and believing in me.
I guess growing from there was all about giving. I’m always amazed by students emailing us saying ‘I emailed all the studios, no one replied’. These guys run full time businesses, why should they reply!? Start giving back and getting involved and people are way more likely to make time to see you. TDK has been all about giving back and connecting our community – and hours upon hours of meeting (read: drinking coffee), meet ups (read: drinking beer) and exhibitions (read: travel freely!) have all paid off. I think if you are going to put so much of yourself into something, you have to love what you do, and I’m crazy about it!
Work by Alter & Nathan Nankervis from TDK “Fourplay” 2014 // The Design Kids
TDK x Kitiya Palaskas Workshop, 2013 // Photo by Stephanie Lee Moulin
What are your plans going forward? For both yourself and TDK?
Well, we’ve got a big two months in NZ now, which we’re really pumped about! We are hitch hiking around NZ, and running an international typography competition on Instagram to design the hitch hiking signs, to shine the light on New Zealand creatives and destinations. Then we’re off to the USA to do the same over there, in a big old bus!
What was the best piece of advice you received about the “real world” while you were studying? And how do you apply it to your working life now?
I put my hand up for anything and everything – still! I’m 10 years in and still helping out, working on the bar at exhibitions, helping out with Creative Mornings in Melbourne for the last 12 months, doing free talks, workshops etc. I recently did an audit of my resume, and I’ve done around 70 design jobs (some are one day, some are 3 years, there is a big range!) and 80% of what I do is for free. Not because I don’t value my time but because I’m happy to give back, especially when 20% is well paid and life’s good. I think while you are trying to build your design network, you need to start giving – time, energy, help etc. Plus its FUN!Work by Motherbird from the Terrible Twos show // The Design Kids //Melbourne 2012
…… Work by Nowhere Famous
What was the biggest and most unexpected challenge you experienced following graduation?
Figuring out where I fit in the industry – and I thought I knew! After 18 months at Frost*, it wasn’t sitting right, so I quit in the middle of the recession, and decided to travel for six months – go figure myself out. This was a giant slap in the face, as I LOVE design but suddenly wasn’t sure who or what I was. The six months paid off (hiking in Reunion Island, volunteering in Madagascar, grape picking in France, hanging in NYC, camping the UK and hitchhiking through Europe) and I had a turning point in Madagascar and figured I wanted to be in the design industry but I wanted to give back. And I didn’t want any clients! So came up with a plan to help improve the industry and make a difference.
When lecturing in the past, what and how did students stand out from the rest?
Just being really engaged and interested in design. You can see the ones that spend hours kerning one piece of type, the ones that can tell the different between one italic serif and the next etc. The rest scrape by, getting low credits, turning up to half the classes and not really caring about the details. I’m all about the former group – TDK is designed to give these guys the boost and support they need to succeed.
You have created an incredibly strong community and network in Australia. What motivated you to look further and set your sights on introducing your project to NZ?
We’ve been in Australia for five years now, and I’m keen to grow our community. I LOVE seeing what everyone else is up to and already in NZ we have been blown away by talent! This week alone we’ve met Studio Home (yay!), Design Assembly, DINZ, Curative, Creative Mornings Auckland, ALT Group, We Love Inc, Threaded Magazine, Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design, Yoobee School of Design, Split/Fountain, The Pond…and a whole bunch more to come!“hitch hiking type competition” ! #tdkthumbsup
Photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home + TDK
Can you give use a quick rundown of your NZ itinerary and how people can reach out and connect with you if they want?!
TDK is about bringing industry knowledge, exposure and opportunities to students and graduates in NZ, so we’ll be visiting the universities for guest lectures, having coffees with Creative Directors and drinking beer at all the exhibitions launches and creative events. The aim is to support the existing design communities in each city, and strengthen those relationships so the fresh wave of graduates can connect and become part of this amazing industry. We’ve got two weeks in all of the following; Auckland, North Island, Wellington, South Island, Christchurch (actual dates and details of our type competition are on our website), with our hitch hiking type exhibition on the 2nd of April. We have a brand new kiwi site on its way at www.thedesignkids.co.nz, but for now get connected via your social media of choice (or all three)
Photography and interview by Sarah Allen for Studio Home
theclever who are proud to support emerging designers down under and our on going “Real World” feature series.
“At theclever, you will find a market place created for a design-hungry audience. Our aim is to provide a one-stop-shop, where you can hunt for unique ideas that are considered in their design and beautifully crafted. Here you will meet a group of talented designers from New Zealand and around the world. You can read their stories, buy their products and follow them through our social channels”