Vince Frost talks standing out, eating frogs and being positive
Standing out is something that a lot of people struggle with, but it’s crucial for lots of things like getting a job, hailing a taxi or even finding the love of your life. You see people getting it wrong, but how do you get it right? How do you ‘big yourself up’ without coming across like… that guy? How does one “eat the frog?” Don’t worry, that’ll make sense later.
Vince Frost seemed like the right type of guy to pose these questions to, as a naturally shy lad from Vancouver who’s gone on to be an Associate Director at Pentagram, as well as starting his own agency the Frost* Collective.
So Vince, just how important is it, in all walks of life, to stand out?
Standing out when you’re not prepared for it can be a complete disaster, it can highlight the fact that you’re not ready for exposure. When you are ready for it, then you create more opportunities for yourself by standing out, which is a great thing. Ideally you want to stand out in a situation where you’re confident, or certainly in some kind of control of what you’re doing.
How do you manage to show the good sides of yourself without rubbing people up the wrong way, or stepping on their toes?
The key thing for me is to always be honest and transparent. I’ve always wanted to be ‘real’. I hate people who stand out to show off, people think they’re arrogant and have a raw aversion to that. That’s not what my focus is. My focus is to help people across society, the creative industry, and in business. It’s genuine; I’ve got a genuine desire to help people be good at what they do. I think that once people see you’re genuine, or see the reasons why you’re doing something, they understand.
Everyone needs help at times, including myself. At some stage of your life you will need a hand with something. That to me is a constant requirement, and I think that, y’know, we should be very transparent when we work with our clients. We’re close with them in our collaboration; we bring them along on the journey with us. It’s not like we’re elite or that we’re above any body. You need to be inclusive, the way we work is very hands-on and, as I said, inclusive. That’s what creates a good relationship with the community.
Photo from Vince’s book ‘Design Your Life’
What would you be doing now, do you think, if you’d chosen a path other than design?
I don’t know why, but as a kid I was naturally very shy. I’ve seen plenty of ‘people’ about it… we still don’t know what the reason was! I felt like I didn’t know enough to have an opinion of my own. Maybe my father was quite… he’s very strong-minded and strong-willed…
But anyway, I didn’t feel like I had an opinion. I didn’t know what I liked or disliked. It sounds kinda ridiculous, but until I found design school and through that found graphic design/ design in general, I’d never discovered “The thing. The thing that I’m designed for.” I got the bug after that. I was excited. I wanted more of it. Each project I worked on, I found myself having more and more confidence in what I was doing. I wasn’t an arrogant w****r or anything like that, I still couldn’t stand up and shout about things with confidence.
But, every single job that I did was good. It could’ve been better, some times it wasn’t quite good enough, but I was determined none-the-less to make everything I did an improvement on the last. There was no, and still is no, complacency in the way that I approach both life and my career. I think that, if I hadn’t found that… then god knows what I’d have found. I’m sure that I’d of got by, but I hate the idea that I could have ended up in a situation where I’d still be that unsure, introverted person, because I would have never experienced the things that helped me grow.
I remember doing my very first talk. I think it was with Creative Review in London back when I was 27/28. There were around 2,500 people in the audience. I was absolutely crapping myself. For me, design was an outlet to express myself. Early on, each project I did was quite a private thing. It was very much just the client and I, or I was left alone with a brief. It was a way to express myself through an opportunity versus how I was unable to do that in my every day life, to that extent or with that level of fulfilment at least.
I don’t know where I’m going with this… but I think the thing is that you do find your flow. You have to. Once you’ve found your thing and you start to gain confidence-some kids get it very early on and others find it very late, or maybe never at all-you can’t decide where you end up. The book is kind of about that, helping people discover that they can design their life. You don’t have to settle for second best or let life happen to you, you deserve the opportunity to be the best person you can be. You’ve got to find your mojo.
Frost Collective’s rebrand for Sydney Opera House.
Is it more difficult to make your mark when working within a collective? Which is more beneficial, working within an agency or going it alone?
I would say to any young person wanting to stand out, that it’s really important to get a taste of organisations to see how they work. If only to realise/ experience how you don’t want to do things. Each organisation does things differently. I think it’s important to have a broad spectrum of experiences – they really do, and can, influence you in a positive way. It’s not to say that starting off from Art College and then going straight into your own business is a bad thing. It depends on what works for the individual.
I think that for me, looking back, what was missing in my education (certainly what took me a very long time to learn) was how businesses operate. That wasn’t part of my learning experience. Being in business over the past 25 years has really taught me that what we do isn’t just about creating nice stuff and designing things. We’re critical to the advancement of the business in terms of promotion and helping them become more successful in what they do. It took me a while to realise that. I was very much in the mind-set of making a great idea/ solution to a brief. I didn’t know how integral and important the success of that was to the clients that I was working with at the time.
You talk in the book about “eating frogs,” (translation: doing something you don’t want to). How do you go about getting yourself to make the tough decisions?
My approach is that I very seldom say no. That, in my life, takes me into all kinds of territories and situations that are often uncomfortable or unfamiliar. You need to tap into those situations, because you’ve committed to them and must take them very seriously. I don’t back down once I’ve said yes to something. We really give it – my team and myself – 100% of our focus and determination.
One thing that used to really affect me when I was younger was procrastination, the time where you’re kind of unsure… you don’t know enough information about something, and you sit in this zone of no commitment. That can be phenomenally frustrating as well as sapping of energy and confidence. I find that by getting in there, once you realise that you are capable of achieving things and making things happen, you keep that focus on cutting through that difficulty by say, doing the hardest thing first. It’s human nature to protect yourself; you’ll naturally do the most comfortable thing that’s available to you. By putting yourself out there and doing something that’s hard… there’s a risk of not delivering. There’s a risk of showing your weaknesses, your flaws – which is people often shy away from things. To protect their own interests from others, keeping up face and pretending to know what they’re talking about.
Another Photo from Vince’s upcoming book ‘Design Your Life’.
You talk in the book, too, of your shy nature as a child. How did you get over that fear of being in the limelight? Was it a case of mind over matter?
I still find things uncomfortable now. I find situations that I walk into, where I’ll have to check myself and say “don’t be silly, don’t have self doubt.” I think that just by getting on with it and planning my day… I don’t have much leisure time, much time to contemplate, to sit and scratch my navel. I’m pretty back-to-back and there’s a lot going on. That’s how I like to live. Having a busy life that involves a whole array of things.
I think that living my life this way has stopped my previous situation of procrastinating a lot. I don’t give myself time to procrastinate, or overly worry about situations. You’ve got to get in there, get your hands dirty and get on with it. Make stuff, do stuff, question things… actively be engaged in life. It makes a huge difference in moving forwards. Be less concerned with wanting to perfect things from the beginning, from the outset. Things must evolve and they will do so over time.
What stands out to you in the world today?
I’m excited about cities evolving. I’m excited about these big things finally transforming. They’re using design, architecture and planning to design society’s infrastructure: the housing, the arts, food, restaurants, transport, and how they’re connected to society. It’s a mammoth task to change. You can see the results of the focus on transforming a city into a living space that also does business and looks out for people’s well being.
Frost Collective’s design for ACON’s ‘Ending HIV’ campaign.
I work a lot with property developers so I feel like I can say this. I think it’s less so about people making crazy amounts of money, like it used to be. They’d go in and build something, cut out all of the quality, craftsmanship and materials… then sell it. Today, my experience suggests that people are more often than not doing the right thing. They focus on adding value to the world: the people in the tower block, or the commercial mix on the ground, making outdoor amenities and recreational areas for people to enjoy their life, things like that.
We’re in a really good time for city development. For too long there wasn’t this kind of overall creative direction for cities as there is today. In a way, there’s a unified approach, now, to focusing on getting it right. You see it in places like Manchester (England). I went there yesterday. It’s a place that’s seen so much evolution over the years, to the point where it’s now a place filled with positivity. Obviously that’s my superficial couple of hours walking around… but I see it. London, too, I’ll go back there and think, “What’s happened to London? How did it become such a modern city?” It’s such an old city and has become so brilliant. The vibe you get when you’re walking around, all of it. Of course, there are gripes that people have about things, but the transformation of the city itself is phenomenal. Design, commerce, infrastructure, governments and societies in general are making this happen. I’m excited to see design transform the way people live for the better.