The Interview Series
Vince Frost is one of Australia’s most well respected designers. His Sydney based studio Frost Design creates world class work for clients. You can visit their site to see what we mean. From our conversation huddled around a speakerphone, Vince was as humble as they come for a creative on top of the world. But he was a junior once too. Young, inexperienced, eager and shy. So he knows what it feels like to be you. He also knows how to be where he is now. Because he is him. So if you’re interested in finding out how to become one of the world’s leading creatives, there might just be something here for you.
Junior: Hello Vince. We’ll get straight into it. What can a junior creative offer your business? How important are they in your plans?
Vince: The new ‘young blood’ as they call it in the UK is vital to the business. Because the business has to continue, it needs to constantly have new talent growing up through it. For us, it’s a really important part of our business growth and careers growth for individuals within the company.
Jr: So would you expect a young creative to stick around and make a long-term commitment?
V: Absolutely, I don’t want to lose anybody. I really enjoy investing time and energy into our people, whatever stage of their career. We have students come in here doing work placements, V-raw have three a year here, I do a lot of mentoring at the colleges and I lecture at design conferences around the world. Education is very much a part of this whole business.
Jr: So if you spend a lot of time around young creatives through these avenues, you obviously have a pretty good idea of what makes a good junior. What do you think separates the top layer of juniors from the rest?
V: The ones for me that stand out the most are the ones who are incredibly enthusiastic. Their passion and their personality is the most important thing – technical skills you can learn and improve on over the years. So firstly the most important thing is someone who really wants to be gaining further experience within your company and wants to work for your company specifically. People who don’t care which company they work for, or their heart isn’t really in it, or that think they’re the best thing to come out of art college; they can be quite difficult and it can be quite a rude awakening for them.
Jr: So does that mean that when you were a junior you thought you were the best thing to come out of art school?
V: No, not at all. I was totally shit-scared, naive and not very confident in my skills or myself. And that’s something I’ve learned over the years. Just through working hard, constantly being challenged and having new experiences all the time. Over time having successful projects and creating successful solutions for clients time and time again gives you confidence.
Jr: It’s interesting that you started out quite under-confident rather than over-confident. But you also did quite well early on in your career. We read somewhere that you became the youngest associate at Pentagram London at only 27. What was your secret to success in the beginning.
V:Well when I was in sixth form, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I had no idea what career to take. I didn’t do well academically. Someone told me to go to art college and to try and get in there. I tried to get into the graphics course and didn’t get in – I felt bad about that. But then I did a foundation course, a year of doing fashion, textiles, photography, graphic design, AV, etc. During that time I was exposed to graphics, even though it was for a short period of time. It really kind of made my life light up. That really gave me enormous energy and determination to do well at that.
So when I left art college, I knew I needed to go into the industry and go and work for the best design design company in the world. Or certainly in London. I knew If I did that I’d get exposure to the kind of work I’d like to do, or understand how they think, how they do business and the way they design. I went to see them and said, “I’ll work for you for free.” I can’t remember if it was for 3 or 6 months, but they jumped at that. At the time I was a student and I wasn’t making any money so nothing had really changed. I found a way to work part time to support myself. I was determined to have that business’s success rub off on me, and in a way fast track my career. So that’s what I focused on doing.
But for the first little while I just didn’t get it. I went in day after day thinking, “my god. I don’t understand what these guys are doing.” And then one day it just clicked for me. And once it did I latched on to it with lots of energy and passion to do as much of it as possible. It’s kind of like an addiction. You really want to do lots and be challenged constantly and across different disciplines. I love being in a very difficult situation and having to find your way through it and out of it.
Jr: We have so many friends who want to pack up and go overseas as soon as they’ve finished uni to work. Many of which come back unsuccessful with their tail between their legs. Do you think it’s important to go off and try and make something of yourself overseas? Or would you say it can be done right here in Australia?
V: I think you can do it wherever you are. I think there’s this myth that things are better elsewhere. There’s a lot of design companies that were founded by people who never worked for anybody else. They went straight from college to start their own firm. Tomato in the UK is one that is incredibly successful.
I believe there are opportunities everywhere in the world. In your own street, in your own neighbourhood or your own city. You don’t have to go overseas to find them, you just need to be aware that they are there. I’ve lived and worked in London for 25 years and now here for 5 years. I very much feel part of a global community because we’re working on projects all around the world. I live in Sydney, I love it here but I can work all over the world. And I think today it is really easy to do that. Once you’ve got an established network then it doesn’t really matter where you are.
Jr: It’s funny you bring that up. We have a saying here, “Networking – a stupid fucking buzzword” What advice would you give for building a network, and a global one at that?
V: I always thought networking was a terrible word too. It sounds like a used car salesman walking round with a briefcase. You’ve just got to connect. You have to make the effort or it won’t happen. The work won’t come to you. You have to be hungry to want to connect with people, whatever area you’re working in. You can only survive and stay relevant if you’ve got work. It sounds really hardcore, but we as a design company will only survive if we’ve got projects coming through the door. We always try hard to expose ourselves. If people don’t know you exist you’ll never get a project.
I know when I started my business in the beginning it was hard to know, “where do I start, who do I talk to, what do I say?” At that stage it’s very much about handing out business cards, talking to people and trying to find a way to get into their business. Look for opportunities around you. Friends and family might have a business and need some help. I always started with the idea that you can make something great out of everything. Every project is important – large or small. If your local window cleaner needs a new identity or you can make him look more professional then that’s an opportunity. It doesn’t matter the scale of the project. Just improve things. That’s what the world is looking for. For things to be better than what they currently are.
That becomes your network. Your network is the people that you know and have a connection with. The longer you’re in business the more that network and that family, if you can call it that, becomes important for you to get your jobs done. There’s a whole world of people that you eventually need to be doing your job and getting your stuff done. Everyone then supports each other too, and people get work that way. For me it’s about doing good and being positive. If you approach life in that way good things come back to you.
Jr: Absolutely. From past interviews it sounds like it’s a pretty universal approach. One of our interviewees said, ‘the fact that you’re friends with someone at the end of the day is more important’.
V: I think being genuine too. Not doing it for the idea of ripping people off or acting under false pretenses. Most of my best friends are people I’ve met over the years who have worked in the industry. We have something in common which I think is healthy.
Jr: How is the design industry different today to when you started out. Are there any parallels between your experiences then as a junior and what you see for young creatives now?
V: I’m not sure if there’s a lot different to be honest. I’ve been to a couple of graduate shows just recently around Sydney. When you look at the stuff that’s being produced I feel like they’re at the same level that students were 20 years ago when I was at college. I don’t think there’s been a huge progression. I know we’ve got the Internet now and everyone’s working on computers. That in a way has changed. A lot of designers are desk bound most of the day – the computer is now our main piece of machinery.
I remember when I was at Pentagram in London when I was a junior there, there were a lot of students who came in and were incredibly arrogant. Today it’s the same thing. There are people who think they’re ‘it’ and they don’t want to work hard. But there’s also people who are incredibly humble, determined, and talented. I don’t believe anything has changed in that respect. We’re all still human beings. We still want to make a living, still want to do good things and still want to enjoy what we do. The ones that do it really passionately are the ones who tend to be successful.
Jr: That’s really nice to know. It’s nice to know that it’s still just as easy or as hard as it always has been. Definitely makes it easier to keep fighting the good fight. So finally, for juniors, coming up with ideas often isn’t the problem. It’s the lack of experience, especially in life and work. How can a Junior who hasn’t really experienced the world broaden their horizons quicker?
V: I think that the one thing these days is the availability of content. Through the Internet and blogs people are able to find great work. There are tons of books and magazines now promoting design like never before. There is a lot of content for you to be looking at, and I’d just absorb it.
The thing is just to keep your eyes open, keep looking, keep feeling, keep living and breathing it. Align yourself with companies or individuals that are doing stuff that you feel an affinity with. Don’t go working for a company that does the opposite of what you do. Don’t focus on making money just to pay the rent. That may sound like I’m being arrogant, but I’m not thinking like that at all. The worst thing for you to do it is to have two portfolios. One of the stuff you love and like doing, the other of corporate stuff you do for money. When you have that approach, time and time again you’ll get asked to do the work you don’t like doing. Be 100% focused on what you feel is the right thing to do with your life. Don’t wait till you’re 90 years old and then regret it. Working out what you want to do with your life is designing your life. You have a choice. It’s up to you to make your own choices and decisions. Tailor your life to what feels intuitively right. It’s so important to be happy, to be fulfilled, to be rewarded and to be satisfied.
People constantly keep saying that I’m lucky. It’s nothing to do with luck. It’s totally about being focused and about being positive about opportunities that come your way. So my advice is to understand every company is different, find the thing that is right for you, and don’t waste time being in situations you’re going to regret or that are going to slow down your career path.