A ‘beautiful poster that people would not throw away’ for the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, University of Melbourne (notice the architectural ‘crease folds’, allowing the poster to be folded into any number of 3D shapes).
Michaela Webb is co-director of the fantastic Studio Round, an award-winning graphic design studio based in Melbourne. Between running her own studio, and acting as co-president of AGDA Victoria, it seems she’s one very busy designer! I’m also convinced that she’s extremely efficient, because she responded to my interview in record-time and with no reminder emails at all… You know what they say about busy people! :)
I heard Michaela speak at the fantastic Design Capital conference back in July, and I was truly inspired by her unique approach to her work. I furiously scribbled notes as she spoke passionately about her work for Wolff-Olins and Spin in the UK. She emphasised the human aspects of design – thinking about people, and the individual outside of the ‘brand’. She talked about design as ‘creating an experience’, and lamented the common marketing approach of ‘shouting’ at consumers.
Michaela Webb seems to me to champion a fresh approach to graphic design… an approach which recognises that the future of design isn’t about branding and homogenising. Instead, Michaela’s design aesthetic is generous and not controlling… it’s about risk-taking, provoking a reaction, and ultimately creating work with depth and integrity.
A big thankyou to Michaela for her time and efficiency!
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
My father would always encourage me to draw and build things with him from a very early age. I started a fine arts degree but kept looking at what was happening in graphic design. After two years of fine arts I joined some of the design students and visited Melbourne to attend AGIdeas. I then decided to swap over to graphic design.
I worked for a few years and then lectured full time in an undergraduate design degree. This was an amazing experience, almost like postgraduate study, writing briefs, analysing and reassessing the process of design.
Then I travelled to London where I started working at Wolff-Olins, a large branding company with 80 designers on one floor and a staff of 200. I then moved to Spin, where I worked for nearly 4 years. My time at Spin was brilliant. I managed to travel nonstop, working throughout Germany and other parts of Europe. For me, the highlight was probably the wide variety of cultural accounts I worked on. These included Whitechapel Art Gallery, Christie’s Contemporary, Deutsche Bank Kunst, Anthony D’Offay Gallery and Haunch of Venison.
You have a worked with some incredible companies overseas, and have collaborated on many exciting projects including identity for the much-publicised Tate Modern museum in the UK… how has your international experience influenced your creative style and your approach to doing business in Melbourne?
Business in Melbourne is different to design in the UK. Here the market is less mature and you are often required to educate people about the value of design. In the UK, people already know the process and understand the value design contributes to business and culture.
Studio Round has come a long way since you first started in 2002. What goals did you initially have for your design studio and how has the company evolved over the last few years?
I work with my partner, so our first goal was to stay married. Our second goal was to stay afloat.
We didn’t really have a plan when we moved to Melbourne. We just loved the place and decided it was where we wanted to be. We now work in a studio space in Flinders Lane and have 7 people working with us. The studio now has more structure, which funnily enough allows us to be more creative. We also have a lot more people we can work and collaborate with.
In addition to running your own studio, you are also co-president of AGDA Victoria. This seems like a lot of work! What does your role at AGDA entail, and what initially appealed to you about being part of the Association?
It is a lot of work! My role varies from sitting on the Design Victoria Advisory Board to helping organise events, newsletters, workshops, etc. Organizations like AGDA are an extremely important part of raising the profile of Graphic Design as an industry in Australia. But I have done it for 3 years and it’s now time to step back and let someone else take the reins.
When you approach a brief initially, where do you turn for inspiration – books, magazines or the web? Do you pay attention to trends in the broader design world like fashion, film, architecture etc?
Usually all of the above, it depends on the brief. I sometimes just start drawing very rough sketches.
I take a lot of inspiration from art. But also architecture, books and film. The web is an encyclopaedia of information and opens many new windows. They are all great tools and sources of inspiration.
Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?
There are lots of people creating great work. Probably Graphic Thought Facility and Kenya Hara stand out the most. They have a beautiful way of thinking, a simplicity about their approach, and a love of tactile objects. The artist I love most at the moment is Christine Hill.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
6.00 walking along the Yarra river near the Fairfield boathouse, breakfast at home around 7.00 and (hopefully!) in the studio by 8.00am. It is so good to get there before everyone else so I can catch up on emails!
I usually stay till about 7.00pm. It is non-stop most days, in meetings, discussing ideas with the team, and designing too of course!
What are you most proud of professionally?
Being able to work with my partner and keep the studio producing great work. There is no one job that is a favourite.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The freedom of being my boss.
And the worst?
Having to commoditise design with a value.
What would be your dream project?
A client with an unlimited budget that loved the design process and wants to take risks and continually push solutions. They also want to produce a book about the process. I do love designing books.
What are you looking forward to?
That dream client turning up…
Melbourne Questions –
Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools and materials of your trade – ie sketching materials, computer equipment, reference publications?
Metropolis, Brunswick Street Bookstore, NGV Bookshop Fed Square
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Cumulus Inc., Flinders Lane. The food and environment are exceptional.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Julio, great cafe down by the school yard in North Fitzroy… or in my garden.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The Narrows Gallery and our rooftop.