Principal, Vert Designs
Ceremony: 14 May 2019, 2:00pm - Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building
Thank you. Pro Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, presiding Dean, presiding directors, members of the University Executive, Council and Academic Board, staff, family, friends and graduates.
Firstly, I would like to offer my congratulations. What you have achieved is no small feat. When we are part of events it is sometimes easy to miss their significance, which is why graduation is so important. You are here today to mark the successful culmination of thousands of hours’ work over years of your life.
What you have worked for and received is truly a world-class education from Australia’s best design school. The subjects you have taken have been honed and perfected over 100 years of design education and taught to a university standard that’s been perfected over nearly 1000 years. Make no mistake: You’ve received the best education available, and the only education that will surpass it is currently being taught to the cohort that follows you. What you have done should never be diminished and cannot be taken away from you.
And I’m going to go for one more indulgence and say: You have eaten of the fruit of the enlightenment. Your lives will go on to demonstrate the application of reason and knowledge is the one continuous action that enhances human flourishing, and as designers, you’ve done all this without sitting any exams or any formal study.
Now, the path that each of you take will be different – different from your classmates, different from the alumni that’s gone before you and different to the cohort that follows you. Some of you will go on to further study, and for some of you, your structured education will end here.
Now, I remember sitting your seat 14 years ago. I’d taken a half day off from my dream job that I was soon to get fired from and I was feeling like the university had made a huge mistake. Or, maybe more accurately, I’d got away with a cunning deception. My mediocrity had gone unnoticed. I’ve had this feeling many times since and I’ve come to understand that for me, this feeling is a direct result of my own expectations.
But what are these expectations? How did I come to create an image, an imagined narrative, of how things should look and how I should feel about them? I’d never graduated before; where did the idea come from for how I should feel about it? I’d fallen into the trap of compare and despair, and just to add some sting, I was mainly comparing myself to the highly curated narratives of design success, the types that brands tell to sell more sofas or gallery owners cultivate to justify higher prices.
Now, just to clarify, some comparison is good. It helps inspire us, it drives us forward, we rise to meet the bar our creative networks set. But some comparison robs the opportunity. We run the risk of chasing a homogenous version of success that misses the human subtlety of our individual experiences and situations. Sometimes, if our circumstances don’t match our expectations, we might not lean into the opportunities we have in front of us, instead chasing ones that may never exist.
Today, we are awash with narratives of creative success, easy-to-consume stories that paint creativity as a clear, linear progression. I’m sure you know the narratives I mean; they’re everywhere – on blogs or told by brands, and now that social media allows creatives to tell their own narratives, we still tell the old myth truths because we don’t want to be out of step with the expectations of an audience that knows how creativity works. These narratives are fascinatingly entertaining, commercially useful and often inspiring, but they’re rarely completely honest and should never be used as a roadmap.
On reflection, if my design career had played out how I’d imagined it should as a graduate, I would have sold myself a long way short. Take the time to think: Is the narrative you’re engaging with designed to help you create or designed to help you consume, and what are the narratives you’re telling? Are they honest? And why are you telling them?
As you leave structured education, a bad thing can sometimes happen to young designers, and this bad thing is the external corruption of how we naturally work. As students, we work together, we share ideas, we help each other learn, we challenge each other and are often far better for the interaction, but as graduates, we start to get pitted against each other in an unnatural competition in which there are winners and losers. We enter into design awards in which one person wins, we apply for the same job where only one candidate is successful, or we’re both hoping to work for the same client and only one can get the project.
Competition done well builds creative community, which can become our greatest asset, but as humans, even gloriously talented, well-educated designers, we are vulnerable to a cognitive bias of zero-sum thinking and it erodes our creative communities. Zero-sum thinking or zero-sum bias is a cognitive bias used to describe when a person believes that a situation is a matter if win/lose or loss/gain. In other words, they believe that one person’s loss is another person’s gain.
Creativity does not work like this. We have the potential for unlimited creation – creation of opportunity, creation of systems, creations of community. Zero-sum thinking pits us against each other and erodes communities. When designers compete, it’s never zero sum; instead, we both win. When a designer is praised publicly for great work, it raises the profile and importance of design. When a brand works with good designers, their competitors are forced to raise their design standards. If two designers create work for a competition, the net result is more creation, more ideas. More is more. The success of your creative communities creates more opportunities for all of you. Hold onto and grow your creative networks; they are valuable beyond measure.
The last thing I’d like to say is focus on the work and when in doubt, do a good job of the project you have in front of you. Whenever I’ve encountered some issue as a designer, either a real issue like poverty or cashflow, as they call it; losing a client; or some subjective problem, like lack of direction, loss of meaning or if I start to compare and despair, the right action has always been to focus on the job I have at hand and do it well.
It’s one of the greatest things about being a designer. We express our worth through our words. It’s grounding and it’s real. We have tangible skills that set us apart. Through our work, we have the opportunity not only to express ourselves but to learn about others. When we do our jobs well, we gain empathy and insight, and as we strive to incrementally improve the world, I’ve found again and again that more than any other action, the act of design has brought me inspiration.
Trust in your education, continue to learn, do well the tasks you have at hand, work within and build your creative communities and you will have more than a fulfilling career; you will build a life full of meaning and opportunity.
Thank you for indulging me.
About the Speaker
Andrew is the founder and director of Sydney-based design house Vert Design. His other major projects include being the co-founder/designer for the Balmain Boat Company, director and designer for design and manufacturing company Bestaxx, director of design and technology company Cyclonas and director of Best Practice Plastics.
Andrew has designed a wide range of products during Vert Design’s ten years of operation including glassware, ceramics and other home-wares. His experimental work in the studio has led to several innovations including the development of sustainable materials made from waste. Vert Design has been behind well regarded designs such as the 2018 Good Design Award winning Huskee Cup, the vertical gardens in One Central Park, and the O Six hundred kayak. Andrew has also committed to fostering young designers by mentoring and lecturing in various Australian educational institutions.
Andrew is a member of Supercyclers which is an international collective of designers with a focus on sustainability. He is also on the Advisory Board for Zaffyre International, is a member of the Leadership Think Tank CEO Peer Advisory Board, and is Director on the Board of the Australian Design Centre.
In 2005 Andrew was the recipient of the UTS Union Creative Grant to produce glass designs and in 2017 Andrew was a member of the Course Advisory Committee at UTS for the Integrated Product Design Course.
Andrew graduated from UTS in 2006 with a Bachelor of Design in Industrial Design (Second Class Honours).