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Meet James Freebairn, Junior Designer at Dark Mofo, AGDA Award Winner and Shillington Melbourne Graduate

Originally from New Zealand, James Freebairn had already studied design at university but found himself working in retail. With a renewed focus to finally pursue his passion, he couldn’t find the right design college or school back home. After some Googling, he discovered Shillington’s 3 month graphic design course, and leapt at the chance to move to Melbourne. Graduating with a really slick portfolio, James ended up winning two (!) distinctions in the AGDA Design Awards, interning at top Melbourne studio The Company You Keep (thanks to a TDK event!) and was referred by Chris Norman (his Shillington teacher) for the Junior Designer position at Dark Mofo.

Read on for some super honest insights into “the fear of rejection” after graduating, why teaming up with a fellow graduate to hit design networking events made a big difference and collaborating with Wayne, his Shillington teacher on a really cool freelance project.

What were you doing before Shillington?

Prior to Shillington I had studied graphic design at university but after graduating  I lacked confidence in myself and ended up working in retail for a couple of years before realising that I didn’t want to regret not pursuing my passion.

I researched into what courses were on offer and wasn’t really able to find anything suitable in New Zealand. Having expanded my search across the Tasman I discovered Shillington’s 3-month intensive and saw that there was a campus in Melbourne and jumped at the chance. What really appealed to me about the course was the amount of briefs that students undertook within the 3-months of study and the fact that the end of the course I was going to graduate with a portfolio.

39 Shillington projects were recognised as AGDA Awards Finalists in 2018, and you got some serious recognition! How did it feel to receive a distinction for both your Friendly Faces App and Rapoi Branding?

To be recognised by AGDA was encouraging especially considering prior to Shillington I had no previous experience working within a digital context.

To have that recognition has been really useful when applying for jobs and meeting potential employers.

Could you share the process behind your favourite project from your Shillington portfolio?

The brief that I enjoyed the most was a branding project in which I was tasked with designing the identity for a mens personal grooming kit. The research for this brief was done outside of class and all that research and conceptual thinking was funnelled into a brief with a two day turn around.  I really liked engaging with the research process of this brief and gaining a greater perspective of the consumers values and what determined their purchasing habits. From analysing these insights I crafted a brand that spoke to the person my demographic aspired to be. The final outcome ended up being called ‘Roll The Dice’ and was targeted at men between their mid 20–30s who thought of themselves as the type of guy who likes to flirt with danger. I had a lot of fun playing around with the visual identity of this brand and choose utilise a lot of symbolism that surrounded gambling, death and superstitions.

What did you do straight after graduating? We know you’ve done some cool internships.

After graduating I feel it’s important to take a bit of time out to recover as the lead up to graduation is quite an intensive and demanding time of the course.

Having taken a week to recoup I got back into polishing up my portfolio, however I eventually let this become an excuse for why I wasn’t putting myself out there and applying for jobs. The truth of matter was that I was absolutely terrified of rejection and putting myself out there. A month and a half elapsed before anything happen.

An opportunity arose to attend a portfolio review night hosted by The Design Kids. These sort of events are fantastic for practicing your presentation skills and getting industry feedback. The event was set-up similar to a speed-dating night where I was paired up with two industry designers and had 15 minutes with each to show them through my portfolio and ask any questions. One of the designers I was fortunate enough to be paired with was an incredible designer by the name of Flick Eriksson.  By chance meeting with Flick lead to an internship at the studio The Company You Keep which was an incredible experience that gave me a valuable insight into how a studio operates, not just from a clients perspective but also as a business. During my time there I was lucky enough to be able to help out on live briefs and sit in on and observe client meetings. 

One of the many highlights of my time at The Company You Keep was helping out on the roll-out for Melbourne Music Week 2018. It was a really cool feeling to be walking throughout the city and to be seeing billboards and posters that you’d put together.

Tell us about the job you landed in Tasmania with Dark Mofo. What was the application process like?

Currently I’m living and working down in Hobart as part of the team on Dark Mofo. My role within the team is Junior Designer and I’m tasked with helping out the talented team down here with all the visuals for this years festival. I’m lucky in that its a broad range of projects that I’m getting to work across and I’m constantly jumping between the realms of print and digital.

I was lucky to have my Shillington teacher Chris Norman encouraging me to put my name forward for the role and was very fortunate when I was invited down to Tassie for an interview.

During the interview process I was asked a few curve-balls along the lines of  ‘When have you ever been involved in a project that hasn’t gone to plan and what have you done to rectify it?’ or ‘Could you please talk us through your design process?’ but must have done alright because a couple of weeks later I was moving down to Tasmania. I think it’s important to add that besides your work potential employers really want to get to get a sense of your personality and see that you’re motivated, their looking for people how are proactive and who are going to fit within the teams culture.

What have you been working on for Dark Mofo?

The majority of my time so far has been spent designing and working with the wider team to get this years website up and running.  Since the website has gone live, I’ve had the opportunity to jump onto other projects ranging from digital ads and uniforms and will soon be commencing the mammoth job that is this years printed program.

You’ve actually collaborated with your teacher Wayne Smith on a recent project for El Gran Mono. Tell us more!

Wayne is a great guy and an awesome designer, I’d highly recommend checking out the work he’s done for Machine Social. Wayne needed a hand designing some posters for a Colombian music festival that took place at the end of 2018 in Melbourne. The experience of being able to work alongside an experienced designer and liaise with a real client was a great learning curve but one that was meet with a few hurdles along the way.  As per usual the client hardly had any budget to spend and what he did have was going to be needed for printing costs, so it ended up being very much of a passion project for both of us. It’s not the sort of situation I wouldn’t recommend getting into unless there is  something more that is going to come from it.

However both Wayne and I wanted this work within our portfolios and used the limitation of the budget to produce some really playful designs using a risograph printer which is a great way of printing small runs at a really cost effective price while still getting an amazing print quality.

Any tips for fresh design graduates on the job hunt?

The one piece of advice I do have is one that regularly gets handed out time after time to fresh graduates and it’s so true. Put yourself out there and start engaging with the design community. Every opportunity that has come my way has been the result of a relationship that I have made and maintained. I’d highly recommend getting along to the following meet-ups which happen on a regular basis, TDK Tuesdays, AGDA After-hours and Dames and Dumplings. Attending workshops, talks and exhibition openings are also a great way to meet like-minded people.

It can be hard putting yourself out there and meeting new people but do what I did and get a buddy and a go to events together. Luckily for me I had Zoe Crook an awesome designer and an all round brilliant person who was also one of my Shillo classmates and together we found the task of putting ourselves out there a lot less daunting.

Huge thanks to James for sharing his Shillington story! Be sure to check out his full portfolio on Behance

Do you want to kickstart your creative career like James? Study 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time at Shillington in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane –>

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