Sometimes, the best thing to do if you want to change careers is to take the leap. For Lauren Danger Koste, the choice to study at Shillington happened spontaneously after years of working as a kickass brand strategist. She’d been getting a little jealous watching the graphic designer she worked with make creative magic happen and she wanted a piece of the action. Lauren now works as both a freelance designer and the newly minted Studio Manager for The Design Kids since she graduated the part-time course in Melbourne.
We caught up with Lauren to find out what’s been keeping her creative fire stoked through the Covid lockdown, why boldly inviting a mentor out for a beer can lead to some of the best lessons about the industry and we’ll learn a bit about the awesome design work she’s been putting out recently.
You have a background in brand strategy and marketing. Why did you decide to switch gears and study graphic design?
I was working as a brand strategist/copywriter for almost a decade for heaps of different businesses, from an ice skating rink in New Zealand to a PR agency in Washington, DC! While I loved the strategic aspect of my work, I noticed that I was always jealous of the graphic designer that got to communicate my strategy using design. I knew for years that I wanted to be a graphic designer but I thought I couldn’t be one because I wasn’t some super talented illustrator or artist (which I now understand was just silly!).
When I turned 30, I had an “Oh shit what do I really want to be when I grow up?” moment and spontaneously decided to sign up for the part-time Shillington course in Melbourne! Not to sound corny but it was seriously the best decision I ever made.
What was your favourite student brief? Tell us about your process and the final outcome.
Wow! Let me think. Okay, so probably the campaign brand I did for Baja Norte, which was a fictional event held in San Diego, aiming to increase tourism to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula (only a 20 minute drive away). Yeah, it was super niche. I’m weirdly obsessed with Mexico, specifically Northern Baja!
I absolutely loved this brief because I was able to get really hands on with the visuals. I played with coloured epoxy and a blowtorch to create this super cool resin artwork that looked like aerial views of the region. I love being hands on, so any excuse to break out the table saw, welder or blow torch count me in!
How did the design course build your skillset and give you the confidence to freelance after graduating?
You may not know it right away but once you graduate from Shillington you’re way more prepared for the design industry than you think.
We’re taught early on how to work to deadlines, quickly develop strategic ideas and the importance of having a plan and sticking to it. I think these are skills that a lot of other courses don’t focus on as much. So we already have an upper hand!
As a new graduate, of course I felt nervous and insecure about my design skills, but the more people I talked to in the industry the more I realised I actually knew my shit. I started going after clients with the whole ‘fake it ’til you make it’ attitude and I guess they bought it! I also networked my butt off, going to as many design events and meeting as many people as I could. Some of the best industry lessons are learnt over a pint of beer with an experienced designer or creative director that you admire.
Seriously—if there’s someone you admire, ask if you can take them out for a beer. They’ll most likely say yes!
Huge congratulations on your new Studio Manager role with The Design Kids. You’ve been working with the company for a few years now. Can you tell us about a typical day like at TDK? Tell us about some interesting projects you’ve worked on since starting there.
Thank you! It’s been a wild ride with The Design Kids and I couldn’t be more stoked about my new role. It actually all started when I was accepted to Designer’s Bootcamp (by TDK) almost 2 years ago and ended up going to Sri Lanka with 10 amazing designers from around the world to sort out my dream career.
Frankie—the Founder of TDK—and I totally hit it off and she hired me to help with future bootcamps which was an absolute blast. Then COVID happened, obviously international travel was put on hold and TDK needed some help, so I moved over to the mothership!
We’re a SUPER small team so there’s never a typical day here! We’re constantly looking for up and coming designers to feature, interviewing studios and gaining an understanding of the design scene in major cities around the world. I absolutely adore working with Frankie and I thank my lucky stars that I get to work with her and the team day in and day out trying to make TDK as amazing of a resource for new designers as it can be!
We just launched our new website which looks EPIC and we’re working everyday on making it more and more user friendly for all the designers visiting. The TDK Awards are also coming up in November 2020, which will take up most of our energy! It’s 100% free, so if you’re a new graduate you HAVE TO submit your work. Each year we pick 10 amazing judges (we’ve had &Walsh, It’s Nice That and Jacky Winter in the past!) and each judge chooses 3 portfolios. If you’re chosen we promote you with an interview on our website site, full coverage on our global newsletter and lots of love on our IG!
We love your iso passion project in which you created a 30 minute tinny design everyday. Can you tell us more about this and what you learned from the challenge you set yourself?
Gah so nice of you! Well it was heaps of fun. I’ve been working in the craft beer industry on the side for years, so I thought it’d be a great daily challenge to design a beer can in 30 minutes.
I totally suggest that everyone starts a little creative side project. Bonus points if you give yourself a time limit!
It’s so freeing posting something on IG that isn’t your idea of perfect. We get so precious with our work sometimes!
Oooooh yes of course! My bestie (who I met at Shillington) and I started taking on freelance work together a couple years ago and it turned into a little side biz.
We both have very similar styles and our skillsets balance each other so well.
Kat’s a stupidly talented illustrator and typography nut (check her stuff out on Instagram) and I’ve got the gift of the gab with clients and love the strategic side of branding. I’m so lucky to have an amazing design bud that I get to work with and bounce ideas off of! We tend to find ourselves working on a whole bunch of re-brand’s for local businesses and push out design assets for retainer clients (something I think most people don’t talk about but is 70% of #studiolife)! We’re currently working on some pretty weird side projects and will be launching our website soon.
Could you tell us about one of the projects you’ve been working on as a freelancer?
I have some super fun projects in the mix at the moment. One is a coffee subscription service re-brand. I can’t wait for it to be live in the world in 2021! I’m also doing some new branding for an amazing marble company. I love interior design so this project has been a bit of a dream come true.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting on the part-time course at Shillington, what would it be?
Be patient with yourself and trust the process. Shillington goes about teaching design in such a unique way.
They really hone in on the importance of research, idea generation and strategy. Really nailing these aspects of the design process is going to make it SO MUCH easier for you once you hit the computer and start designing. I’m so jealous you guys get to start this epic journey! Have heaps of fun with it.
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