Thomas Williams is one of those people who you have to stop and ask ‘how on earth do you find the time?’ Not content with being the founder and Creative Director of one of Melbourne’s stand out intelligent design consultancy Hunt Studio, Thomas is also the founder and Editor in Chief of critically written and award winning quarterly design publication Process Journal. Throw in some guest lecturing at various design institutions including Swinburne University, Monash University, AGDA (Australian Graphic Design Associate), special events and speaker at this year’s Analogue/Digital Design Conference, oh, and did I tell you he also is co-founder of fashion label with his partner called AMBER&THOMAS.
Somehow, Designers Journal managed to pin Thomas down, in between issues of Process Journal and public speaking, to talk inspirations, lessons learned, his new publication MADE and questionable music tastes…
DJ: How would you describe your own style and process?
That is a difficult one to answer, as I like to think that I don’t have a particular ‘style’ associated with my work (whether I do or not is another story). I am inspired by a lot of Dutch and Swiss design (international typographic style), so I guess I like to think all of my work is underpinned by a clean and functional ethos.
Regarding my process, again I don’t think I really have a set ‘process’ that I follow with any of my work. Sometimes I hash things out the old fashioned way with a sketchbook at my desk, but other times my best ideas come when taking a break and going for a walk. Furthermore, my design process varies depending on the specific project. Sometimes I like to draw, sometimes I like to make mock-ups and sometimes I like to jump straight onto the Mac. I know when I was studying a lot of designers would say ‘whatever you do, don’t just jump on the computer!’ but I don’t believe there is a single ‘one process fits all’. Every project is different, so shouldn’t every process be different too?
DJ: What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt, and what is the best advice you’ve been given?
I don’t think there has been one single piece of advice that I have been guided by. Although just before establishing Hunt, I read Adrian Shaughnessy’s book ‘How to be a graphic designer without loosing your soul’. I found this hugely helpful and would recommend it as essential reading for anyone who is planning to start a studio for the first time.
It might sound a little cliché, but I think the most valuable lessons I have learnt along the way, have been from our clients, and interacting with different people and businesses in a professional capacity. I’m a big believer of learning by doing, and there are some things in business you just have to find out the hard way.
DJ: Have you had any mentors along the way that have influenced you in both good and bad ways? In short who have been the biggest influences on your work and process?
When I was at secondary school, as part of a careers day I attended a lecture by a well renowned Melbourne graphic designer. I absolutely loved his work and hung off his every word. From that day on, I decided that I wanted to be a graphic designer and aspired to have my own studio. I have followed his studio’s work closely and it was a huge source of inspiration for me especially throughout my University days. However, about a year ago I was sat next him (coincidentally) at an industry event dinner and meet him for the first time. Wow, what a disappointment! Not only did I find him to be extremely arrogant, he was a totally un-inspiring person to talk to and the complete opposite of what I had imagined. They say ‘never meet your heroes’… That disappointing experience aside, I actually had a incredible experience at University and had many ‘mentors’ and people that influenced me along the way (staff and lectures). Today my biggest influences are mostly the people we interview for Process Journal. We hand select all of the individuals/studios we feature, and as self-indulgent as it sounds, each edition is essentially a big list of who was inspiring me at the time.
DJ: How did you come to establish Hunt Studio?
Establishing my own studio had always been a goal of mine and has been part of the plan since day one. I don’t think I’ve ever been cut out for a 9–5 job (I often work at odd hours and struggle with the repetition). Prior to establishing Hunt Studio, I worked at a number of studios, and freelance jobs to gain the experience I needed to take on my own venture. My last full time position was during the beginning of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). This resulted in a lot down sizing and redundancies (not my position) but the mood and moral of the place was pretty dark. So I thought, what better time than now to take the leap, and I haven’t looked back since!
DJ: How do you think your and Hunt Studio’s work will evolve in the coming years and what factors do you think will effect that?
That is a difficult one to answer, because the direction I had in mind for the studio when first I started, compared to now, are two totally different things. So I try not to spend too much time thinking about how, or what the studio will evolve into. Of course we have goals and milestones we strive to achieve, but in terms of the work I think it is much more exciting for the studio to grow and evolve organically.
DJ: What is the most exciting thing about an average day at the Hunt Studio?
I think for me, the most exciting part of the business is the variety of work, and all of the wonderful people we are privileged to work with. There is not one particular happening in a typical day that is the ‘most’ exciting, but fact the one day I could be designing an identity for new business and the next day I could be interviewing on of my favorite designers is pretty exciting to me.
DJ: I have to ask the obvious question however, here goes… with the repeating themes that ‘print is dead’ what were the reasons for starting up Process Journal?
That is exactly one of the reasons we started Process! I absolutely love print design and Process was an excuse for me to do even more. A love for print aside, I started Process originally as felt there wasn’t an Australian design publication that was doing all of the brilliant work out there justice. There is so much beautiful work online, on design blogs and sites, but so much of it is just images and presented without context. I also found it incredibly frustrating when I wanted to revisit a site, but was unable to find the work a second time. The aim of Process was to capture this work, provide context and an insight into the people behind it, as well as documenting it in a way that it could be properly referenced.
DJ: What’s next for Thomas Williams?
We have a number of exciting projects on the horizon, for both the studio and our publishing business’. I can’t say too much about our studio work but what I can tell you about is our brand new publication MADE. MADE takes on a similar format to process but covers all aspects of design (outside of graphic design), including (but not limited to); architecture, product design, photography, interactive design and almost any creative output that has an interesting process. We have been really lucky to secure some incredible content for the first edition including Wrenchmonkee’s (custom motorbikes from Copenhagen), Nendo (Product and interior designers from Japan) and of course some local Australian talent too. We will be launching MADE in a few weeks time, so keep an eye out! (Plug over).
DJ: If you retired today, what one piece of work or project you’ve been involved in would you consider your legacy?
I guess if I retired today, I would probably be remembered for my work with Process Journal. However, I am really excited by the prospect that it won’t define my legacy and I (hopefully) have many more interesting projects ahead
DJ: Is there any project or any piece of design that you would really love to tackle, something you have not managed so far in your work?
Good question! I think all designers have a ‘dream list’ of projects they would love to tackle. I have never designed a wine label, and would absolutely love to. I grew up on a Vineyard and have always admired wine label and packaging design, even before I realised I had an interest in graphic design. Ironically, I have designed identities for a boutique bottle shop, wine importers and a wine distribution company, but never a wine label itself!
DJ: What has been the soundtrack to your life?
The soundtrack to my life is a continually evolving playlist, and I don’t think there is one song, artist of genre that I could really define as the ‘soundtrack’. I listen to a lot of music, all day in the studio, in my car and at home on the weekends. I’m currently learning to play guitar, so what I’m often listening to what I’m learning to play, or what I wish I had the skills to play! More specifically, a lot of early to mid 90’s music that I listened to as a teenager including some Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and Radiohead.
DJ: Finally, how do you kick back outside of the office?
I’m a big believer that what you do outside of work, is just as important as the actual work itself. As I work some pretty crazy hours, I have learnt that to stay ‘inspired’ creatively it essential to make time for the other things in your life and maintain a sense of balance. As mentioned above, I love playing guitar, reading, exercising, spending time my beautiful partner Amber (and our wonderful Pomeranian, Baz), and I’ll take any chance I get to go on a holiday!