Profiles — Mike Rigby {Interbrand Australia}


It’s been a while since our last profile so we’re thrilled to be back with a chat with a much sought after modern day hero of design.

He’s a young chap yet his career has already packed a basket load of finery in the last few years; most recently his journey has led him across the world to take up his first Creative Director role at Interbrand Australia. With Australia’s flourishing design industry we were interested to hear the thoughts of Mr Mike Rigby and ‘de-corporatising Australia’ — turns out, he’s on a personal mission…

DJ: It’s three years since you made the move to the ‘sunny side’. What was it that inspired you to make the move?
MR: Although Interbrand was essentially like joining a new start-up, I had already worked with most of the senior team at other agencies; my good friend and co-creative director Chris Maclean, CEO Damian Borchok, MD Richard Curtis and GM Andy Wright.

We’re all very different characters but when it comes to design we share a vision for what we want to achieve and a view on good design. That kind of mutual understanding and respect is very rare, and so the opportunity to create something together was too good to refuse.

DJ: How are you finding living and working in Australia?
MR: It’s been a great three years – I’ve met lots of talented people, made some life-long friends and learned a hell of a lot. I’m eternally grateful to everyone at Interbrand for giving me the opportunity.

DJ: You have also worked in America and the UK, how do you find the creative industries differ between the three?
MR: I guess Australia has been traditionally more focused on craft, whilst the UK is more idea orientated. Of course the ideal is the perfect mix of the two. I have only lectured in America, although I will be spending some time working in our New York office soon so I’ll let you know about that one!

DJ:  Interbrand is your first Creative Director role. How did you find the transition from designer to director?
MR: It was exciting but very hard work. I had to learn how to be a Creative Director whilst still doing my job as a senior designer. When I first joined we weren’t really established as a studio and our team was small. The days would pass by in a blur of meetings and at 6pm I would start a full day of design work.

DJ: There seems to have been a real shift in the perception of Interbrand and larger Australasian based agencies in the last few years, from a corporate feel to a lot more of a creative space. What do you think has triggered this shift?
MR: The key to any successful business is talent. And there has been a steady flow of new talent into Australia over the last 5-6 years. Many of those new designers, writers and strategists are now working in larger studios and have helped to bring new thinking and energy to the industry. Perhaps the GFC acted as a partial trigger. But regardless of that, there’s no doubt it’s a fantastic time to be designing in Australia.

DJ: You state ‘ideas’ as being a core driver behind your work. How do you tackle the search for the idea?
MR: Chris and I often say that we design feeling first not graphics. In other words we need to understand the emotional texture of a brand before we can put a system around it. We get to ideas by talking about the problem a lot. We get angry, we ask stupid questions, and we scribble and doodle. The key is that we absolutely will not stop until we have an idea that we’re all genuinely excited about. Otherwise we’re wasting everyone’s time.

DJ: Ever had creative block?
MR: Yes! It’s usually because I don’t understand the problem properly. A problem well stated is half solved as the saying goes.

DJ: So as a Creative Director, what do you do to drive creative thinking in your team?
MR: We try to push the team out of their comfort zone. To never settle for ‘good enough’ and to see every new project as an opportunity to do something new.

DJ: You cut your teeth at The Chase. What was the most important lesson you learnt here?
MR: Humbleness. Ben and Lionel (the founders) have achieved everything you could hope to achieve in a design career. And yet you couldn’t meet two more down to earth people. That attitude filters into the culture of the agency. Working at the Chase was like being part of a big family. I was very lucky to begin my career there, working with a team of people so patient and nurturing.

DJ: You have previously spoken about design and creativity for social good, how important is this to you?
MR: Hopefully this doesn’t come across as too worthy, but design for good really does mean everything to me. I see design as a transformational force that can revitalise businesses, shift perceptions and on occasion change the world. It’s design thinkers such as Ken Garland, Bruce Mau and Tim Brown that have inspired me the most over the years. They remind me that there is much more to design than design.

DJ: Your awards shelf is pretty full now, any one you are most proud of?
MR: Awards are important as they help you to attract the best talent, but I get very little personal satisfaction from winning them. It does however give me great pleasure to see our younger designers winning awards. It’s really great to have other people also recognise how good they are.

DJ: What would be a dream project in the studio?
MR: IGLOO was a brand we created from scratch and it was a lot of fun. It really isn’t that often that you get to create something completely new. So I’d love to work with more start-ups. And I love working with charities and NFP’s for obvious reasons.

DJ: What sort of culture do you try to impress within your team?
MR: To do meaningful work, to make a difference, to work hard, to keep improving, to stay hungry, to stay humble, to be ambitious, to look out for each other and to try and live life to the full.

DJ: Any advice for younger designers out there?
MR: All of the best designers are self-learners. So read the books, go to the events, watch the TED talks, do the tutorials, ask questions and work hard. Do whatever you think you need to do to improve and learn new skills, and when you start getting good, don’t let up. Never stop learning.

DJ: Interbrand, as agencies go, don’t get much bigger. What are you keen to impress of yourself on the future of the agency?
MR: I say it often, but to join Interbrand Australia is not to join an agency but a cause. We are on a mission to de-corporatise Australia!

DJ: And when he’s not at work, Mike Rigby can be found…
MR: Probably eating! I really love food. That’s another great thing about living in Australia – the food!  / Tw: InterbrandAusNZ / Tw: @MikeRigby

Mike spoke at last year’s Brand New Conference in New York.