The Designers: Studio Round’s Madison Tierney on the importance of culture, curiosity and collaboration
The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. We spoke to Madison Tierney, a junior designer at Studio Round in Melbourne, for number six in the series.
EM Can you tell us about your background, and how that led you to Studio Round?
MT I was raised in Melbourne and spent many of my primary and high school days in the inner city. My parents had a small photographic studio in North Melbourne, where I’d often go after school. I loved creating things out of scrap materials – papers lying around in the studio, while flipping through art books and helping with photoshoots here and there. Maybe I got it from them, but I’ve always been creative – I was never not making or crafting something.
After finishing a two-year Advanced Diploma, I pushed on and enrolled in the Communication Design degree at RMIT, skipping ahead a year, where I was mentored by some incredible people in the industry.
At my graduation show in 2017, I met who is now my Design Director Paul Tisdell. He offered me a job with Studio Round, where I now work closely with Creative Director Michaela Webb, Narelle Brewer and other really clever designers, copywriters and strategists.
The culture within an organisation is just as important as creative output.
EM Can you highlight something you’ve learnt during your time there?
MT In everything we do at Studio Round, we’re seeking to balance heart and head – we call it ‘purposeful intuition’. I think this has really taught me the role of empathy in good design – understanding audiences first and foremost, and then collaborating with the team to bring a vision to life.
Working with Round has made me realise that the culture within an organisation is just as important as creative output – in fact, one really informs the other. A nurturing, supportive, inclusive environment is one that enables people to create their best work.
EM What factors do you think have contributed to building an environment like that?
MT I think that Round’s collaborative spirit and culture of curiosity has contributed richly to our working environment. From the top-down, through Michaela Webb and Rob Nudds, there’s a sense that everyone’s perspective is valued, and everyone is a custodian of ideas.
There’s a sense that everyone’s perspective is valued.
EM Would you say you have a daily routine?
MT Well, it depends on how loud the music in the café next door is, but usually I wake up, try and meditate, then I walk the short distance to work – stopping at Heart Attack & Vine on the way for one of many strong flat-whites.
Eventually, I’ll make it to work where I’ll snack on something and scan what’s on for the day/check emails and clear out the 100 or so Bon Appetit newsletters that come through every night. Nine or so hours later, I’ll do some kind of exercise before getting stuck into something fun, something alcoholic.
In the age of COVID, however, my day is much more: percolator coffee twice a day, quiet walks, social distancing and living room yoga. And a healthy dose of RuPaul’s Drag Race thrown in for good measure.
EM How important do you think it is for a designer to carry out side projects and take on freelance work outside of the studio?
MT For me, freelance opportunities and passion projects keep the creative itch scratched. They also allow for personal growth outside work, but also variety and choice. I think the more we’re exposed to a myriad of briefs, the more we feel enabled and empowered to be brave.
It also helps to build connections with a global community and reach new audiences, while opening yourself to different ways of working. Anything I work on in a freelance capacity goes onto create inspiration for me in full-time work. And of course, it’s also a great way to learn basic business tools learning.
EM Can you tell us about one of your projects you’ve undertaken outside of the studio?
MT One of my recent projects was with a Melbourne-based clothing label. The focus of the brand is on using local collaborations as a design tool, while doing limited runs of clothing that are available for a fortnight only, before disappearing. If an item doesn’t sell well, it’s repurposed into other ranges. I think that in a city like Melbourne, that is so alive with creativity and individuality, a model like this really works.
EM Do you have a project you’re most proud of from your career so far?
MT So early on, it seems hard choosing a highlight, but I must say, I’m still so proud of what we produced for Workaround – an exhibition encouraging advocacy and activism within architecture for RMIT Design Hub.
On the foodie front, I’ve also helped complete a really fun project with Café Lafayette – a new Melbourne dining destination tailored to a growing young demographic in the CBD. The brief was all about bringing theatre to brunch for an audience that expects dishes to be both flavourful and photogenic. Our team collaborated with Hassel Studio who worked on the interiors, we definitely had a lot of fun with that one.
Close to my heart was also the work we did with Broadside – a uniquely feminist festival hosted by The Wheeler Centre. In its inaugural year, the event featured incredible speakers like Zadie Smith, Monica Lewinsky, Nayuka Gorrie, Fatima Bhutto, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Aminatou Sow, and Jia Tolentino. The identity we created called on a broadcast-like vernacular to speak not only to feminist audiences but also an entire city.
As we see brands adapt to life during and post COVID-19, it’s also been rewarding to be able to work on the collaboration between neighbourhood wine bar Marion, and the artisanal bakers at Baker Bleu. The two paired up in a takeaway venture to sustain both businesses, and also feed the very receptive populations of Fitzroy and surrounds. It’s been brilliant to see hospitality leaders like Andrew McConnell adapt and innovate during a really uncertain and difficult time. In fact, the operation was just named ‘Favourite Restaurant Grocer Offering’ for Time Out’s 2020 food awards.
EM How do you approach days where you don’t feel so creative?
MT Hopefully these days align to more artworking or administration focused days, but when they don’t – I have some dense playlists that can really get me thinking visually – particularly cinematic scores from films I love – Nicholas Britell, Phillip Glass, Jonny Greenwood, Trent & Atticus, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Thomas Newman, Ryuichi Sakamoto.I mean, there’s so much inspiration to come from film generally – but on top of that, trying to look at old things, tangible things (not just the internet), and sometimes just accepting that not every day is a creative day and that trying to push it is just going to create unnecessary anxiety, and probably something I’ll later feel sceptical towards.
EM Would you like to start your own studio one day?
MT Of course – I want to one day see a balanced world with as many female-led studios as there are male. I’m also really excited to see not just design, but client-side lean into sustainability and environmentalism. I’d love to have a hand in working with clients who are open to shifting to that mindset. We have some pretty brave clients who come to Round, and the willingness they have to believe in creativity has made me realise that these are the kind of brands I want to work with throughout my career.