SCCO Studio’s Jarmaine Stojanovic on his unconventional journey into the graphic design industry
SCCO Studio is the office of Sydney-based graphic designer Jarmaine Stojanovic. Founded in 2016 as Something Creative Co., before abbreviating the name in 2020, the studio has taken an unconventional approach into the Australian design industry; leading the way in a wave of small, independent practices that are now competing with the country’s more traditional agencies. On the back of the launch of SCCO’s new website, we caught up with Jarmaine to learn more about his journey into the industry, and everything he’s learnt along the way.
EM Hi Jarmaine, it’s great to be speaking with you. How are you doing?
JS Hey! Likewise Elliott, I’ve been pretty good considering what we’ve all been working through. Managed to have an extended week to my holidays with catching COVID at the start of the year but all is good now and back into the thick of it!
EM How do you describe what you do at SCCO these days, and how has it evolved over the years?
JS At the moment I’m dancing around wearing all the hats, weirdly just before the pandemic I decided to focus on making sure the studio was creating work that I was proud of. I felt that prior to that there was a constant clash and general debate on why we had to take on particular work and accepting work to keep the wheels moving. This didn’t necessarily mean we were creating the best work, which also resulted in us getting lost with how we wanted to deliver projects
Over the years it has evolved most definitely, the biggest evolution was moving away from this idealistic approach that successful studios are teams/groups. I think there is lots of pressure to keep up with a particular image amongst your peers and that often can make people make decisions that aren’t in the best interest to their business/work. We went from a team of four in 2019 to just myself and then a team of two up until the near end of last year. I felt it was richer, and much more enjoyable particularly on the work front as that enabled the studio to choose what we think was the best brief for us at the time.
EM What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting the studio?
JS Oh mate there have been so many! One early on was probably being taken seriously amongst the design community in Australia and Sydney specifically. The industry is rather cliquey and I think resisted the next wave of designers and the younger generation coming through not going via the traditional channels. I personally had no traditional training nor any history with any agency, so reaching out to other designers or individuals I looked up to presented itself to be rather hard. I think now with social media playing a more primary role in the exposure of designers/studios/agencies it’s becoming easier to reach out for advice or feedback with people you look up to.
Over the last five years, we’ve seen more and more people having the self-confidence to zag their own path in the industry and trying their hand at creating their own blueprint which I think can have its problems like anything, though providing people with alternative options in pursuing a career in design is only positive.
EM How did you get into graphic design without doing traditional training, and how did you eventually get your start in the industry?
JS I had learned my skills from high school and then attended design school. After design school it was pretty hard to get a job in the industry as the irony that we all face at that stage is you need some type of experience to enter junior positions but you can’t get that experience to apply for that junior position. So lots of my mates ended up interning for free across so many different places hoping to get hired as a full time after. I ended up interning at Universal Music for six months (unpaid) – to which I ended up working there for two years as their design lead across brand and merchandising. In hindsight, it was a pretty unhealthy environment as it started to push me away from design.
I never really got a start in the industry, as even after working as a designer for two-three years I still got rejected, unanswered emails etc. I even one time painted a skateboard deck with a serif script typeface – which led to a website I made in Dreamweaver with my resume/work. Didn’t even get a call or thank you response. So I thought f**k it, I’m just gonna do this on my own and slowly surely here we are today.
So I thought f**k it, I’m just gonna do this on my own and slowly surely here we are today.
EM When we first featured your work a few years ago, you were known as Something Creative Co. Why did you decide on the change to SCCO Studio?
JS Combination of the natural progression and also wanting to have a fresh start. I wanted to feel like it was the new page I turned as a designer and thinker with the studio. When I shifted the studio to just myself at the end of 2019, I started the 2020 year with the abbreviated version of the name that helped have that fresh start. I also wanted something that was going to have the ability to last the next 10 years if need be. Considering the type of work that I started working on, ultimately needing something that matched those characteristics.
EM Can you tell us about your recent rebrand of the studio, and why you felt it was needed? You mentioned you had a custom typeface made for it?
JS Yeah sure! When I first started the studio I guess there wasn’t too much time necessarily given towards looking into what an identity was or how it came about, the same with the OG version of the website. It’s often something that happens really fast, or gets changed an insane amount of times before you’re settled with something. The evolution in maturity with the studio was the main factor, I wanted to have something that properly represents how we operate and conduct ourselves. It only felt right that we gave it the same amount of attention we would give any brief.
That led to us exploring typefaces and what the studio represents. Studying graphic design in Australia, you don’t necessarily get too much history of Australian designers (though that has definitely changed and been appreciated), it’s usually more of your classic history with European designers and influences. So I reached out to a friend, Tom Schwaiger, who is a fantastic Australian type/graphic designer to work on a typeface for the studio. We both loved the idea of diving into the history of Australian graphic design and felt that it was only fitting to bring those influences into this typeface. Tom definitely was the one leading the project, but it was fantastic having creative direction into how the typeface resonated and felt towards Australian graphic design. We ended up using the working title AusMod as the name, the more it sat there the more it felt right.
I love the idea of making someone work and figure out a small little challenge before they get rewarded with the work.
EM It feels like quite a bold move to have no images when you first land on your site. That must’ve taken some courage to do?
JS The one thing I’ve been trying to do way more is explain my work and explain how we as a studio get to solutions, what problems were faced and why the thinking took a particular route. I find it ironic that creatives do this amazing stuff, it might take months of thinking and creating, but once they are ready to present it – it gets summarised in the form of four or five sentences. We can probably all agree that learning about how ideas got to a point or what dictated directions is something we would like to read. I essentially wanted to get people reading about projects before they were visually experiencing projects, but also have a toggle that allows you to change between rationale and images. I love the idea of making someone work and figure out a small little challenge before they get rewarded with the work etc.
EM Do you have a project you consider to be your best work?
JS At the moment it would maybe be The Old Clare Hotel project we worked on from 2019-2021, more so for the fact that it really pushed us into a new space in how we looked into a project with a long lead time. Generally, previous work almost dictates the future work you bring or have the opportunity to work on. This gave us the opportunity to look at how to take time in researching for a project, understanding the core objectives through to designing a new tone of voice and positioning for one of the more creative sought out boutique hotels in Sydney if not Australia. I grew a lot over that time as a designer in understanding what worked for me from a process point of view, how to be more objective with delivering solutions that don’t necessarily revolve around something that looks pretty or ‘trendy’ and making sure the business objectives are being met. It also brought on a nice dynamic for the studio as over that time I had a friend working with me who was taking the lead on the strategy side of the studio’s briefs. There was so much growth in that period of time in understanding how to pair myself with someone who complimented my skills as a designer and also trusting someone else to run with the lead of a project.
Ultimately the work we did was complicated, as a hotel has many moving parts to it. We got such great feedback from the community, the client and still to this day the experience that new customers have when interacting with the hotel.
EM What kind of work would you like to do more of?
JS I love working within the space and the peripherals of branding. We had an interesting phase over the last 18 months with picking up projects we wouldn’t necessarily take on due to the pandemic, and they were all fun in their own accord. They helped us express creative freedom in industries that we never thought we would get to play in. But one of the biggest focuses coming into the new year is to work with creative people, we just finished working with a trailer editor out in Los Angeles which was so much fun. I would love to start working on R&D work with bigger brands, helping them explore spaces that may or may not serve any purpose. The common denominator I think amongst it all is working with clients who want to explore creativity and who use creativity to express their brand/business.
I love controlling my own destiny.
EM Who are your creative influences?
JS To be honest there are so many – I was a big fan of Les Mason’s work as an adopted Australian. He did some of the more iconic (IMO) stuff we see across Australia. David Carson was pretty influential for me growing up as a designer in my early teens/20s – I loved how provocative he was with his design and definitely helped me shape breaking the mould or creating my own pathway to do what I believe in. Also a big fan of Paula Scher – she to me is the world's best graphic designer. I have been getting a lot of creative influence from how musicians go about constructing their world and zagging away from record labels and showing that their talent and worth is valued through independence. I think I’ve taken a lot of that approach into my world of how I go about being a designer, not necessarily feeling I need to conform to a bigger entity and knowing my worth as a designer. I love controlling my own destiny.
EM Do you have any advice for someone looking to start their own studio?
JS Be vulnerable and take risks. I personally have made so many mistakes from financial costs to clients to personal mistakes. But all those have made me the type of designer/business owner I am today. You can pick as many brains and get as much advice as you want, experience from jobs or templates/deck layouts etc. But nothing can prepare you for learning from your mistakes. I would encourage making them (obviously as long as it’s not detrimental), the growth that comes out the other end is invaluable. Also don’t be influenced by how others go about starting their studio, or have started their studio. Everyone's way works for them, based on financial ability, location, experience. It’s a great thing to ask questions, as long as that enables you to make your own decisions!
EM It’s a large and diverse city obviously, but how do you feel about the culture and respect for design in Sydney?
JS Sydney is such a funny place with design, there is definitely respect for it on so many levels and throughout the various levels (architecture, interior design, landscape etc) and has obviously had some well known graphic designers that over time become worldwide names. Though my experience in design over the last 10 years has seen that the culture was rather tight-knit, exclusive and pretty snobby. I personally had a hard time breaking into the Australian design community because I was someone who decided to run their own path in the industry, which definitely disrupted and pissed particular people off. There were definitely a bunch of us, who were doing things our way, by going to meetups, keeping connected through Facebook groups and IG chats. What was really cool is that we formed our own confidence, and leaned on each other to solve problems, ask advice and more or less figure stuff out on the fly together. The nice bi-product of this is that IG intersected this at the right time and exposed more independence in the industry through sharing work. Which ultimately resulted in brands, businesses wanting to work with independent studios/designers.
The funny thing is that some of these designers are the ones talking at conferences, podcasts etc with the people who were shutting them out in the first place. Almost has this full circle situation and to be honest, I see some studios who didn’t want a bar of people running their own blueprint now somewhat replicating that mentality and style of freedom through their work. So I guess the industry is healthier for it as it did force an aspect of diversity in being a designer in Sydney.
EM What are you hoping to achieve in the year ahead?
JS Who knows to be honest, I don’t necessarily plan too far ahead. One thing I am doing is moving to a slightly bigger office and not necessarily overworking. Hopefully have the ability to work on longer jobs that allow us to have more time to break down what the creative delivery can be shaped as. Hopefully, I’ll have a new team member join SCCO this year, as I’ve started that process which is always interesting – taking time when finding a good fit is key from experience. But mostly just find a good speed to the year as the last couple of years have been insanely disruptive as I’m sure it’s been for everyone. So if I can perhaps not move the studio home for a period of time that would be a big win!