Suzy Tuxen reflects on 10 years of running her Melbourne-based studio A Friend of Mine
Suzy Tuxen founded A Friend of Mine in 2009 having worked at studios in London and Melbourne. As creative director of her Melbourne-based studio, Suzy oversees a team of five that includes an account director, two designers and two web developers. Together they work on a wide range of projects across multiple disciplines. We caught up with Suzy to find out more about their work and what she’s learnt after running a studio for 10 years.
EM Hi Suzy. Can you give us an introduction to A Friend of Mine?
ST For sure! A Friend of Mine is a multi-disciplinary design studio based in Melbourne, Australia. We have just turned 10 this year which is exciting. We’ve been very fortunate to work on some incredible projects in our time, from branding Lune Croissanterie, to art directed imagery and website for law firm Hazelbrook Legal, and more recently working on the packaging design and brand update for Kester Black (Australia’s leading ethical beauty brand). We’ve worked with a real mix of clientele and have always enjoyed the challenge of not having a house style – instead, ensuring that we approach each project with fresh eyes. We are constantly pushing our capabilities too – and have grown to now offer branding, website design and development, art direction, print, packaging, signage and film direction. I think it’s a love of wanting each branding project we undertake to really sing in all formats that has led to this mix of disciplines. We are also immensely proud of our global fundraising initiative last year called ‘Pattern for Yemen‘ which raised $40,000 for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
We were [also] itching to do something creative for a good cause.
EM Congratulations, that’s a really impressive amount of money. Can you tell us more about the initiative and why you decided to start it?
ST Yes we were really surprised at the level of engagement and support, both from our creative industry peers that helped us bring the fundraiser to life, and also the general public who were so encouraging and spent their hard-earned money supporting the cause.
We had shortly before met The Souvenir Society who would go on to co-found Pattern for Yemen with us and admired both their work and products. We felt that their existing printed cloth range was a beautiful format to display art, and it was a product that would look great framed in the home or used as a sustainable present wrap (furoshiki).
As a studio, we were also itching to do something creative for a good cause, but wanted to approach it in our own unique way. As we wanted to make this a global initiative with help from artists from all around the world, we wanted to choose a cause that was worthy, and perhaps hadn’t had that much airtime. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is still absolutely heartbreaking, and at the time of our event launch, had surprisingly little exposure in the news and a lack of awareness amongst the general public. The name Pattern for Yemen was designed to adapt to future causes, but also shine a light on the cause in a very clear manner.
We were lucky to have so many wonderful collaborators who helped us: the 15 contributing artists themselves included some of our long admired artists such as Nathalie du Pasquier and Ronan Bouroullec to name a few. We also had a stylist Natalie Turnbull and photographer Dan Hermann-Zoll donate their time which helped enormously to show customers how the cloths could be styled and framed in a home context. Also having each cloth framed at our auction by Ryan Ward of United Measures was fantastic for photography and for our auction within our exhibition weekend. Alongside this, we had a beautiful letterpressed edition card that was also donated that came with each purchase by Hungry Workshop printers, and of course, there was wine at the event, where we had a lot of signage and exhibition production materials donated by Made Visual — the list goes on. It really was such a team effort so we really can’t take all the credit!
One of the biggest personal growth experiences has got to be taking the practice from operating solo to growing the team.
EM Can you highlight something you’ve learnt since starting the studio?
ST Since starting A Friend of Mine 10 years ago, I’ve been on a big learning curve and have never stopped really. We’ve worked hard to be super transparent with clients, so there are no surprises and everyone is on the same page. I’ve learned the importance of taking the time to write a really thorough return brief before starting any design work, and really caring about what people are trying to achieve.
One of the biggest personal growth experiences has got to be taking the practice from operating solo to growing the team (now six strong) and becoming a creative director, which happened a good eight-nine years ago. It was an evolution that I originally felt strange about but then came to embrace and love. I love inspiring others and nurturing and channelling creativity, watching others grow and become better and well-rounded designers along the way. It’s nice hanging out with a good bunch of people too, particularly seeing as so much of the week is spent with each other at work. One of the perks of being the boss!
EM And what do you look for in someone you’ll be spending so much time with?
ST Talented, efficient, broad-minded and inquisitive individuals who can handle critique, and of course, more importantly, are friendly and down to earth. Big egos are not welcome.
The raw potential of each project is always so exciting.
EM You mentioned that you don’t have a ‘house style’.
ST Yes, we really try not to have a house style — I think we would be bored by that very quickly. One of the things that really inspires me is that we are constantly getting new briefs, working with different people, and the raw potential of each project is always so exciting. If people expected a certain outcome from us and we felt pressured to deliver that, it would really zap that excitement. The design also really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach either, it has to be tailored because objectives and personal tastes vary vastly.
EM How do you maintain that approach & stay curious?
ST I think we maintain our mixed aesthetic and approach by being interested in a lot of different things, and not just graphic design, but being open and looking at a broader array of references. It’s important not just to look at new stuff that everyone else is also being inspired by, but have a really diverse set of influences and life experiences that can keep your mind open! I think travelling, eating out, or simply having a big walk with no phone is always good when you’re feeling a bit stale and like you’re in a hamster wheel.
We love it when design dishes up little fun surprises for people to discover.
EM The Japanese references in the Future Future identity are present but subtle, making the restaurant feel unlike any other of its kind. Was it a challenge to avoid any cultural clichés during the process?
ST Future Future’s philosophy is that it is Japanese filtered through an Australian consciousness. We tried to adopt the same ethos in our designs. When beginning to draw the typography for Future Future, you are right in that we wanted subtle cues rather than anything overt or cliché. We were inspired by Japanese characters, which led to the unexpected kick in the R as well as the vertical typesetting. The repetition of the word ‘Future’ in the name meant that it can also be read backwards from right to left as per Japanese custom as well.
The name also inspired a very futuristic approach which inspired us to explore unique materialities such as reflective chrome vinyl and chrome 3D lettering – the latter we enjoyed taking a technique typically used in the automotive industry and tried to put a fresh spin on it in an unexpected context. The concept of modern Japan / large screens in Tokyo inspired us to create a custom static pattern, with the word ‘Future’ subtly woven into the custom-drawn pattern: we love it when design dishes up little fun surprises for people to discover.
EM Earlier you mentioned that you’ve worked hard to become transparent with your clients. What challenges have you faced over the years in regards to that?
ST I think when I / the business was in its infancy many years ago, the idea of talking about money with clients felt very awkward. Whilst we had protected ourselves in our T&Cs, perhaps the mistakes we made were that we didn’t have the knack of being very clear when stating to a client – ‘I’m going to spend time on this extra task that you’ve asked me to do at our hourly rate – is that okay with you?’ before embarking on said task. We learned quickly that it wasn’t fair from the client perspective for us simply to bill for it without that very simple conversation prior, and ended up wearing costs from that lack of clarity. Any awkwardness about bringing up fees and talking straight really does have to be quickly overcome in business! That’s why honesty, transparency and fairness are all very important to us now in our processes and client communications.
EM Is there anything you can reveal about what you’re working on at the moment?
ST We have just completed a packaging overhaul and brand evolution for Kester Black which has been a colourful and playful project, and we’re also working on several boozy jobs which are also interesting to work on: a brand and bottle design for a Vodka company and a new brand of Gin. We are also working with a new East-Asia eatery in the Melbourne CBD who have a really interesting offering, working on some art direction and film work for a property developer, and finally are also really proud to be supporting and be working on a low-bono website overhaul project for The Equality Institute who are doing some incredible work in the equality field.