DixonBaxi talks: Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts.

Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts invited Design Directors Tassia and Karun to talk about the importance of designing for real people, and how to create work that resonates with them on local and global levels.

To create work that works for real people, you have to get to know their day-to-day reality. That means understanding their communities, traditions and desires so that you can create something that evolves with their needs and adds to their lives. “We work on these huge projects intensively every day, but once you exit the bubble of the studio and go somewhere else, you get to feel the impact of what you’re actually creating,” Tassia explains. 

It’s important to get out into the world to truly understand the context and people we design for - we have a duty to share what we know and challenge convention so that we can help change our industry for the better, together. Tassia and Karun spoke with the visual communication students at Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts about a transparent, human design approach and how it can help do exactly that. It was an especially humbling experience, Karun recalls, to return to his alma mater and meet with the next generation of students.

“It was an incredibly inspiring, full-circle moment.”

- Karun Singh Agimal, design director

Design for fans at every level. 

“For brands like Eurosport and AC Milan, you have to think about fans and how you’re going to connect with them from a grassroots level to a global one,” Karun says. Diving into fan culture is what enables you to create a brand that resonates around the world. It’s essential to discover what fans want and how our brand would interact with their culture, whether that’s by flying out to Shinjuku to do street interviews, or going into the stands of the San Siro Stadium to feel the magnitude of the sport and its fanbase. We need to become fluent in fandoms to make sure our work resonates with people authentically and universally. 

This approach works well outside of fandoms too. We talked about how learning about the local neighbourhood and the people who live there was intrinsic to the way we understood the community surrounding Regent’s Place, and how to best design for them.

“It was important for us to counteract the category conventions by creating a brand that stands out against the harsh buildings in the area with its radical softness to invite people in. We created everything with community and sustainability in mind. The project gave us the opportunity to elevate community voices by designing with optimism, an approach we like to take with all our projects.”

- Tassia Swulinska, design director

Find the idea first. 

As creative people, we have to push against the boundaries and conventions of the industry, or else we’ll never discover new ideas. “By staying in a sketchy, loose, and expressive space when we explore ideas, we’re able to unfold something more unique and tap into the true energy of the brand,” Tassia remarks.

There is a special kind of energy that comes from working loosely and not giving convention or familiarity the time to sink in. Sometimes that means literally sketching with pen and paper instead of defaulting to digital work, where attention can slide to details over ideas. Getting comfortable grappling with concepts upfront is how you solve design challenges in a meaningful way. Craft and precision come later in the process, with concepts firmly in hand. 

Share everything you can. 

Whether you’re a creative or an agency, sharing your work is essential, because it’s how you connect with people who are passionate about the same things you are. “A comment that stuck with me was someone talking about the honesty and exposure in the way we present our process, and about actually breaking it down to show how we get to the final result,” says Tassia. 

For us, sharing our process is part of humanising the industry and dispelling the misconception that design is something that always looks refined, precise and finished. Behind every brand with a singular message and visual clarity is a creative process full of rough sketches, half-baked ideas and intuitive, live thinking. 

For new creatives, sharing work (finished or not) is how you start conversations with the people you want to create for and the people you might create with in the future. So always share as much as you can; having polished work is great, but what matters most is getting your work out there for people to see.

Just get started. 

In any creative career, making a start is often the most intimidating step. But breaking into the industry is a lot simpler than people think. You don’t need a portfolio full of projects, or a certain amount of experience. What you need is compelling work and a unique point of view. 

“Don’t hide your creativity,” Tassia advises. Dive in, make things - even if they’re all indicative. Doing so will help you uncover who you are as a creative, and understanding that will help you approach any opportunity with confidence. “Don’t be formulaic,” she adds. “Make a plan for what you want to get out of your career, but don’t let it be your be-all and end-all. Embrace the challenges that pop up along the way.” 

Of course, being a good person helps too. “Be confident, but patient,” says Karun. “Be humble. Most of all, don’t be a dick.” Simple but salient advice not just for young creatives, but for all of us. 

We’d like to thank Emma Turland, Jane Anderson and Martin Donnelly for organising this event and allowing us to connect with the talented students of Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts.