Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Speaking with Chiara Adams aka Doublethink Design

This month Chiara Adams and I caught up over a cup of tea to chat about her boutique design studio Doublethink Design.

Bearamongbees: Can you tell us how Doublethink Design came about?

Chiara Adams: Well, about 5 or 6 years ago I started designing things for people. I’ve always had an interest in arts but I decided to get into design to actually… um, make some money. I was really into George Orwell at the time so I decided to use a phrase from his book, 1984.

Doublethink means to hold two opposing thoughts that contradict each other at the same time. I just kind of liked the wordplay of it, I like the idea that it could be read a lot of different ways, and you don’t have to know the reference get it. I’ve been working under that name for ages but I didn’t really take paid projects until 2009. I’ve done an array of different design work, mostly for local bands, album covers and gig posters, as well as some corporate and layout work, alongside various illustration projects.

BAB: What’s some of the bands you have worked with?

CA: Well, I’ve done album artwork for The Darlings, The Cannonels, Campbell Ellis and Betty’s Beach, and I’ve also done a lot of work for Michael Strong; he’s had heaps of different projects and I’ve done work for all of them, including Generals and Majors, the Ghost Anyway and his most recent stuff with the Disappointed. It’s a really great working relationship, as he always re-hires me I’ve been able to create an ongoing identity for each of the different projects. I’ve really enjoyed that work.

BAB: So each band has a consistent identity expressed through your design?

CA: Yeah, you can establish this linked style that you almost share with the artist. The conceptualisation process becomes collaborative. It’s an interesting way to approach projects that aren’t really associated with branding… you are still creating an identity - but in a different way.

BAB: Different from a corporate identity?

CA: Yeah, it’s giving them a voice or a mood. One of my biggest inspirations is Stanley Donwood, who has designed all of the Radiohead album artwork since The Bends. It’s been really interesting watching Donwood’s work evolve with them. He was sort of my earliest inspiration; he was the reason why I wanted to be a designer. I always wanted to do that as well, work with bands over their whole career.

BAB: Have you always been creative, in your childhood? Was art or design something that you always wanted to do?

CA: Yeah, when I was really little I wanted to be a cartoonist. That was the first thing I ever wanted to be, I really liked colouring in and I liked drawing a lot when I was a kid. I think I was attracted to cartoons because I saw that you didn’t have to be good at drawing (laughs). I really wanted to do stylised work. I also really liked reading and writing, maybe even more than drawing. I really liked words and language when I was growing up. I also studied music for a year, so I’ve always just done different creative things. It was only about 5 years ago that I started to get really serious about learning to draw well and when I realised I wanted to make it my profession.

BAB: And so you are doing a design course now?

CA: Yeah, I’m in the last year of my degree and will graduate with an Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design - you can choose to major in various fields; I specialise in Advertising and Web Design, and as an extra elective I’m doing Illustration.

BAB: I’ve seen you do a bit of band photography as well.

CA: Well, I’ve done a few photography projects for different people but it’s not my preferred medium. It’s not where I feel the most confident.

BAB: Is it something you do more for source material then?

CA: Yeah, I often do that. I always prefer to have my own source material, it’s easier to manipulate and you know where you stand – you’re not touching someone else’s work. I also think that as a freelancer you have to be able to do a lot of different things, so it’s usually good to diversify, but I don’t know that photography is something I want to take on in the future.

BAB: And, what about balancing your commercial work with personal work. Do they intersect or do you see them as separate practices?

CA: I actually feel like all my work is pretty personal.

BAB: I can see that in your work.

CA: Yeah, I feel like there is a lot of me in there. I guess it’s a bit different when you are responding to a tighter brief, but I still think there is a lot of my personality in my professional work. I’m just not sure how to describe it. Perhaps it comes down to the design process, which always starts with a conceptualisation and brainstorming session that can require a lot of reflection on your own experiences.

BAB: That must be a good feeling because some people I’ve spoken to say they feel like there is a split between what they do when responding to someone else’s brief as opposed to their own individual work.

CA: Recently, I’ve been trying hard to develop a strong style, in a way I felt like I didn’t have one previously. I felt like I could float between things and that I had a good enough eye to mimic this or that. I never really rooted myself down. I think recently I’ve been trying hard to develop my own voice and it has become stronger; it just comes out a bit more in everything I do.

I have a clearer idea of who I am as an artist now and I want my design work to be… I guess a bit on the arty side. I feel that designers can often become too influenced by trends, and their work can start to look generic. We all have our own voice and when we communicate that clearly, I think it gives our work more personality and vibrancy. I would like to see design work become a little more personalised.

BAB: Do you find that some commissioned projects surprise you? I mean, do you sometimes think “this is going to be boring” then it becomes more interesting as you go along?

CA: Yeah, I do get that, recently I was asked to design a brochure and when the job came in I just thought “here’s my pocket money”, just get the job done and get it out of the way. It was a big job, so it was exciting in that sense but I thought it was going to be boring… then I got into it, focussed, and had so much fun doing it. I think sometimes we forget about how fun the process can be until we are in the middle of it.

Often that surprise can come from the relationship you have with the client, sometimes I think a job won’t be very stimulating, but the client just has so much energy and they really know what they want, or they don’t know what they want and are willing to give you creative freedom, or to collaborate with you at a conceptual level. Sometimes that can just make the job a little more fun.

BAB: Have you had any nasties?

CA: Yeah (Laughs a lot). Sometimes a client will tell me I have complete creative freedom – and it’s a labour of love for me because of that freedom – then I show the final design to them and they say “Well, hang on a second…” Then the client will send back a list of exactly what they do want, and it’s completely different to what had been agreed upon in our initial briefing session.

BAB: So they wanted to be cool about it but they aren’t really.

CA: Yeah, and I think that’s the hardest part because you put in a lot of work and essentially you’ve finished a job, then it’s almost like doing a second job for them. It’s good that some of this stuff happened early on. It made me more aware of how clear you have to be with clients. It’s hard when you are starting out because you can’t be as selective and you’re not always sure of the boundaries. These days I’m a lot better with situations like that, at being assertive. You have to be clear, check in along the way, and get clients to sign off on things at every stage of the job so that they always know where they stand with you, and vice versa. You need to take responsibility for making the relationship as functional as possible from your end.

BAB: You are very prolific, there are so many different projects I see coming across on your blog and other places online, you have a web presence on quite a few social media sites and I wanted to ask how you see using the web in communicating to your audience, and how does the daily updating fit with your working process?

CA: Well, I guess it helps motivate me to keep going, having a platform that allows me to share, I guess that’s sort of part of the process. I like to be visible. I think it’s important to consistently put out work to maintain that visibility, and to build a relationship with your audience.

BAB: I suppose I see what you are doing as a public visual diary, is that how you see it?

CA: Yeah, my blog is a bit all over the place because I post stuff at different levels of completion, or sometimes they are complete but it’s just a little sketch and that’s all it will ever be. I’ll still post something even if it’s not polished or professional because I like to show different parts of myself.

BAB: And do you find the comments you get from followers useful? Or is it just the connection that’s important?

CA: Well, I have gone beyond just the feedback and struck up relationships with other artists online. I’ve found that really valuable, you can get a more in depth level of feedback and criticism. You can get a sense of who they are and where it’s coming from. Sometimes I specifically ask for feedback and that’s been good. It’s also nice just to see the instant reactions people have to my work. It gives you a fresh look at what you’re drawing, a chance to look at your piece through some else’s eyes.

BAB: I guess the reason I asked this question is because I find it really hard to post stuff online that’s in process, or even my sketches, I find that quite challenging. I’m almost protective of that part of my creative process (like it might disappear if someone sees it!) so I find it really fascinating that you have such an open process, and it’s something I really enjoy seeing.

CA: So do you think it’s nice when artists show what they are working on?

BAB: I do! And I don’t know why I’m so scared of it for myself

CA: I’ve always liked it, I love seeing peoples process.

BAB: Yeah, it’s interesting.

CA: I’m also bit of a Dadaist; I like art that is naïve and primitive, untrained work. I love seeing people’s doodles they do. Michael has this really strong style, it’s completely untrained and they’re not meant to be anything, but he’s created an entirely new world with this style, and I think everyone has that in them.

BAB: What about influences? You talked about Stanley Donwood earlier but what other influences do you have?

CA: I feel like everything is an influence, I like a lot of Dada and Surrealism. I like a lot of fine art, and I also look at a lot of contemporary illustration and design work. I just like so much of what I see! I’m a very visual person, but I’m also influenced by the books I’ve read and the music I’ve listened to.

BAB: I can relate to that, also I’m often influenced by what I don’t like. It’s all relevant.

CA: I don’t really seek it out too much at the moment. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and just create, y’know?

BAB: Yeah, it goes in cycles. Collecting and gathering, then you need to go back into your own space again.

CA: Yeah, I think I’ve been in my own space a lot lately.

BAB: What’s coming up for the rest of 2012?

CA: It’s my graduate year and we have a big grad show coming up. We’ll put together portfolios of our work and invite industry to come and see. We have to fundraise the entire show ourselves, and I’m on the organising committee. We’re working together under the name Area 57. We’ve got the grad show in November (28th and 29th).

We’ve also got a show coming up in September with On William, as a part of Popsicle. We’ll be exhibiting our work in a pop up shop for ten days. I’m really psyched about that. We want to do something really different and make it a space that you can really interact with, like an environment. We’ll be setting it up as a workspace and will actually create work while we are in there. We’ve been talking about creating a collaborative publication during our time there.

Tim Trouchet and I have also been talking about having a show together later this year.

BAB: What kind of work does he do?

CA: A little naïve, and street-art inspired. It’s really interesting. We often end up drawing together on the same piece of paper and creating new worlds together, so we thought it would be fun to sit down and do just that, then exhibit it.

I also won a place on a graphic design study tour of China that my college is offering, so I’ll be there from the 22nd of September until the 5th of October. It will be a fantastic opportunity to familiarise myself with design work from another culture, as well as making connections with other designers and manufacturers overseas.

And I’m just trying to get out of school; working towards my graduation and taking on whatever exciting projects come my way.

You can find out more about Doublethink Design at:


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