Hoping to get his foot in the door in 2014, Chris boldly sent Robot Food a book he had done called Why Bother? – a collection of satirical charcoal sketches that poked fun at the design industry. In its pages, it basically looked at the value of design and satirically asked, what’s the point of paying a lot when many websites are crowdsourcing for a few books?
These, along with a playful business card, immediately caught the attention of Robot Food founder Simon Forster, and he phoned directly to offer Chris an internship. Although his design skills needed polishing, he was impressed with his creative spirit and enthusiasm. Chris then developed his skills for industry-wide professional projects. And now, nearly a decade later, he’s worked his way up from intern to design director at the same agency — an unusual result, as most people move on.
We wanted to know what Chris had learned during his time at Robot Food and any information he could share about his journey so far. With many grads looking for their first role after summer break, we sat down with Chris to learn some tips and tricks of the trade.
Based on the theme of your application eight years ago, is it a precarious life to be a designer?
I think it depends on the “design” you are doing. This post explored the value of design and ultimately concluded that a brand is more than just a logo. There is a big difference between “drawing for a living” and “having ideas for a living”. As long as you can streamline your design with “why” it’s good for the brand, then you’re starting with a solid foundation.
One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between college and working at Robot Food is the time spent on strategy. In college, we probably spent about a week doing light research, then six weeks on design concepts, whereas now we’ll spend most of the working time understanding the consumer, the problems to be solved and what what the brand stands for before we even do it. open Adobe.
You’ve been at Robot Food this whole time, from intern to director. People generally move. What were the reasons for staying?
I gelled very quickly with the team at Robot Food, which is always a big plus. Aside from the team itself, I’ve always enjoyed the variety of work that comes through the doors. Each project brings its own challenges. Whether we’re working on beer, dog food, diapers, cannabis or cakes, it’s always fun to go beyond the brief and push creativity.
Things might be looking a little bleak right now for graduates. What tips can you share that have helped you?
I guess the three things we look for in a portfolio would include understanding the category you are designing for and how you can best disrupt and stand out in that space. We also look for branding that has substance – is it just a logo on different formats or are there multiple flexible assets? Is there a brand tone of voice that can be used for social media and marketing? Finally, a bit of original thinking – something that makes us stop dead and kick ourselves we never thought of.
What did you learn the most to reach the level of director? What advice can you offer to help those looking for a promotion?
Always question the brief and push it beyond its breaking point. Take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere and see what that style or approach looks like in the context of the brief you’re working on. Granted, the first outing idea might be the best fit, but there’s no harm in getting a little weird with it just for fun, right? Your brain needs to stay moist to keep functioning, so let those creative juices flow.
What projects did you prefer to work on?
There were loads of projects that were fun to work on for a variety of reasons, but a couple that come to mind include Urban Eat, which was a real opportunity to disrupt a category that had become bland and tired – we had tasked with injecting a little excitement into a range of ready meals. Anchored with the bold ‘U’ logo, we can go wild with backgrounds and patterns creating a truly eclectic and eye-catching range that really stands out on the shelf. I really enjoyed the creative freedom of this project – exploring different styles and seeing how far we could push the design while making sure everything tied together as a range.
Here & Now was a great project that involved flipping the narrative of a category – iced coffee is highly regarded as fuel to give you a caffeine boost to keep you going, ultimately accelerating feelings of exhaustion and fatigue. We wanted to introduce a bit of calm and mindfulness into that mindset, so we focused each product on a mini moment of peace – encouraging you to take a moment out of your busy day and enjoy the drink. It was great to watch this project grow from the initial workshops with the client through to naming, concepts and development.
And last but not least, Doggy Doggy Yum Yum was just fun from the start – it’s dog ice cream, what’s not to love? We had the joy of creating a host of dog characters to go along with the fun and tasty ice creams.
What do you think of the rapid development of AI? Is your job in danger, do you think?
I think the correct answer is something like “AI will never be able to replicate the creativity and human mind of a designer”. Still, having seen the kind of imagery Midjourney can spit out, I think all creative work is in jeopardy to some degree – maybe not soon, but at some point in the future. I might start learning how to maintain machinery in my spare time, so I have a better chance of getting the job of “person who maintains the robot designer”.
It’s certainly more of a challenge to stand out and disrupt in ever-changing categories. In the end, it all comes down to having a reason and meaning behind any creative idea rather than looking cool for cool’s sake.
I guess this goes back to your original submission, Why Bother? We all need to continue to consider the value we provide that cheap logo websites and bots simply couldn’t replicate.
I guess in reality, design execution is only a small part of the whole process. There are interviews, workshops and conversations that are essential to get the right result. So I think everything will be fine until they perfect a humanoid robot capable of independent thought, and at that point any kind of creative service will probably seem insignificant compared to the inevitable robot uprising, so I’m sure that will go.
How do you think the design industry has changed since you entered it?
Eight or nine years ago, it seemed like there were “trends” that came and went that were easy to identify. But nowadays there is such an abundance of cool designs and new products emerging in a wide range of categories; it all seems to be heading in a similar direction to craft beer over the last ten years – in that there are no rules.
It’s definitely more of a challenge to stand out and disrupt in ever-changing categories. In the end, it all comes down to having a reason and meaning behind any creative idea rather than looking cool for cool’s sake. That’s probably why The Beatles’ Yesterday may remain relevant for over 50 years, but Crazy Frog is slowly fading into the ether. But then again, Scatman always slaps, so maybe that’s a bad analogy.
It is a valid argument. Many designers will be feeling anxious right now, given the current economic climate. How do you stay focused and positive?
Listen to music, avoid too much news, draw a picture, write a song, watch the American version of The Office, get plenty of sleep and drink tea. We’re all doomed, so have fun and enjoy the ride.