As her business cards say, Gabby Lord has enormous enthusiasm. It’s as clear in her commercial work for Berlin-based studio, A Color Bright, as in her personal projects, such as a delightful micro-site and print invite for her mum’s 50th. Gabby’s work practically bleeds colour, wit and genuine fun, so it’s no surprise Gabby is just as charming in words.
As well as taking us through the ‘preparation and fluke’ of her overseas move, Gabby describes the design scene in Berlin, why the local work culture is better, and why you need to get your FOMO under control when you move to the other side of the world.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR PATH TO FORGING A DESIGN CAREER IN BERLIN, GERMANY —
Berlin was a combination of preparation and fluke really. I had a friend living here when I went to Italy, and seeing as I was already flying to Europe I visited for a week. I was feeling super confused about Fabrica at the time as it didn’t quite live up to expectations I had, in fact I probably understand that place less after being there. When I got to Berlin it had this vibe I couldn’t shake and I met a bunch of really cool people in the design industry.
Coming back to Sydney, I was itching for change and knew living abroad was something I had to try. Keeping on top of my folio meant I was prepared for a fluke like that to happen. It’s always a good idea to be ready in case you do end up in the right place at the right time, or in Berlin drinking the right beer in the right bar.
The actual process of moving overseas is nowhere near as big and scary as you work up in your head. When you’re in your early twenties the risks are pretty minimal, and that’s why I chose to do it. It’s not for everyone but if it’s something you want to do ‘someday’, stop thinking about it and just do it.
There are so many benefits of overseas experience, and being exposed to different work cultures means you’re learning new things every day. This extends so far past work though. It sounds cliché but you start to see things differently and realise a lot of your own bias and ignorance. Constantly being out of your comfort zone results in a lot of personal growth, which then influences your professional life. This you can only achieve in Australia up to a certain point and I felt I had reached it. There’s something about being too comfortable that
I find disturbingly uncomfortable.
Berlin has so much to offer that is accessible compared to back home. The design scene is very tech and digital orientated, Berlin is known for being a creative hub for start-ups, new products and services. Because of this, there are loads of co-working spaces that provide freelancers and entrepreneurs with everything they need: internet, power outlets and coffee. I often work on my own projects remotely and these spaces are great environments to be in.
Work culture is different to Australia but in a lot of good ways. It obviously depends on your company but I find it so chill here. Everyone starts at 10, takes an hour lunch and rarely works late. It’s a far more productive mentality to be focused when you are working and relaxing when you are breaking, which is acknowledged here. Germany lives up to the expectation of hard and smart workers. In Sydney too often there’s a twisted expectation that you’re only committed to your job if you sacrifice all your personal time, when in reality that is so counterproductive.
DESCRIBE YOUR DAILY WORK AND PRACTICE —
I’m working at a digital design studio called A Color Bright, which is a relatively new company in Kreuzberg. The two founders Sven and Davide are great guys, helping add to my list of Deutsch slang and educating me on German hip hop. Having come from EdenSpiekermann and Red Bull Music Academy, they have an interesting combination of skills and experience. We work very intuitively and closely with clients so there is never a ‘big reveal’ with projects like a lot of agencies. The client is involved through all processes and we collaborate as a team. It never feels like ‘us’ against ‘them’, which is often the most exhausting part of being a designer. There are no suits so we all have direct relationships with the people we are doing work for.
Commercial work is great (because, ya’know… money) but it could never completely satisfy me. I still work on my personal projects, which involves a lot of writing as well as design and making the odd paper cactus. This year I designed a display typeface for a bit of fun and then have my more regular projects such as posting anecdotes and thoughts on my blog, as well as writing a weekly newsletter that has a very loyal fan base known as Mum and Dad.
Working and living abroad isn’t always sunshine, lollipops and rainbows however, there are highs and lows so drastic that some days you feel like you’ve self-inflicted bipolar. Being a communication designer unable to communicate that you didn’t know you had to stamp your train ticket is not only a quick way to lose 40 bucks, but also feel like a complete loser. If you’re anything like me you’ll ride a bike instead, only to get your tyre caught in a tram track and lose half the skin on your butt cheek. That and the amount of mystery meals I’ve ordered when I can’t fully read the menu… well, it’s a surprise I haven’t died yet.
These situations are all character building obviously, but there are greater sacrifices to being an antipode. The birthdays and weddings you can’t attend, time with your family you’ll miss, the relationships you had to put on pause – even end – to make living abroad a reality. I’m not going to lie and say those things aren’t tough, so even on a bad day I make it worth it, otherwise what’s the point? Thankfully there are iPhones so I can still catch entire drunken escapades from friends on the other side of the world. Apart from FOMO control, you really can’t put a price on being able to just call someone thousands of miles away and tell them how much you love and miss them.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE OR COMMENTS FOR DESIGN STUDENTS AND YOUNG DESIGNERS?
Oh man, this question is always tough because in an attempt to offer solid advice I can get a little preachy. In my humble opinion the best thing you can do is accept that your folio kind of sucks and ship it. Treat it as product version 1.0 because only by being out in the world (wide web) is it ever going to get better. As you evolve as a designer you will update and improve it, but no one can steer a parked car.
Students are always looking for someone to tell them the right thing to do, instead of doing what is right for them. The truth is the people you look up to as a young designer don’t have their shit figured out either, they’re questioning their work, value and ability just as much you are – just doing a better job masking it. Self-doubt isn’t something that escapes you when you graduate, it can haunt you like accidentally tucking your skirt into your underwear (been there too). Embrace the doubt rather than letting it cripple you and just keep on making things. Something even more useful than your practice is never underestimating the power of being an awesome human being. Put yourself out there and meet a bunch of people – and not because you want something. The best industry connections I have made have been at random BBQs, bars, meet-ups or small gallery events for example. Nothing makes new friends like a *little* liquid confidence, and socialising in normal circumstances is way less icky than ‘networking’ at conferences. Hang your pizza-stained white power suit up and just be real, only then will authentic relationships form.
If you do end up in a situation that has you swapping details, for the love of Eames don’t put director on your business card if all you’ve done is direct message on Twitter. Be honest about your skill set and use inexperience to your advantage. There is literally no other time
in your career people will accept this and help you more than when you are just starting out.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BENEFITS/DISADVANTAGES OF A LONG TERM CAREER IN DESIGN?
Something that definitely concerns me is the lack of women sticking around in the creative industry, a problem I feel very passionate about. In Australia it’s extremely unbalanced and dominated by (very talented) male directors. I’m hoping with a little support we’ll be seeing more women in senior roles and running their own studios. It’s not that I don’t like the Backstreet Boys, I just want to know where my Spice Girls at!
In general the industry is very bottom heavy, with thousands of grads every year all fighting for jobs at select studios and agencies. It’s brutal, especially for those who have spent the last three years at uni thinking they are God’s gift to graphic design. It’s interesting to see how many mid-weight/senior roles are advertised. There’s a gap because so few people make it past that first hurdle of getting their foot in the door. Companies need to invest in junior designers or this gap will become a cavernous hole, having no seniors to hire and
a pool of grads trying to drown each other.
CAN YOU SHARE WITH US YOUR PREDICTIONS FOR THE NEXT ONE TO WATCH?
Ramin Nasibov is a Berlin based graphic designer whose Instagram account I cannot get enough of. His posts are mainly candy coloured buildings and beautiful detail shots of architectural repeat patterns. There’s a mix of cities and countries which makes me excited to travel to those places. Not sure what the deal is with the teddy bear he comps into some images but I absolutely love the different perspectives and angles he captures.