We have to admit we were a little intimidated to meet Suzy Tuxen. As one of the most formidable names in Melbourne’s graphic design landscape, Suzy’s company A Friend of Mine has cast a technicolour shadow over our own work as designers as well as our newly graduated contemporaries. Suzy has worked closely with her dedicated team, Emily Fitts and Cassie Brock, to create high-profile work for design fair Supergraph, Broadsheet and VCE Season of Excellence (in both 2012 and 2011).
It was lucky that Suzy was not only generous enough to discuss with us her path to building A Friend of Mine, but also learn about her own challenges as a designer and a small business founder. Though Suzy’s work is intimidatingly good, her passion and commitment to each project that A Friend of Mine takes on is perhaps her greatest asset as a designer.
Describe your path to what you are doing now
I studied a Bachelor of Communication Design at RMIT between 2001-2003 coincidentally studying alongside good friend Emily Fitts who works with me now. I loved the course; we were encouraged to use our hands, experiment, craft, and of course use our brains to create something witty or thought provoking. No course will ever really prepare you for life in the industry; that is something that you just have to experience. I was lucky to get a job at the wonderful Melbourne based studio, Round, where I worked under Mikala Webb and Robert Nudds, receiving a great second education during my three years there.
Tell us about how you landed the job at Multistorey in London post study. Is international experience a must have?
I worked at Multistorey for two years and I had a completely different education there too. Their approach was vastly different and I was lucky to gain insight into the workings of these contrasting experiences. That said, the industry in Australia is wonderfully rich and varied and I don’t believe international experience is a must have at all. I think as long as you are hungry to learn and hungry for design, then you will do well.
Generally speaking, most design students head straight for the relative safety of studio work post study and tend to remain in that realm. Tell us about how you came upon deciding to start your own studio, A Friend of Mine.
I think I am lucky to have worked at studios before starting my own business because I was able to make mistakes with somebody else’s dime and time! I am referring to the inevitable bumbles that you make in the first three or even five years as a practicing designer. Everybody mucks up one or two print jobs, doesn’t check artwork properly or things go wrong in the production phase and you are unsure as to how to deal with it — these mistakes can cost money as a business. Some people are ready to start their own business straight out of uni but I was glad to learn the ropes before branching out on my own.
I decided to start A Friend of Mine when my now husband and I moved back to Melbourne from living in the UK. Perhaps it was the life change of moving which spurred me on because I had a ‘now or never’ moment and knew that if I moved back and got a job first, that I would never actually get around to starting up a business.
The first few years were quite difficult. I worked out of the dark spare bedroom of a rental flat, having barely any work and zero business experience. I had one family friend who was willing to help me out by being a design client. Then I was lucky that Rob Nudds, who I had worked with at Round, referred another client to me. I really got started with the help of others. I paid an accountant to teach me how to use an online bookkeeping service. I freelanced at other design studios and taught design at RMIT to subsidise my income while still trying to make A Friend of Mine my main focus. I invested in good quality business cards, a nice studio space, website and photography — we must practice what we preach! Slowly the business grew. More than five years later, the business is still admittedly (and deliberately) small, but I’m loving working with my team of Emily Fitts and Cassie Brock who both add so much to the business.
Talk to us about the work A Friend Of Mine did for the new contemporary art fair, Supergraph, held in February this year.
I have known Mikala Tai since she came to share our studio space. She had seen our design work over that period and we had become friends, which is perhaps why she entrusted us with the big responsibility of being part of the Supergraph team and designing the branding of the event. This included the responsive website design, tote bags, tea towels, the entire signage system from the giant yellow letters outside Royal Exhibition Building to the perforated and lasercut metal inside, and of course we designed all the printed material such as adverts, flyers, the broadsheet and rock posters. It was a large and wonderful job and we are looking forward to 2015 already!
The great thing about Supergraph is that it is much more accessible and affordable than other art fairs. People really engaged with the process: Jacky Winter held master classes, Hungry Workshop demonstrated and encouraged the public to use their letterpress machine which they had brought along, and Kitiya Palaskas taught people how to make piñatas on site.
It was also really fun with the inclusion of food trucks ‘so you think you can draw’ competitions and those retro melamine plates. My 2 year-old nephew Liam made one! It was also a great way for young emerging artists to gain exposure.
Are you satisfied, creatively?
I am enormously satisfied! I am lucky to be doing a job that I am passionate about! I am so grateful to have figured out what my calling was, and to be able to do it every day.
Who are your ‘Young Ones’ to watch?
Gatsby (Andy Murray runs it) and Alice Oehr.
A friend of mine