Getting to know: Emma Rogan from The 100 Days Projectby Kaan Hiini on 25/06/2012
This week we catch up with Emma Rogan, art director at Apropros and head of the NZ 100 Days project, for a frank and charming look at her journey as a designer, her workplace and how she ended up encouraging 100 people to take part in the 100 Days project. Twice!(so far)
First can we get a bit of your backstory?
I feel old, but I know I am not. I have been working as a designer for about 14 years now – about 10 of which have been quite productive and satisfying.Before that, I studied Visual Communications at Unitec from 94 – 97 and graduated with a BA and a major in Animation in 1998, way back when none of us had email, functioning websites, before Facebook.
I worked on Silcon Graphics machines – no one would really know what these are anymore, but they were fucking insanely gorgeous at the time, my first computer crush and a window to a life beyond being a studentville-artiste-layabout).I’ve taken time off work to have children twice. Each time I found it incredibly, unbelievably difficult to give a shit about work again for about 2 years afterwards.
I didn’t really start to love design as a craft and a discipline until I was nearly 30. I think something finally broke and my brain was cracked open, possibly the result of late maturing, and also working with extremely good, demanding, people.
I can swear better/worse than anyone I have ever met, this doesn’t make me feel good about myself and I can’t seem to help it. I have never begun a project without feeling sick with nerves about being able to crack it, to have an idea. I’m learning to embrace this feeling, rather than running from it.
What do you do in your everyday life, where do you work and on what kind of work?
In my everyday life I am an art director for a design agency called Apropos. There are 7 of us, and we’re based in a villa on Parnell Rd. I work in the corner behind the fireplace, on anything that comes my way. This can vary from Word document templates for clients, to food packaging, website design, full branding/ identity projects (my favourite) and the odd TVC.
Our clients are a diverse range of small business owners, food producers, corporate services, retailers etc. So I have to be able to turn my hand to different industries and different audiences. I’m afraid this makes me a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none.
The really good (as in, deeply satisfying and creative) jobs come along rarely, so I work hard to find pleasure and satisfaction in the most mundane tasks, including and not limited to: Word templates (as mentioned), PPT designs, Email signatures, Back of pack labels, and web banners. I hate/love them all.
Really, I just try to make my clients businesses successful through design, so whatever is required. We have a bunch of really fantastic, loyal clients, they put up with our various defects of character and we put up with theirs.
How did you end up doing what you’re doing?
I started working when I was 12, delivering first pamphlets, then the Herald, around the village we lived in. Then I got the job at the only Dairy in town, followed by years at the Fashion Accessories and Intimates counter at K-Mart. So I have never not worked.When I finished studying I moved to Queenstown. I tried to learn to snowboard and just spend some time having an off-computer adventure, eventually succeeding at the snowboarding.
I started a design agency in Queenstown called ‘Eco Design’ with two friends Luke and Brendan. We ran it together for a couple of years, then lost a crapload of money and had a big falling out. Luke and I carried on working together for another year or so, while we each took up other jobs – and I worked cocktails and movies. It was a bit shit. Though I did get to work at Mt Cook for 3 weeks on location and I met a crazy old film dude called Harry and this great woman called Justine. I went out in to the valley and howled at the moon. It was wonderful.
I don’t think I learned much at all about design during that time, but I learned life lessons about people, money and business that stayed with me. I can smell a rat and a liar a mile off as a result. I certainly learned to chase people for money, and developed good tactics for getting paid.
Tell me about your studio/ work environment: what are its best/worst points, why is it like it is/how important is it to your creative process?
We’re a mix of ages and backgrounds. I never answer the phone. I fucking HATE the phone. My colleagues rigged my phone so that when it rings a loud American asks: “ARE YOU THERE? ARE YOU THERE?” Until I answer. We listen to a variety of good and bad music. We get through a lot of work, we all have more than 14+ years experience.
The best bits: The directors Terry, Wayne, Felicity are generous and very experienced. Collectively they have worked in much bigger places and on projects far larger than anything we’ll ever see here. They choose to run this little agency, and it’s a great place full of lots of knowledge and stories. They give me autonomy over my work, and my language.
Nothing we do is done in a single-person vaccum – everything is up for discussion and debate, so things get tense sometimes, but the work is better for it.
The worst bits: We’ve all worked together for a long time. We know each other well…there is no mystique. Being small, we have a tiny kitchen. Some people make a mess and don’t clean it up.
Our size to some extent limits the kind of work we get and work on, which sometimes gets me down and makes me wish we were bigger and more influential, but our size is a deliberate choice on the part of the directors, and brings with it good things too – like a lack of heirarchy, and variety of work.
What is your favourite medium to work in and why?
I don’t have a favourite medium as such. I love branding and identity work, however that should apply itself. I do work hard to keep understanding new technology, as much as it applies to my work, as that helps design for online but I could be better at this than I am. It’s that jack of all trades thing!
Where do you find your inspiration?
Many places. I read a lot, all sorts, I love film, travel, when I get to do it, is always a big influence, my own consumerism. The odd bit of good telly. Telly is mostly so bad these days.
People, talking and listening, different from myself, with different lives and attitudes. Blogs and the rest of the internet, other good thinkers and designers…they make you want to be better.
Thinking. Thinking about a problem. Seeing others thinking about design.Closing out the world and focusing hard on a problem. That’s always difficult but good.
A couple of years ago I started searching for practising designers who were much older than me for proof that this can be a long career. I found so many good examples and love knowing that even though I feel old, I am a young designer by international standards. That is inspiring.
How did you get involved in the 100 days project?
I read about this class that M. Beirut runs at the Yale School of Art.
He wrote a piece on Design Observer about a task he gives students to do something everyday for 100 days and the challenges inherent in that. I was at a low ebb one weekend morning, and I was also thinking about these couple of students I had met recently, who might benefit from such a tough challenge.
Do you have any favourites from the first 100 days?
I loved what the kids did – Ede with her dresses, Rory with her origami cranes, Ruby and her Mama Clare – with their photos of each other. Duncan from Germany with his collection of seeds…Annabehl with her collections. Mike from Cactuslab didn’t make it very far in, but his was a big favourite of mine – I hope he’ll finish it one day. My friend Piri from Supply filmed his son everyday, some of those days alone are incredibly moving little films, James with his typograhy…man he got so good! My cousin made me laugh and cry with her lovely haiku about her family each day. My sister Holly’s project was to take a self portrait photo each day, but in each her identity is partially hidden, the end collection was fantastic – funny, wacky, poignant.
There were loads of great projects, it was humbling.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to those taking part this year, especially those struggling at the halfway point?
Keep it simple. Toughen up.
And for those on the fence about participating next year?
Do something you feel excited about. Do what you love. Make it personal.
To finish with a 100-piece body of work is incredibly rewarding. But it’s really about the experience of ‘doing’. So if there is a part of you yearning for an outlet – this is perfect.
Can you give us details on the concluding exhibition?
It looks like it will be in the Biz Dojo exhibition space on K-Road. It will be a relaxed low-fi, simple exhibit of projects. We will be serving beer and sausages (probably, it is our food-go-to on day 100) and many of us will be meeting in person for the first time – so it will be fun!
100 Days perhaps doesn’t sound too difficult, but when you see 100 pieces on display (or a variation of, even those who don’t make it are welcome to exhibit) is really quite impressive and curious. I hope lots will come to see the outcome on the 28th July.
Track the current 100 days progress at http://100daysproject.co.nz/