"Nike and Apple are design companies. In terms of identity we all have a brand, a unique point of difference." Garrick Webster talks to Vince Frost about building Frost Design's unique brand.
Designer Vince Frost is a man of big ideas and even bigger ambitions. Frost Design has 35 staff and is growing fast. Based in Sydney, the agency works with clients as diverse as Warner Music, major banks and hotel chains, and various education and arts organisations. A 360-degree approach means that it can tackle print, advertising and identity, together with digital solutions, broadcast and environmental design.
In addition to running the studio, Frost has lectured worldwide on design and is an advocate of green design solutions. He's also won several D&AD awards and was a member of the judging panel for this year's Typography entries.
CA: Moving from the UK to Australia, how have you found the design scene?
VF: Actually they're pretty much the same, but there isn't much of a history of design in Australia and there's no class system like there is in England. I find that totally refreshing. There's no one putting you down or putting you in your place. It's like the sky's the limit and you can really achieve what you want to achieve.
CA: Your company has grown rapidly to a team of 35. How is it organised?
VF: It sounds funny but I was never taught how to run a business, so the business has always been based on what work we had coming in and then getting assistance. But over the last year we've restructured. We have a full-time accountant, a couple of receptionists, an archivist, a project manager, a strategist, an architect, a product designer, graphic designers, and a whole bunch of digital people including programmers and digital strategists.
We want to cover a whole spectrum of opportunities so we're only as good as the opportunities that come our way. So when we get those opportunities we want to make the most of them - not just focus on one aspect but go for a whole 360-degree approach. I have a really great office manager and strategist, but I'm still just as involved as when I was working alone. We're working on dozens of projects and I'm working on winning one pitch, while working on solutions for another. But I don't think we can grow any bigger with this approach, which is why I'm restructuring the business.
Right now we're 35 people but in three years' time we'll be 300. We're going to open offices in other countries and I really want to maximise the potential we have by maximising our brand. Nike, Apple - design companies are all the fashion. A design company isn't a company based in Clerkenwell doing layouts for annual reports. A lot of people see design in terms of nostalgia, of trends like Mods and Rockers, but we're all unique. In terms of identity we all have a brand, we all have a unique point of difference.
CA: Are there any areas you're focusing on right now?
VF: A big focus this year has been digital. For a long time we had one person - a web designer - and struggled, so we've turned it around and we've now got eight people in that team. Also there's 3D stuff, environmental graphics - that's signage systems for galleries, museums and office developments around the world. We're doing a lot of that. It's really about maximising that experience with a brand. Often companies go out to separate companies for print and digital, and there's very little that holds them together except for a logo.
CA: How has the environmental graphics aspect grown?
VF: It was something the company had a history of before I came in. Obviously with Australia being a very big country and doing a lot of building, there's a massive requirement for building naming, marketing, strategy and positioning. As Frost grows we're getting recognition for this and it's exciting. We're working on some of the tallest buildings in the world - we're in South Korea, Shanghai and Dubai.
At first I was quite nervous about the whole 3D environment because previously most of the work we had done was 2D. It was identities and magazines and publications, and to take the same approach, that clarity and simplification of information, into a 3D environment is really exciting. We've just done American Express' HQ in Sydney, the signage system for Brisbane Airport, three hotels in Australia and two in Bahrain.
CA: You're a big advocate of green design. Do designers have a responsibility to promote it?
VF: It's obvious that print has a limited future, as much as I love it. I've grown up with it: my dad was a printer and I love magazines and books. But it's a very antiquated process today. In a world that is changing constantly print doesn't change, and print has a limited audience because it's about physical interaction. With digital the whole world is your audience and the potential is far greater than anything you could do with print.
I was brought up with green and ethical considerations. But it's only in the past few years that it's become popular. It won't be long before it becomes law. There's this phenomenal waste being produced and natural resources are being obliterated. We've been working on being green for about ten years, printing on recycled paper and recycling everything in the office. We're now a carbon-neutral studio and we're pushing our clients more to work in the digital media.
I think designers have a huge responsibility to be leading this, because we are the specifiers of so much garbage - we specify the paper or the packaging, and we over-package things or use materials that aren't biodegradable just because it looks nice.
CA: How can digital art compete with print? How can you sell that to a client?
VF: That is the dilemma - that's something we're trying to find out as a company. You shouldn't think of the web as a piece of print, but as a different experience. It's a screen-based experience and so you have the massive advantage of making it tactile - it's as tactile in terms of pushing buttons and interacting as a piece of print. Celebrate the potential of moving footage.
Digital media such as television can actually become life, as opposed to print, which is always passive. It's no longer down to the big networks and broadcasters. The whole world is interacting and creating their own content.
CA: Have you got any advice for other designers making the transition from print to digital?
VF: Don't go for a formula. In print we use A4, for example, but we don't say every bit of print has to have a menu in the top-left corner, or has to have this because that's how things are done. Rethink and explore.
CA: Would you say you're a type geek?
VF: I love words and language - I love playing with layouts and headlines. When I was at Pentagram, there were something like four fonts we used: Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, Garamond and Bodoni. It was a limited palette and at the time they were proud of that fact, because they said you could do everything with these fonts. But now there are millions of fonts and people creating them, and I think design needs that variety of expression.
CA: How do you work with clients?
VF: The way that I work is a continuation of how I worked as an individual, because there isn't a meeting room for dealing with clients and a design room that is sacred, as there was at Pentagram. I've learned to include the client in the process, and really get under the skin of what it is they need to achieve. Do lots of research and try lots of stuff, and let them see the sketches. Get the clients to give you feedback.
We edit everything down to appropriate ideas and intuition plays a big part. We don't work separate from the client, make something and say, "Here you go. You can have that."
CA: What are your influences?
VF: My father and my children. My children are prolific mess-makers and they're constantly expressing themselves. But I like Paul Rand, Alan Fletcher and a lot of people who are dead. Alexi Brodovich. People that really understand problems and problem-solving, and the elimination of all that crap to make something simple. I really love Zaha Hadid; architecture is going through a phenomenal time - there's this boom of creativity. Because of the technology, anything you draw on a piece of paper can become possible.