The Interview Series // 37 / agIdeas Special

While Junior was in New York, we found Hamish Smyth (http://www NULL.hamishsmyth NULL.com/) tucked into the folds of Pentagram NY (http://www NULL.pentagram NULL.com/). Hamish had one of those experiences where so many rad things happened to him, we just don’t know how he did it all. First, he won a work placement at Pentagram. Second, he won a two week trial at Fabrica (http://www NULL.fabrica NULL.it/), Italy. Third, he won a full internship at Pentagram. Then! Just to top it off he’s recently been offered a full year back at Fabrica. New York or Italy, or both? AgIdeas NewStar (http://www NULL.agideas NULL.net/index NULL.php?nodeId=25) — enter now! Only five days left! That’s more than enough time to do something great.

Junior: You entered agIdeas newStar in your last year at uni?

Hamish: The start of fourth year I was doing honours at RMIT, at The Works. It’s a design studio run by the honours students. There are usually about 8-10 students there. I had just begun at The Works when I entered newStar, and all I entered was basically my work from third year. I already had it together in a PDF, so it wasn’t difficult to enter. For the Collie Print Trust award, also a part of newStar, you had to enter three pieces, so I just picked out my three most confident pieces and sent it all in. And then, we waited. They short-listed about thirty people for the award and at the agIdeas conference the international speakers judged those thirty entries, then the winner is announced on the last day of the conference.

Jr: From there what happened?

H: After announcing the winner I went up on stage — it was the best day. I was in shock I think. That was for the Collie Print Trust Award, which was flights, accommodation and two weeks work experience at an international studio of my choice. I chose Pentagram New York. Luckily I didn’t have to say anything on stage, because I wouldn’t have been able to speak. Ken Cato was standing there when I walked off of stage. I met him quickly and then he asked if I wanted to go to Fabrica as well, because they wanted to send me there too. I don’t know what I said, but ended up saying ‘Yeah that would be awesome’, or something stupid like that. They announced that on stage too and also gave away another three Fabrica awards because they liked the other entrants’ work so much.

Jr: What happened after you found out you won?

H: After the conference ended that day I was invited to the dinner that night at the Melbourne Museum, and got a wad of business cards from all the people that I met. This was in May and I was still completing honours at Uni. I could have left and started the trip straight away – but I decided to finish studying and begin the award in January 2010. Because I’d won two awards – one to Italy for Fabrica and the other to New York – instead of sending me over and back twice they bought a round the world ticket for me. The ticket lasted a year so I could travel too. I left Australia in January and went to Fabrica first, spent two weeks there on the trial and then I had four months before I had to be in New York. I ended up backpacking alone in Europe for four months, couch surfing everywhere and taking loads of photos – it was a pretty amazing experience. I had never been overseas before, so it was a real eye opener for me in a positive way.

Jr: What were you doing when you got to Fabrica for the two weeks?

H: I was on trial in the visual communication department, with another Australian girl, Ramona Lindsay, who also won the Fabrica award at agIdeas. We were working with the other designers there, and they had just got a new job for the UN World Health Organisation. Basically it was a large-scale worldwide poster campaign. They were in the early stages of the design process, had just finished researching and were starting on concepts and coming up with ideas — the fun part. We just slotted straight in with them and started working. It was a really challenging brief.

Jr: It’s pretty hard to prove yourself in two weeks!

H: Yeah, and it’s a tough job, you’re in a new place, you don’t know anyone, all the while trying to prove to them why they should invite you back.

Jr: Were there lots of other foreigners there too?

H: For sure. It’s probably one quarter Italian. But it’s a very international environment. English is the official language but a lot of Italian gets spoken. The people there were really friendly, completely into what they were doing and they’re all really talented. From speaking to the current “Fabricani”, the best thing about Fabrica is the people that you meet there and the contacts you make. After you have been there for a year you get to know these people pretty well – so by the end of the residency you have really talented friends from all over the world.

Jr: And then you left, and thought you hadn’t got a place to stay there at Fabrica?

H: I thought I bummed it. I left it really disappointed in myself. I wasn’t really happy with the work that I had done there so I thought that that might have had something to do with it.

Jr: What did they say when you left?

H: ‘We’ll be in touch’. ‘It was great to have you here’. I heard that they take ages to get back to people – I heard six months in one case. But nine months had passed and then I got this email last week totally out of the blue. The email was an offer asking me back for the year residency if I was willing to accept. I was pretty shocked to get it!

Jr: Do you find the style of stuff that you are used to from Melbourne, and RMIT, and even your own style of design — did it fly over there or was it very different?

H: I didn’t really get a chance to practice anything like I had done in Melbourne –which was good. Fabrica is all about very visual and confronting imagery, stuff that works on a global scale. I’d say that that is pretty different to my style, which is more of a traditional generalist graphic design I guess.

Jr: What is Fabrica like?

H: There’s many different departments there including– photography, visual communication, interactive design, design (products, furniture etc), video, music and Colors [Magazine]. There is probably around forty to fifty young people – the residents – plus the Fabrica staff. They give you a flat in town, and you live with another Fabricanti. They all go out, get pizza – that sort of stuff all the time. It’s really fun. I think the total population of the town, Treviso, is about eighty thousand, but the central town within the old walls is smaller. Lots of pizza and very cheap but good wine!

Jr: So what did you do after Fabrica? Travelled and then ended up in New York?

H: Yes, I got here [NY] in May, had two weeks to explore and then started the work placement at Pentagram. Back in February I was emailing a designer at Pentagram to organise the work placement. I basically asked her if I could stay longer than the two week placement. I thought I had nothing to lose if I asked. She said no, I couldn’t, but that I was welcome to apply for the Fall internship position they had open. I sent in my portfolio and got a phone interview with them in April. I did that when I was in London. I was in a hostel, on a bunk bed at night. I was really nervous but it must have gone OK.

So from there I went to New York and was at Pentagram. By applying for the internship I had turned the two week placement into a trial for the internship.

Two days after I started I was fortunate to get put on this urgent project that was happening within a different team. I was the only person in the office who was free that day, so I was lucky that I got to do it. I was thrown in the deep end, we had a meeting the following afternoon and they needed the project done by then. It was an environmental graphics job for a pitch with a big client. I had six hours to get all of this stuff done and was freaking out a little. I worked really hard, got some stuff together, and apparently the client liked it.

Jr: So it’s probably always different.

H: Yep. At the moment we’re working on a book and some signage. It’s really varied. I work for Michael Bierut and his clients include a lot of arts related projects, signage and publications.

Jr: You’re learning a lot?

H: So much. Working with Michael Bierut (http://www NULL.pentagram NULL.com/en/partners/michael-bierut NULL.php) is obviously pretty interesting and you learn something new from him every day. Even just listening to him on the phone you learn a lot about how he deals with clients.

Jr: Do you ever get to meet clients?

H: I’ve been in a few meetings, but generally interns won’t get to do that. Unless you’re very closely involved with the project. But, it’s a small team so you are always pretty involved, and not stuck in a corner on Photoshop all day. We do have to do that some days, but never all the time.

Jr: What advice would you give to the next winner of the internship?

H: My advice to those entering would be to only enter work that you are truly confident in. If you aren’t confident in even a small part of a project, cull it from your folio. It’s better to have five great things than ten OK projects. Also, you’ve still got time so you can probably do seven projects in that time. Make your own briefs up. Rebrand something that needs rebranding and put it in your folio. Work your ass off because it’s an amazing opportunity. Finally, work hard for a long time and good things will start to happen.

Entries close for agIdeas NewStar Monday 15th November. Enter at newstar.agideas.net (http://newstar NULL.agideas NULL.net)

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 10/11/2010