Derek Butler, Creative Director of Black Squid Design

Black Squid Design has established a reputation for creative and effective brand identities, corporate communication and packaging. Their work has won numerous national awards and has been published in both national and international publications. Derek Butler’s philosophy in design is to come up with innovative ideas and unexpected solutions with the element of surprise, but most importantly ­have fun – an approach which has underpinned Derek’s success as both graphic designer and Creative Director.

“We work to understand the philosophy and value of the brand and translate it into meaningful, well communicated, creative design solutions. Our philosophy is simple. If a message is not communicated effectively, then the design, no matter how beautiful, has failed. Our ideas-generated solutions accept risk and challenge, embrace the complex and subtle, and never underestimate the power of the element of surprise and the joy of delight at the discovery of true innovation. And we have fun.”

Everyone has to start some where, how did you get your start in the design industry?

When I first left Uni I went out on my own, but just while I was looking for work, which was a very brief period, I found a job with a design studio here in Adelaide. I worked there for about 12 months, might have been a bit longer, they transferred me over to Melbourne to set up an over there. I set up the studio over there, which basically put me into Melbourne for a while to get some ground work, and see what happened in the big smoke.

When did you realise that design could be a career for you?

I certainly felt I had a flare for art in year 10 or 11 when I did work experience, I  did three lots of work experience, one at Channel Two, Channel 9 and the other at an advertising agency. But I could see the difference between television and advertising or commercial art, so I think it was then that I made the decision that I wanted to get into advertising or design.

Every creative suffers from creative blocks from time to time, how do you deal with those?

This is a question that I actually ask students or potential employees, what is it that you do when you get a creative block?

We love having a studio because we just get together and throw ideas around. But to me the positive answer is you’ve got get out of your current space. You sit behind your desk and your there all the time, whereas there is so much creative stuff outside in the world. Just pack up your bags, go for a walk, take a book, go somewhere. Getting out of your current space is really important.

I also think it is important to think differently. If I am working on a logo for a fish and chip shop then I would reference things that are completely outside the square. It could have nothing to do with fish and chips, it could be something to do with elephants in a park, so you don’t have that expected relationship to a problem. Even if it is wrong at least you are thinking differently, so the other side of your brain can pull back to where you need to be.

For people trying to break into the design industry what should they be doing to help themselves?

I think it is really important to get your portfolio right. Often students go through three or four years, (sigh of relief) it’s over, here’s my portfolio, now I can go out into the workforce. It is never right (the portfolio).

As a design student it would be really hard to hear somebody like me say ‘well your packaging isn’t up to scratch, go and do some more work on it’. Because you don’t want to go and do more work on it, you’ve finished your four years. But do, do some refinements to it and to make your portfolio slick.

The other thing that is important is to get a lot of interview experience, go to four or five studios and even if you don’t want a job there or there is no job there, you will feel more comfortable when you are being interviewed for a job. Also you get to know people in the industry, you can ask questions about your portfolio. Some people won’t give feedback, other people will. Listen to their feedback, you don’t have to act on it all, but when you hear three people say there’s something wrong with your type on this pack then you’ve got to do something about it or take it out. It’s a process of making your folio work for you in the interview process.

How do you make that transition from spec work to real work?

I don’t think you need to, I look at a portfolio and if you’ve got all spec work and it’s shit hot spec work, I’m still going to give you a job. It’s the quality of work and the experience, so seeing that you can be creative with your spec work, but then saying hey I’ve done six week work at XXXXX doing shitty little ads, I know that you’ve got experience in the industry, I know – you know how to do finished art, I know – you know how to use Photoshop or produce real InDesign work. So I don’t have to see it in your folio, if it is in your folio then great, I now know you can do that, but lets look at your creativity. Ultimately I want you for your future, not for where you currently are now. So to me you can keep your spec work in because that’s what’s in your head.

And also often that clients and jobs you get to work on during that transition period are not necessarily equal to those that you get from spec work, you have more freedom. Don’t be afraid to keep spec work in your folio.

What do you look for in a portfolio and expect to see?

In a portfolio it is good to see a cross section of packaging, logos, signage, brand identity, posters, layouts whether that is an annual report or magazines and finally something that is just creative and outside the square. Usually if people are better at packaging design or better at logos then they will have three or fours pieces in their folio of them. That’s fine to be heavy in one area and you can miss out something, if you don’t have a everything in there, don’t worry about it.

What skills would you expect from a creative approaching Black Squid for a job?

In this day and age if they are going through TAFE and Uni, I would be surprised if they don’t have Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign experience, particularly with computers now. Years ago, I would need to ask what type of computer do you use, what programs have you worked on, because there was big difference between Illustrator and freehand. Some worked in freehand and some worked in Illustrator, some didn’t know Quark, some didn’t know InDesign and there was the experience that often they were lacking. But now everyone’s got a computer, 90% of people have a laptop, nearly all the students would have InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop and know them competently.

One thing that I think they are struggling with is the speed, they tend to be slow. I’ve had a couple of guys in for work experience and it takes them a long time to get through a project, but that comes with experience. But to know that they can work through projects quickly would be a benefit.

Do you have any work experience or internship programs within Black Squid Design?

I offer work experience when someone takes some takes leave. I have a list of people that want to do work experience here. I don’t offer it all the time because there are only four designers here. Also we usually take on a mentee as part of the mentorship program with AGDA and AADC has one as well? Sometimes that mentee would also do work experience and they would be my priority if I had them as a mentee for the year, then I’ll say they can do work experience.

I haven’t offered internships yet, but I’m looking into it.

Some of Black Squid’s work:

Derek Butler, Creative Director, Black Squid Design

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