In Conversation with Amber Bonney

Where do you work and what do you do?

I’m the Founder and Head of Strategy at The Edison Agency – responsible for the creative and strategic direction of the business and our projects. We are an independent brand design agency who help brand businesses and organisations to create positive change.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a designer, thinker, educator, mother, mentor, writer, strategist and speaker – I wear lots of hats and my ambitions and interests and always growing, never quite satisfied with staying still for long. I’m naturally an introvert but not many people would see that side of me as I can also be equally bold, cheeky and dynamic. I’m always evolving and challenging myself – never quite satisfied with the status quo and I live by my personal mantra “..bite big and chew like hell.

My expertise is centred around using design to make better connections, create positive change, influence human behaviours and solve complex commercial and business problems. My depth of experience stems from the diversity of my work both locally and internationally across major brand identity programs for Astra Zeneca, Volkswagen, British American Tobacco, Lend Lease, Asahi Beverages, Victorian State Government, Campbell Arnott’s, Lion Dairy and Drinks and Brown Family Wine Group.

With over 20 years’ experience across diverse industry sectors, I have a vested interest in both traditional and disruptive design methods that activate, provoke and inspire. I believe in nurturing future generations of designers and in raising the profile and leadership skills of female talent in our industry.

What changes have you seen in the Graphic Design industry since starting out? The good, the bad and the ugly.

Our industry has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Firstly, the label “Graphic Designer” is not commonly used – it is not something I personally relate to anymore because it reflects the visual outcomes and mechanics of the trade, it doesn’t speak to the thinking, planning, analysis and problem solving inherent in design.

I studied Visual Communication at Swinuburne in the 90’s and during this time the industry was only just emerging into the digital age. What I loved about the program was its puritanical approach to image making and composition – something I believe is diminishing in our industry and educational programs.

We live in a visual economy now, where content is hero and everything looks beautiful – we have apps to create design compositions in seconds and its easy to create a portfolio of beautiful looking work. Society has become somewhat lazy in its respect and appreciation for a good idea, for the rigour of a design process, for valuing history, legacy and craftsmanship.

An an employer, this makes recruitment quite difficult because you have to look past the aesthetic and polish to uncover the potential of the individual creatively – their ideas, methods and craft. The ugly side of our industry is the focus on style over substance.

How do you stay relevant in todays Graphic Design industry?

I don’t sit still for long – I am always reinventing our approach and improving the way we work across all areas of the business – operating, financially, culturally and creatively. Sometimes moving forwards means going back – returning to an approach that was working just fine before we tried to improve it, new isn’t always better. I read a lot and stay connected with my piers in the industry to get a general sense of what’s happening. Relevance is subjective, for some people being relevant means being on-trend and having the latest gadgets and tech systems – for me it is about need and demand.

I run a commercial business and therefore our offer and approach needs to make sense to the audience it is designed for and in the world of marketing services, that changes all the time. I believe an agile and human-centred approach to design services is what keeps us relevant – the how and what we are selling a reflection of cultural trends and norms.

Tell us what you are currently working on?

I’m working on a few major projects for iconic Australian brands- helping them to stay relevant and rejuvenate themselves. This is thoroughly rewarding because it gives us an opportunity to leave the brand in a better state than when we found it – doing the due diligence to understand its heritage and narrative and retell it in a way that has meaning for current and future audiences. This is about ensuring longevity and endurance for decades to come.

In my other role as President of Creative Women’s Circle, I have the current pleasure of working with Dr Jane Connory and our fantastic board on the Debbie Millman “Courage vs Confidence” Tour which is happening as part of Melbourne Design Week in March. This is a monumental event for the Australian design community and one I am very proud to be helping in the planning and implementation.

What would your advice be to someone wanting to break into the Graphic Design industry in 2020?

Do your research on where you would like to work and be tenacious in getting in to speak to them for advice – understand what they are looking for and how you can improve your portfolio. Join organisations like AGDA, Creative Women’s Circle, DIA etc to help you connect and build relationships with the industry. Always demonstrate context of your work through process and rationales.

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