In Conversation with Andrew Paoli & Matthew Smith

Where do you work and what do you do?

We established our creative agency, Paoli Smith, 25 years ago. Today, we employ eleven people and deliver the full spectrum of design, branding and digital services.

We work with a great mix of clients in the not-for-profit, education and health sectors. We are also passionate about the arts and have been privileged to work with some of the country’s leading artistic directors and curators; TarraWarra Museum of Art, Melbourne Festival, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, the Wheeler Centre, Circus Oz and the Australia Council for the Venice Biennale.

We are based in Richmond in one of the last original buildings in the street; a former chocolate factory. We have an office dog, Remy the black lab, who keeps us sane and amused.

One of our favourite stories about the business has been the opportunity for people to meet. Funnily enough, Andrew and I met our partners through work. In fact the business has delivered 5 couples, 2 marriages and 7 children.

Talk to us about working in a partnership for as long as you have. What makes it work?

We are opposites – a collision of temperaments and Italian and British genes. We never planned to work together, let alone share an office for twenty-five years. We fell into it after the recession of the 80s. We studied at Monash together and were hanging out in the same social group.

Early on in the business it was pretty clear that both of us couldn’t be creative directors – one of us had to take on the business and financial side. We share a similar work ethic. Sitting within earshot of each other helps. We also tend to agree on the people we want to hire and the clients we want to work with. The business has been good to us, to our staff and our families and I think we are both very aware of that.

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

What hasn’t changed? The tools we used to work with in the early days would now be considered design artefacts. Graphic design firms use to follow the strategy set by advertising agencies and everything was mostly print-based and two-dimensional.

Now we are filming, recording, editing, animating as well as designing. We employ writers, brand strategists, videographers and digital producers. We develop the brand strategy and produce all the creative elements that flow from that.

The work is more exciting, more challenging and all encompassing. Expectations have also changed dramatically in terms of speed of delivery. The world is in a great big hurry. Well it was…until Covid-19.

How do you stay relevant in todays Graphic Design industry?

We focus on our clients and delivering great results for them. And we stay curious, interested and informed.

It has always been about building strong relationships – so there is trust in the creative process and longevity in the collaboration. The occasional informal meeting with home-made treats from Nonna helps too.

The world of work has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years. The volume, the speed and the short lead times. There is a real sense of urgency out there. As a small business, you have to evolve, adapt and expand your offering to keep up. But essentially, our focus has always been our clients and meeting their strategic objectives.

We never put ourselves at the centre of the work. We see ourselves as the facilitators of creative solutions. We make the process as easy as possible without compromising on the creative output.

Tell us what you are currently working on?

Right now, we are adjusting to the new world of Covid-19 and making the necessary changes. We are moving staff and equipment to their homes. Running virtual meetings. Establishing new ways to work as a team. Keeping the momentum of projects going. Checking in with one another. This is unprecedented territory for everyone across the globe.

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

A healthy dose of humility and humour helps. You need to be able to get on with people and be practical. Build strong relationships so that you can negotiate great outcomes. Accept that not all design battles will be won. Work hard, get out there and meet as many people as you can. Take on jobs big or small, paid or unpaid. It is a great privilege to work. And if people enjoy working with you, the rewards will be plenty.

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