Spotlight on Queensland Creatives

AGDA 14 min

Creatives Fiona Booker and Trent Siddharta spent six years honing their skills in London for agencies such as Wolff Olins, The Team, Small Back Room and in-house at The Body Shop and Burberry.

Upon returning to Australia, they saw potential in sunny Rockhampton with its nearby beaches and affordable lifestyle. In the scenic suburb of The Range, MadeKnown was born. Servicing over 40 clients within Australia and overseas, MadeKnown is a brand-focused design agency proving that high-calibre work can be done anywhere, regardless of location or time zone.

Fiona you’ve had a well rounded career as a designer, the last 10 years have been brand focused. Trent you’re highly experienced in all areas of design production, photography and retouching. You guys seem like the perfect team for running a design studio. Are there challenges to being both a couple and working together? What are the best and worst parts about it?

“We constantly find the hardest part is turning off our working life to have a ‘normal’ personal life. We’ve only ever worked in this industry and when we previously worked for other companies we gave ourselves an allotted hour after work where we ‘talked’ about our day and then got on with things. We now seem to be always on and the lines have definitely blurred.”

“It did take us a little while to get used to working together, mainly because Trent talks incessantly, but we’re really good friends at the most basic level so it’s quite a comfortable arrangement.”

Had you always intended to run your own studio or was it born out of requirement after moving to Central Queensland?

“A bit of both really. Having worked in loads of different agencies and seeing the different ways people operated their business and studios we each had our own ideals of running a studio. We always talked about running our own company but probably didn’t plan on doing it quite so soon upon returning to Australia. When we arrived in Rockhampton we soon found a large gap in the market for a quality brand focused agency – there just wasn’t really anyone offering it, mostly your regular website and local graphic design agencies.”

MadeKnown has been operating for 3 years now, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced as Creatives running your own business?

“Just the usual tape recorded reply of ‘wearing more hats’. We both already covered a lot of areas creatively but have had to also learn to be receptionist, telemarketer, accounts, sales, customer relations and PR. Trent is naturally good with people but crap with money so I got accounting, he got everything else. We really laugh about this all now and want to ring our old bosses to apologise for being painful as we understand realistically now the different pressures of running a business.”

You currently employ freelancers for specific roles as you need them, are there also opportunities to nurture young up and coming designers in Rockhampton and the surrounds? And how would you like to be able to do that?

“We both credit a large part of our current abilities to what we’ve learned in our previous roles, employed outside of MadeKnown, so appreciate the importance that sharing takes to grow knowledge and careers. Being thrown in the deep end is a cliché but one that fits, we’ve both learnt an amazing amount on the job and from mentors and would love to eventually be in a position to employ young talented designers to repay our pasts. We’re quite specific and particular about what we do though so it would be a character building hell trip for anyone we employ. Liking Metal music would probably be the first hurdle.”

Your clients are incredibly diverse – from distinctly regional customers to national brands like RID Insect Repellent and internationally recognised luxury fashion house Burberry. What is it about MadeKnown and the way you work that’s allowed you to design for such a diverse client list?

“Continually learning about different industries and new client businesses is what we enjoy the most, it’s one of our points of difference. We don’t hold much stock in peddling the same things to each client, they’re all different and so is our service to each of them. Burberry came about from Trent working in-house for them in their Westminster offices in London. They’re comfortable knowing we understand who they are and their standards so it wasn’t a leap of faith to send us work. The time difference is a great benefit as they can send a project at the end of their day and we have it ready when they arrive the following morning.”
“The majority of our work has come from word of mouth and recommendations, which is how we ended up working with RID. They’re based in Townsville and are zealous like us about the quality of regional work so it’s a good match.”

When working with regional clients, have you encountered any barriers around the value of design and brand?

“Definitely, but it’s more a lack of information around what constitutes a brand rather than not valuing it. We’re big on educating and empowering our clients about this, which is partly where our name stems from. We find there is a slow realisation happening in businesses everywhere now, whether metropolitan or regional, that the traditional standalone tactical forms of marketing aren’t as effective anymore. Educating people that branding is more about fostering relationships rather than slapping a logo on a letterhead is hugely important. The word ‘brand’ is greatly overused. We call it the ‘B’ word, our new swear word.”

Working for such high calibre agencies as you have done often exposes designers to new ways of working and thinking. What’s some of the best things you’ve learnt from your time overseas that you’ve been able to apply to your work at MadeKnown?

Fiona: “The confidence to do presentations, the best piece of advice given to me was know back-to-front the first couple minutes of your presentation and the rest will come.”

Trent: “Presentations as well, tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.”

“For both of us; constantly revisiting ideas and situations to ensure they’re on track and they still apply, generally having a more critical eye for finer details and considering things from many more viewpoints.”

For many creatives inner-city life provides inspiration and a sense of connection. How does this notion fit with you, especially after living and working in a place like London? Where does your inspiration now come from?

“Regional living is culturally different on a local level but we definitely don’t feel isolated. London was fantastic and we still bounce ideas back and forth with friends and mentors there, as well as throughout Australia. We spend time every day catching up on industry news, trends topics etc online through sites like Design Week, AGDA, BrandNew and we get the usual barrage of industry blog newsletters in our inboxes. The biggest source of our inspiration has always come from the same place regardless of where we live, which is our clients and their businesses. It sounds wet I know but they inspire us to do more and that anything is possible.”

Can you tell us about any Queensland artists, designers, illustrators that have caught your attention lately?

“Driven in Brisbane are great storytellers and their work is really textural which we like. Tara Hale is a great illustrator and I always like to see what she is up to.”

Do you have any advice for creatives considering the move to a regional area? And also to anyone who may be thinking about starting their own design studio?

Understand the area you’re moving to and have a business and marketing plan.
Be patient, smaller communities are very loyal.
Everyone knows everyone so watch what you say.
Face to face is best, email doesn’t always cut it. This applies everywhere.
Get a really good Accountant, they may be bean counters but they’re awesome.
Don’t skimp on the sound system, you can put on more socks when it’s cold but you can’t turn up tinny speakers.


Your creative hero:
Fiona: Johnson Banks.
Trent: Anthony Peters IMEUS Design in Brighton UK, Antony Micallef.

Your ideal project: Any new brand.

Your favourite podcast/blog:
Trent: Designspiration.
Fiona: BrandNew Under Consideration.

Your hidden talent:
Trent: Patience.
Fiona: Working with Trent.

Story extracted from the interview by the very talented Lisa Herse about MadeKnown.

AGDA March 2016