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Sam Daley from Liquid Interactive.
Sam Daley — team-builder, motivator, Illustrator, coder, animator, branding ace, digital designer, game changer. There are quite a few strings to this designer’s bow.
Product Design Director at Brisbane’s Liquid Interactive Sam Daley discovered his love for illustration early on, in the form of Little Golden Books (see link here if you’re too young to know what these are — and they’re still printing new editions!).
“I’ve got an 18-month-old, and it’s funny going back and reading my old picture books — that’s become a bit of an obsession for me at the moment; I’m just loving kid’s picture books,” begins Sam.
“Things like Little Golden Books, in particular, there were some great graphic illustrators. One that sticks out quite a lot is Mary Blair: she was a Disney concept artist, did concept art on Alice in Wonderland and movies like that, and she also illustrated a few really iconic kid’s books that had a real graphic sensibility to them.”
“When I go back to the stuff I loved as a kid, it was so visual, and I think that it played a big part from there onwards, just being conscious of visual language from a very early age and really absorbing that kind of stuff.” Sam reached the point in high school when we’re all forced by those institutions to decide on a life-long career at an age at which we’re not even allowed to drive or vote. He chose graphic design — lucky for us.
“It was always what I wanted to do, graphic design,” says Sam. “That was back in the 90s — in the days before the web — so I started off as a graphic designer doing print-design, branding, and identity with the Gold Coast’s Sexty Design [1998-2001]. That was a perfect design education because they were doing amazing, immaculate print design work, so it was really good to have an opportunity to work with designers there who lived and breathed that and were focused on refined execution. I was there for about three years and got to really hone my tastes quite a bit during that time.”
Sam made his move into digital design early on. He taught himself to code front end, HTML and CSS — it was the late 90s and it was go-time for the interwebs.
“I was a bit of a go-to digital designer, or a web designer as you’d call it back in those days,” explains Sam.
“There wasn’t much to that as a specialised job in the late 90s, so during my time at Wells Ads [Gold Coast, 2004-2008] — in an ad agency doing print design and marketing collateral, normal bread and butter for a designer — branching out into web design as well became a thing that I was being sought out for, bridging between the analogue and digital worlds.”
“Every layer that you fold on top of your capability becomes useful, whether it’s something you’re using or something that informs your sensibilities for whatever it is you’re working on now. I think they [different design disciplines] do have a lot in common, but a lot of times their methodology is different. Whatever the methodology is, though, design is really about understanding your customer.”
“As much as I thought that graphic design was going to be the thing I did once I left high school, I always had in the back of my mind a love for animation, and mid-way through my design career I decided to have a quarter-life crisis and try my hand at animation.”
“I went back and did two years [animation study] at TAFE. Off the back of that, I spent five years as a character animator at Liquid Animation in Brisbane.”
After scratching his animation itch, Sam got back to working as a digital designer, where he worked for a Brisbane start-up called onthehouse.com.au.
“I was involved as a designer, but also helped build their design team and started to get more into that management side of things,” says Sam. “[I was] still very much a hands-on designer but got into that UX space much more, and a bit more service design, working with user research.” In Sam’s current role at Liquid Interactive, he oversees a design team of around six people.
“It’s definitely a mentorship role — a big part of my responsibility,” explains Sam. “I’m less and less doing hands-on design. Now, capability-building in the team is a huge thing, where we hire people based on their potential and their ability.”
“We’re collaborative here, and a big focus is building capability in designers and really having them grow with the company as we grow.”
Liquid look for people who are going to fit in and who can show that they can learn.
“Curiosity is a really big thing, the right sort of attitude, someone with a natural curiosity; a curiosity for their life, curiosity for their career,” says Sam. “A natural curiosity goes a long way toward being a good designer.”
“We’re a unique agency: we’re a digital agency with a product-design focus. We work with such a wide variety of clients. They come to us looking for social innovation projects, so sometimes it’s not so much them coming to us and saying, ‘Hey! We want a website. Can you build us a website?’ it’s more like, ‘We have a particular problem to solve. How would you recommend we go about solving that?’”
“So, the forms our solutions take will vary from a project-to-project basis. By the nature of that, we tend to need designers who have a diversity of skills, but who particularly have a good eye for design execution.”
“The way that we work is with small, crack teams — basically the composition of a start-up — so there might only be one designer for a particular client or project at any particular time, and that person is there to help solve the problems but also to provide the right execution.”
“One of the things we find is that the way to solve a problem comes down so much to the execution, and a big part of successful execution is knowing what type of levers you can pull in the design process to have one effect or another effect. Do you dial this detail up or dial it back? You’re at the control panel and you’re pulling the levers which steer the communication in a particular direction. Knowing, at the execution level, how to control those kinds of things is useful.”
“The biggest change to my sense of what design is, is layering on this idea of changing behaviours, having some sort of tangible outcome being the result of design,” admits Sam. “A lot of marketing design is communication, and a lot of design, in general, is about communicating an idea or a concept. Although many times it’s not just about communication, it’s about motivation. It’s about motivating someone to take action. It’s about behavioural psychology. It’s something you can use in marketing, but a lot of times we use it for our clients to achieve more personally rewarding outcomes.”
“We do a lot of work in the mental health space, so we’re looking at ways we can motivate someone to make some sort of positive change in their life. And so much of that comes down to content, about form and about function, in a way that we’re removing friction from interactions so that we’re actually making it as easy as possible for someone to take some kind of meaningful action.”
Our takeaways from this conversation: have fun; stay curious; embrace change; take calculated risks; don’t just stay up-to-date with current technology, do what you love because you love it rather than trying to analyse the next trend in the industry; and concentrate on the people, the process, and the execution.
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