Avoid “cool”, don’t follow the flock, and believe in what you love.
Canvas Group is a creative agency based in Sydney, Australia. The company kicked off in May 2003; our inaugural project was launching the global press kit for the Mazda3 in Japan. Nearly ten years on, we’ve developed a broad portfolio of award-winning branding, print and digital projects, for clients here in Australia, and overseas. We’re a close-knit team of twelve creative types, working in an open-plan studio in the city, which typically has music blasting and opinions flying…
In today’s interview mix is Jorge Castillo, our Creative Partner, Zoë Barber (Art Director) and Hiroshi Tazawa (Interactive Developer).
What do you do for inspiration?
Hiroshi: “Keep learning new stuff and don’t look at other websites.”
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
Jorge: Flip Board.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Awards, of course, are amazing and striving for perfection (in programming, typesetting, whatever it may be) is always present. First and foremost, however, being able to do what we love, everyday, is our biggest achievement and what Canvas Group as a studio has facilitated.
How many hours do you work each week?
Loaded question… Studio hours are 9 till 6, but the in-house beer fridge and its influence on our “conceptual development” tends to keep some of us around a little later than that.
How do you relax or unwind?
Did we mention the beer fridge?
For Jorge, it’s football, football, some more football, and drawing. Hiroshi chills on the tennis court and with laps in the pool. Some of our team are serious gym junkies; some are serious party animals!
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
Hiro: pro-snowboarder (got injured a while back and had to quit. Sad for snowboarding, but very beneficial for the interwebs).
More generally, any one of the dozens of other projects that keep things ticking along in the studio. We work almost equally in branding, print and digital, so there’s always a great diversity, which we feel is incredibly valuable for the team: keeping everyone thinking, agile and really engaged with their projects.
It also means we can support our clients with a full-service offer, leading to more integrated, consistent and powerful creative across the board.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
Favourite part: taking a new brief, and all the energy and nervous enthusiasm that comes with unearthing its challenges and ideas.
Hardest part: making sure the necessities are delivered on, without losing the vision. In the digital space, staying abreast of the latest languages and technologies. And for Hiro, dealing with neck pain…
And when we’re stuck, we walk. We talk. We brainstorm and throw things around, literally and figuratively as required.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
Deciding not to specialise was a game changer for us. What seemed a small decision at the time, born almost of necessity as a young studio, it’s since kept so many doors open, allowed us to grow organically and broadened our scope of work. It’s resulted in a unique agility in regard to how we define, and re-define, what we do.
What software could you not live without?
Hiroshi is all about Xcode and Eclipse.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
At the minute, there are about 60 live jobs on our books. These are as varied as web banners, brochures, book covers, new brands, packaging, apps, websites, touch-screen presentations, and more!
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
Hiroshi’s been working quite a bit with WebGL recently, for a new project we have coming up. There’s a really interesting link back to Flash and PaperVision in that, and our Flash experience has been useful – the thinking, the approach, the methods around how it’s programmed, are all informing, and pushing, the solution with WebGL. There’s a sort of Flash legacy evident in things like this, which is really satisfying to explore.
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
The work Jongmin Kim is doing has been really exciting for us, particularly in terms of that ‘Flash legacy’ we just mentioned. Very inspiring, unexpected ideas.
Hiroshi’s long-term idol is Yugop.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Absolutely: our first FWA (for Andreas Smetana’s website) was a huge turning point. It really put Canvas Group on the international stage for the first time and lead to a stash of other projects that were incredibly beneficial in terms of creative exploration, professional scope, and local and international recognition. Our most recent MotD site actually came about after the GLP Creative guys saw Smetana on FWA.
Our other recent MotD, for Object magazine, is also a huge honour: the project was a labour of love, done on a shoestring for a non-profit here in Sydney. The exposure it has generated for them, and us, is remarkable, and we’re quite simply rapt.
Having FWA on our recognition list has also given new clients a great deal of confidence in our capabilities, and helped us secure some major accounts over the years, including Panasonic Australia.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
Definitely a juggling act. One of the most valuable tactics we’ve found is simply in educating clients, be it about digital trends or international developments. The more they understand, and appreciate, the creative industry, the smoother the journey tends to be.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
Pretty ugly if we’re honest, and thankfully, no, it’s no longer online. It may have had a page flip…
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
Perhaps the question should be: how long will we be looking at websites as the core representation of the digital industry? Increasingly, a “website” is a given; apps, mobile, ‘smart’ technology and devices etc are becoming so prevalent; in 10 years, the question might be what has happened to our traditional understanding of websites as a platform, and why won’t my kettle stop tweeting?
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Avoid “cool”, don’t follow the flock, and believe in what you love.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
We’ve very recently hired both a new developer and designer, and the process is certainly intense!
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Word of mouth, and happily that’s still the case. We’re yet to advertise or actively sell our services, and the work has come in steadily for nearly 10 years now, often more of it than we thought we could handle! It’s a really wonderful way to grow the business, because those referrals are often like-minded with existing clients and lead to really wonderful, long-term relationships.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
Play, experiment and browse. We’re all dedicated interwebs wanderers, though our first point of reference comes from the brief: why are we doing this, what naturally contributes to it in the digital space? Based on those two things, we explored functionality that will bring the project to life.
What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?
Japan, for sure. Hiro’s a native, and Jorge and Zo have both spent time there. We share a complete admiration for the standards of excellence that the country represents, and the beauty that becomes a very natural evolution of excellent function feeding into form.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
The fourth iteration of our own website, for about three years now. It’s been through a few dozen redesigns and half a build, and as any one in the industry would understand, keeps getting shelved for client work!
It has been a privilege, thanks very much