Life of Design: Andrew Guirguis

Head Of Design at Anomaly

1. How did you begin working in the wonderful world of design?

I actually fell into it, not realizing at the time that I was becoming a designer. I had scraped the surface of graphic design at university as part of a communications and film degree, but it didn’t come to the fore until, ironically, I threw myself into music and started playing in a band. For all the time spent writing songs, recording and touring, double was spent making album art, tour posters, street press ads and music videos. The most valuable member of any band is the designer, it seems.

This on-the-fly design education allowed me to work simultaneously as a visual creative in branding and advertising. So I’d be full-time art director/designer from Monday to Thursday, full-time musician Friday to Sunday. When a major record deal fell through and the band broke up after 10 years in the game, I had this moment of realization: holy shit, I’m a designer now!

2. What is the purpose of design?

As a kid, I was obsessed with art — to the point of feeling like it was the most important thing in the world.

I believed the act of creativity and self-expression made things better and moved us all forward. Art was everything. But as time went on, and I’ve learned what I’ve learned, done what I’ve done, seen what I’ve seen, I realize that design is actually at the center of everything.

Art exists more at the edges and in the seams. It’s an individual exercise. A private endeavor. Exclusive. Confounding. Ridiculous, at times.

It’s purpose is subjective and not always clear. Design is the opposite of all that. It’s inclusive. Unifying. Clarifying. Helpful. Instructional. Functional. Fundamental.

As the British designer Sir John Sorrell says, ‘Design is problem solving’. Its purpose is to construct, communicate and innovate. Without design, nothing gets made or pushed forward. It’s a necessity, not a luxury.

3. How would you describe your role at Anomaly? What is the mission/intent behind the way Anomaly approaches design?

As Head of Design my focus is on directing design-led projects and accounts, as well as pitching for new business. It’s my responsibility to strengthen and expand the agency’s design capabilities alongside leading and mentoring a team of 14 multi-disciplinary designers, from junior to Design Director level.

Whilst Anomaly integrates design fully into campaign creative development, we believe that its true value is in the creation of brands, identities, products, packaging, visual systems, spaces, experiences — capabilities that push beyond just marketing and comms.

This is important given Anomaly’s mission to be the change agent of the communications industry. Being active in design and IP is one of the main ways we walk our talk and separate from the pack.

Our real intent is to create brands and help brands grow, not just work with ones that already exist. Brands we’ve brought into the world, such as EOS, Gillette Venus, Avec Eric, Naked Turtle and hmbldt, prove that this isn’t just theory, it’s very much a practice — and one that is active and always on. As I speak, we’re testing brand worlds for an exciting new IP project. Stay tuned for that.

4. What’s one thing you believe about design that most others don’t?

I’m not sure if this POV is unique to me, nor all that profound, but I believe that you can’t be a good designer if you’re messy. That may blow up a lot of people’s shit, or just be completely wrong, but to me it’s as antithetical as a dentist with bad teeth or a doctor who smokes.

5. What key problems are often overlooked by design?

Big ones. Things that impact life and death. Things that no one wants to think or talk about, like pollution or climate change. Things that constantly threaten to burst our bubbles on a daily basis, like disease, violence, poverty, injustice, inequality, and racism.

Things that require getting up from behind a computer and working with communities or other disciplines — industrial, architectural, experiential — to make a difference and create change. This isn’t to say design is doing nothing in these spaces, more so that collectively we don’t get our hands dirty enough.

We’re more comfortable dreaming up ways to disrupt first world problems — buying a mattress, ordering food, calling a car, booking accommodation — than throwing ourselves at the really tough stuff. But I think this also stems from the fact that governmental and nonprofit bodies don’t think about how they can harness design enough, if at all.

6. What is the most difficult thing about design?

The fact that it’s not a separate, self-contained thing. It’s tangled up in everything and influences all parts of how things are made or made better. In fact, design only works if it’s integrated. This is something I feel in my day-to-day, doing what I do in the context of branding and advertising. Design blurs with every aspect of the creative process, from idea inception to brand strategy to final production. So it takes a lot of wrangling to keep it flowing the way it should, looping in and out of the process, as opposed to being something that gets briefed once and done once.

This is more intensified at a full-service agency like Anomaly where we truly do it all. Often our scope of work for a brand or campaign covers everything from visual identity to anthem TV to social posts, so the challenge is always ensuring that design is used correctly and understood fully, by everyone, at every step of the way. It’s difficult, but for some strange reason it’s what I thrive on and why I’ve chosen to apply my trade in places like Anomaly, outside of the ‘pure design’ world. I think it sharpens you more to routinely have to champion, guide and rationalize design to people (and clients) who come from different strategic and creative backgrounds, with varying degrees of design literacy. It’s kinda like boot camp for design. I think it’s making me faster, fitter, stronger… Or just really tired.

7. When is design “done”?

8. What does the future of design look like to you?

I don’t think there can be one single answer that covers the gamut of design. Each field is at a different point, heading up/down in varying trajectories. But what’s super interesting to me is how the overall currency and fluency of design is rising with the boom of startups and everyday product innovations.

As disruptive design-led companies continue to find new ways to do old things, I believe that the appreciation and acceptance of good design within mass popular culture also rises as a result.

Design suddenly becomes important and accessible to whole new groups of people as more objects/services are being made with user experience in mind. We’re starting to see this already as more and more of us (not just designers) are coming to expect beautiful look, feel and function from the products in our daily lives. Even if we don’t realize it, intuitively we expect it, want it, and to some extent, can’t get by without it.

I stumbled across another survey of startup businesses conducted by the venture capital firm, NEA. The study found that design is now firmly ingrained as a vital component of company building. The majority of startups consider themselves ‘design-centric’, with a subset taking it a step further by achieving their success through design and a sizable design staff. Along with that, 31% of startups have a designer founder. Oof. That’s an awesome stat and one that I would argue tells us that the future IS design.