Design Diaspora: Derek Flynn

Monthly Picks

1st March 2013
by David Smith

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On a recent trip to Toronto, David Smith caught up with one of his ex-students, Derek Flynn who currently works as an intermediate designer for highly respected practice — Bruce Mau Design. This is the first in a series of interviews 100 is conducting with Irish designers working internationally.

Why Toronto? It’s not one of the usual destinations for the Irish creative diaspora
I actually ended up in Toronto by accident. Montreal was my first choice but starting a career there proved difficult. Working in another language was challenging. I moved to Toronto after six months as it presented way more opportunity.

And BMD? Was it always a first choice and ambition to work here?
It was my first choice for Toronto. I always admired BMD’s pure and meaningful work. I had an excitement that anything could be possible at BMD. Their philosophy and multi-disciplinary approach, combined with global clients, was all appealing.

BMD Culture? Relaxed, collaborative, different to your experiences elsewhere?
The studio is quite unique where we design at every scale and across all mediums, from identities to digital experiences to physical environments. While these practices exist, this is my first experience of this kind. The culture is calm and positive, perhaps a reflection of the Canadian outlook. The studio is open to expression and opinion. There is the thought that everyone is a leader. By nature we are very collaborative — our team comprises of graphic designers, architects, writers, a biologist and managers with various backgrounds in fine arts, multi-media, advertising and film.

Irish designer or just “designer”?
I would likely say designer as it’s free from extra labels (my accent will likely say I’m Irish). The term designer is broad and I like that. At BMD, you could have a degree in biology, but you are called a designer. But I am extremely proud to be an Irish/European designer.

Do your Irish experiences make a difference or help distinguish you from your Canadian peers?
The multi-disciplinary approach at IADT (Vis Comm) gave me a great base to pursue any field of graphic design. The invaluable training equipped me with tools to work in both print and motion graphics. This has helped me to seek out a position that may differentiate me from my peers. And of course, being a designer from Europe I naturally have been exposed to different influences and sensibilities to my Canadian and North American colleagues.

Do you keep an eye on what is happening in Irish design? Are your colleagues interested in European design?
I would imagine any smart designer around the world is interested in European design. The last three people hired at BMD for senior positions (one senior designer, two associate creative directors) are all European, so European design definitely plays a factor here, either directly or indirectly.

Quite regularly I like to check in on Irish design. I am interested to see how the economic downturn in Ireland is affecting the industry and how Irish designers creatively face these challenges. My colleague from Sweden was telling me that he read an article in a Swedish magazine about greats things coming out of Ireland as a result of the economic collapse. I was proud.

Are your Canadian colleagues active in promoting and celebrating their design culture? How?
Yes they are very active. Last year, BMD curated an interactive exhibition titled Bureau of Doing Something Abut It in a space in downtown Toronto where the public were invited to express their annoyances or gripes and turn their problems into possibilities. Over the course of 12 days, BMD addressed these complaints in a creative and open source manner – the process was very much live and public. It inspired people to become involved and active, demonstrating that anyone can make a difference and that any one can be a designer.

Canadian graphic designers you admire? Name three!
Bruce Mau (of course)
Studio Feed have a beautiful flair to their work, especially their typography style
Also Paprika

Irish Graphic designers you admire? Name three!
David Smith (of course)
Conor and David (ed – check out their OFFSET talk from last year)
And Synth Eastwood always produce interesting events

One piece of Irish Graphic design / or designer that inspired you?
I remember being totally inspired by Niall Sweeney’s presentation Niall Weeney & The Story of O at the Sugar Club in Dublin. The fusion of work, stories and performance were both captivating and clever. (ed – Niall closed the OFFSET show at OFFSET 2012)

How does BMD archive and record its projects? Is there a project archivist?
We don’t have a project archivist. That responsibility lies with the lead designer of the project. Each project has its job number. We have two servers. One for current projects, the other is for archiving projects. Each project gets a cake box thats stores any printed material or significant collateral; inspiration, presentations etc… Books we designed are shelved at the front of our studio.

All images © Bruce Mau Design, from their Behance profile.

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