Creative Conversations: Emily Macrae + Tony Brook
“If I can’t be a rock star I’ll be a graphic designer.” Tony Brook and YGX Emily Macrae talk about their ziggity-zaggity lives in today’s Creative Conversation, originally published in the YGX Annual.
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Emily Macrae: Was there a particular piece of design that inspired you to become a designer?
Tony Brook: I didn’t realize that I wanted to be a designer necessarily. I started collecting very early on and it was all graphic design based. So the first thing I collected was stamps, as people often do. I found I had a very opinionated view of what I should collect and not collect. I wasn’t collecting for monetary value, I was collecting them based on what they looked like, so things that visually appealed to me. That was my first design epiphany. When I started to take an interest in art I was very lucky. My teacher during junior school used to send me out on the playground to do drawing during math because he really thought I had some talent. He was really wonderful and he taught me an awful lot. So there came a point when I was leaving school and I had done well in art all the way through school. I was trying to think about what to do and college seemed like a really good option, but my mum sat me down and said, “Have you ever thought of being a commercial artist?” which is what they were called then.
Then I started thinking about all the records sleeves I’d got and you know again there was an epiphany. So that really excited me. So I thought that I won’t be designing ads, but record sleeves. I thought that was incredibly exciting. So I went to college for that. But even that was a bit of a ziggity-zaggity kind of route. It wasn’t straight forward. Because I was good at illustration they took me in and I thought that’s what I wanted to do for a long time. So it’s really odd that I went to college for illustration, but the entire time I was gravitating towards type. I just realized that’s what I want to do, I wanted to do design. The college actually threatened to kick me out because at that point I was doing illustration and photography, both reasonably well, and they said that I had to do one of those two, not graphic design. But I had made up my mind at that point. I’d seen some wonderful work from Studio Dunbar and knew that I wanted to be a designer. I called the school and told them that they were going to have to kick me out because I wanted to be a designer, so they relented and took me on.
Emily: That is really interesting. I wasn’t really aware that design existed during my childhood. The moment for me was when I noticed David Carson’s record sleeve for Nine Inch Nail’s The Fragile. It came out when I was a young teenager. That’s when I thought if I can’t be a rock star I would be a graphic designer.
Tony: I was nearly a rock star as well.
Tony: Not really. In the same way that you were. I was in a punk band called The Generators. I’ve never admitted this before. We used to have our practice in this run down house next to a mortuary. So it was like waking the dead. So did you ever get to play in front of an audience?
Emily: Yeah. We were an all girl band and were well called Permafrost, which is a lot worse than The Generators. There’s student competition in New Zealand called The Rock Quest and we won the Wellington heat.
Tony: You’re way ahead of me. All we did was practice for months and months and months. We got a whole set together. Then eventually we just stopped doing it and split. Then next day we got a gig, but we had sold all of our equipment.
Emily: You could have been a rock star. You were so close.
Tony: I could have been. I think I got the better deal being a designer.
Emily: So when you set up Spin where there any unexpected challenges?
Tony: Oh, just about everything. That is a really difficult question to answer because there were literally so many things that I had absolutely no clue about. I was really fortunate in that my partner Trish had done a course in Fashion Management and that’s an easily transferable skill. Having her with me meant that it was so much easier than it would have otherwise been. But we still made horrendous mistakes. Like with every design studio, life can be precarious. You can have fantastic times and think this is brilliant and its going to be like this forever and then it suddenly goes down and you’re wondering if you’re going to survive.
Emily: I heard that the studio got so big that you didn’t know what to do with it.
Tony: There was one point that it really did get me down that it was so big. And it was not something I was familiar with. I had never worked in big companies and I just didn’t understand it anymore. I felt like the Queen walking around saying, “And what do you do?”. That’s what it was like. Literally I didn’t know what people were doing from one minute to the next. Be careful what you wish for.
There was a point that I wrote down all these clients that we wanted to work for, all these gigantic clients. And then we ended up working for a lot of them and it really wasn’t what you would imagine it would be. It wasn’t great. I am much much happier where I am now. It just feels like a really nice place to be.