Jim Antonopoulus

A Conversation with Jim Antonopoulos

G’day Jim! How about we start with a little intro?

Jim: Hi Darshan! OK. I’m a father of 3 amazing children. I live in Melbourne. I used to say that I worked in Melbourne too, but I now have students from all around the world, so…technically I work ‘from’ Melbourne.

I run The Strategy Masterclass and also run a thriving weekly journal for the creative community on my site.

I’m extremely passionate about teaching and sharing as much as I can of what I’ve learned in my career, with people within our industry. Put simply, I believe in mentorship, doing meaningful work for good people and always — always — providing value. I started out in my career in 1990 and worked in technology, digital, strategy and design roles.

I currently own a strategic-design firm – TANK in Melbourne, and we have approximately 20 people including all of our collaborative partners.

TANK
TANK

You started working professionally in the design industry since 1990, that’s even before I was born. How has the design scene progressed so far?

Jim: It is an understatement to say that the world has changed significantly since 1990 — let alone the design profession. In my career there have been 3 recessions, the transition to desktop publishing, the rise of the internet, mobile technology and the rest. Internet of Things, VR, Beyonce… etc. etc. 🙂

When I first graduated from high school, I went straight into working as an Illustrator / Designer because the universities I applied for didn’t accept me. I eventually was accepted and graduated an Advertising / Marketing degree. I never worked in Advertising (uuggh), but worked in technology, internet / web and strategy for a long time until joining Tank in 2007. Yes, the changes are too many to name.

You’re not that regular design director, you’re very opinionated and selective about the work you do. Could you tell us about some troubles you face for not being the stereotype?

Jim: HA! Yes, I respected people’s opinions and I also have my own. We don’t have to agree with one another, but that’s OK because we’re adults, mature and professional enough to respect one another’s opinions. Yes?

I’m happy to put my opinion forward and in some ways this has worked in my favour.

Here are some opinions I’ve spoken about publicly and the reaction I’ve had from them,

•  Most Marketing Directors don’t know shit about marketing in a 2017 world.
Reaction: After presenting on this at a Melbourne-based Tech festival, I had 3 Marketing Directors call me for a meeting because they vehemently agreed with me. I now have 2 new clients and one almost there.

• . Rattle the Cage.
Reaction: I wrote about our creative community needing to rattle the cage of convention in their day-to-day. Not to accept ‘the way things have been always done’. I have received over 65 emails from this article alone, since it was published a few months ago.

• . Why we don’t work for free.
Reaction: I wrote this article in 2015 and posted it on my journal in April 2016. It has been published in industry publications and many other design agencies have used it as inspiration for their own manifesto as to why they won’t participate in free or paid pitches. Since writing this article, I am no longer invited to participate in free or paid pitches (thank fuck for that) and when I am, I simply write a polite email asking them to read the article.

Your Journal, wherein you send out weekly blog posts and share your 25+ years of experience in design, is something that I’m very fond of and read regularly. How did it all start?

Jim: A year or so ago, I felt that I should be giving back more to younger people in our industry. In my time, I’ve mentored a lot of people and have also served on various industry association boards — but providing value in the form of frank, honest and transparent insight was sorely missing from the design landscape. At least as far as I could see.

So, on March 1, 2016, I wrote my first post and followed it up every Tuesday since. The private list of subscribers receives the new post in their inbox every Tuesday with some missives and insights in the email which other people don’t necessarily get to read. This private list also receives early access and notifications of any products or initiatives I’m part of.

Jim's Journal – The Business of Creativity
Jim’s Journal – The Business of Creativity

Your other side-hustle – The Strategy Masterclass, what do you intend to do with it? And whom would you recommend it to?

Jim: I launched The Strategy Masterclass this year in January and I have received very positive feedback from the first batch of 50+ students. I saw an opportunity to teach my 25+ years of strategy experience to people who worked in strategic roles. Designers, UX Designers, Art Directors, Developers, Architects, Marketing and Brand Managers — and Strategists.

Most people think that they’re doing strategy when in fact they’re actually only executing on a tactic.

Most also become confused at a juncture (or failure) and forget the connection between good strategy and leadership. All of the above, a human-centred methodology and some key principles and assets has come together to form the first iteration of this course.

I have long term plans for it,

•  The course will close in June and I won’t be taking on any new students. Existing students will continue to have unlimited access as I add updates and new modules to it.

•  The private Slack community has proven successful and I’ll keep that running for as long as students get value from it.

•  I’ll relaunch the course later in the year with a different pricing structure to acknowledge the added content.

•  When buying the course, all students have unlimited access to it. There are no time limits like many other online courses.

•  I recently began running a series of beginner workshops in Melbourne which have been fun — and they’ve also provided attendees a good glimpse as to what is in the course. I’ll continue these.

•  I’m putting an eBook together, which will launch soon. Not specifically on strategy but something connected to it.

In a nutshell, I’m invested in it and will keep it running for as long as there is value in it.

The Strategy Masterclass
The Strategy Masterclass

You seem to have deep affection for self-taught and passionate designers. You also strongly believe in the culture of mentoring. What according to you could be a road-block for this culture to flourish?

Jim: I have much respect for those people who are proactive learners and self-teach themselves new skills. I believe it is the truest sign of the entrepreneur — to be able to learn something new and take it as far as they can, towards launch, on that learning.

Mentoring for me has been the key to pushing my career forward. I lacked for meaningful mentoring relationships when I was younger and my career really was pushed forward because of two things,

1.  My ability to invest in myself and teach myself new skills.

2.  My ability to connect with people and proactively maintain a mentor / mentee relationship with them over the years.

The only roadblock I see is the ones you would create for yourself.

All those who’ve read your articles know that how much do you care for your kids and the family as a whole. Any memories with them that you could point to that made you an even better designer?

Jim: Having children has been the single greatest thing I’ve done in my life and I’m grateful and lucky enough to have experienced it 3 times with my 3 children. Being a father has taught me more about manhood than anything else has in my life and as far as my career goes, it runs a very distant fourth or fifth on a list of things that prioritise my health, my children and my relationship at home.

They have given me a perspective in that ‘work’ is there to serve me and my goals — and the moment it ceases to do that, I cut it lose and look elsewhere.

Jim at Squarespace
Jim at Squarespace

Most designers seem to be very energetic at the start of a new project, but they soon saturate as the project progresses. What do you think is important for one to remain energetic throughout the project?

Jim: The Designer who saturates as the project progresses’ is the weakest form of Designer in my opinion.

Coming up with ideas is easy — executing on them and seeing them through is what separates good from great.

How is the design scene in Melbourne? Is it supportive of the outsiders and promotes cross-culture?

Jim: Melbourne is a thriving creative city. The creative scene here is second-to-none. There are networking opportunities galore and each week there are a handful of events to choose from.

The corporate world has certainly embraced the need for design thinking and practices that bring innovation teams to the fore of product and service development.

Saying that, design vocabulary isn’t in the mainstream and isn’t something you hear a lot of, outside of the profession and broader business circles.

Any advice for the young designers out there who would like to self-learn and be a good designer?

Jim:

•  Don’t ever stop learning

•  Connect with people and learn from one another

•  Teach everything you know

•  Invest in yourself

•  Be clear on your goal


Rapid Fire Round

Strategy is _____ and plan is ______.
Strategy is a coherent plan of action to solve a problem and plan is a coherent list of tasks within a strategy.

Funniest thing your kids told you in the recent times?
“Dad, what if Beyonce was our mum? … “.

Design will be doomed if _______.
We don’t stop challenging the status quo and innovating our profession.

Culture is as important to design as ______ to _______.
The Force is to Luke Skywalker.

Blogs that you often read?
To be honest, I don’t read a lot of blogs — I turn to the usuals from time to time. Co.Create, Inc.com, McKinsey Insights and Colossal for some left-of-centre inspiration.

If Jim wasn’t a designer, he would be _____.
A stay at home Father.

Favorite cities in the world apart from Melbourne?
Athens without a doubt.

Movies that probably had an effect on the way you perceive things?
‘The Name of the Rose’ and ‘Cosmos’ opened my eyes and showed me the power of asking questions — both in very different ways.

Favorite products?
At the moment I’m intrigued by Tiller. I’m exploring Spark and even though I’m not a user, I’v been watching the stock price of Facebook climb and climb and climb over the last two years.

Darshan is _____.
One very clever and driven individual.


Jim is the go-to guy for those seeking to learn and understand the role of strategy in design or a product for that matter. He has always believed in learning and sharing what he has learned. I’ve been a regular reader of Jim’s articles ever since I’ve subscribed to his weekly Journal. And there’s one thing about his journal that I can vouch for – I’ve learned whole lot about strategy from his journal alone than from tons of scattered articles on the internet.

It’s amazing how Jim has been in the industry for 25+ years now and seen the design space grow from its very inception, and yet never stopped learning. Truly, the bigger you get, the more humble you become.

Jim’s website – The Business of Creativity can be visited here. Join The Strategy Masterclass here and take a look at the workshops he has lined up for you here. Jim is active on Twitter as well, you can tweet him @jimantonopoulos


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