Interview with 21-19 (first published on Australian INfront) – As a part of Australian INfront’s Studio profiles INfront founders Domenico Bartolo and myself chat it out.

Founded by designers Ryan Guppy and Domenico Bartolo, 21-19 is an award winning design and communications agency based in Melbourne, Australia. Working both locally and internationally our intent is to partner with business to establish powerful communications and brand identities.

21-19’s extensive team boasts experience across a broad range of disciplines including print, broadcast, digital and environmental design. We are uniquely positioned to build strong brand stories that can be translated across a range of visual mediums; partnering the latest technology with experience and expertise.

31/120 Cambridge Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
+61 3 9417 3111

What does 21-19 (the business name) stand for?

Everyone always asks us ‘what does 21-19 stand for?’. We love that the name generates such curiosity. People tend come up with some great theories when guessing what it could mean. Needless to say it is certainly an icebreaker. For those who want to know, feel free to ask us in person when you see us and we’ll be more than happy to reveal the answer in person.

What kind of work you guys do, and what kind of philosophy do you guys apply to your work?

21-19 is a design agency with a specific focus on brand communications. We look at everything brand related from brand strategy to brand identity, to campaigns and everything else that rolls out as a consequence of expressing a brand.

Philosophically we approach all of our work the same way – through inquiry and research we immerse ourselves in clients businesses in order to gain a strategic understanding of where they have been, where they are at, and where they want to go. Designers are often guilty of focusing on finish line – instead we place our attention at the origin of the journey, and seek to exploit the opportunities that problem solving explores. In this way, we believe our work is characterised by the unique characteristics of each client we work for.

We experience the greatest reward from projects which allow ideas to be expressed through different mediums, from print and environmental works, to digital, tv and film related works. The agency was established for this purpose.

Both myself and Ryan Guppy (Co-Founder) we’re working in respective design industries where we solely focused on singular mediums. Our desire was to create a design agency that could truly offer clients the ability to develop brand communications that retained their strength and intergrity as they rolled out through various media.

Who makes up the 21-19 team?

21-19 is the brainchild of Co-Creative Director’s Ryan Guppy and Domenico Bartolo.

The studio is made up of a team of 6 experienced full time designers and 2 part time administration managers. Of course, that team is supplemented by a handful very talented regular freelancers and collaborators.

Describe the office space you work in.

We’ve been located in Collingwood, Victoria since the inception of the business. The area is renown for being a hub of design with over 1000 design studios listed at the last count. We work in a converted warehouse space – that’s part of the original 1900’s Foy & Gibson complex of buildings. Office is located on level 2 of our building which offers a great view over Collingwood and the city.

Our office space is open plan with a dedicated space for out table tennis table.

Locations – you were originally Sydney based, why Melbourne?

Yes, I grew up in Sydney and began life as a designer after graduating from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales. I remained in Sydney until I was 26. At the time I was co-creative director at Engine and despite loving my job and my life in Sydney, I had a burning desire to experience life overseas with my girlfriend. I had this romantic idea of myself wandering down a European street with a loaf of bread under one arm and foreign newspaper under the other. The question of course was where to go?

As this was a life experience motivated move as opposed to a career path we tried to pick a place that would offer us a unique cultural experience. Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Berlin, London? It was an exciting prospect. In the end, we chose Amsterdam. The Netherlands seemed like the best place to position ourselves. Amsterdam is an incredibly beautiful city and the Netherlands has an amazing history of design.

I lived and worked as an independent designer and director for several years. It was a fantastic period of time, which enabled me to work for clients both in London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam.

It was in Amsterdam that I reconnected with my now business partner Ryan Guppy. I had been asked to pitch on designing the brand identity for MTV’s new music video channel VH2. It was a massive opportunity and a hotly contested competitive pitch – there were 8 companies in London vying for the work! I asked Ryan if he would like to partner with me on the project – we of course won the job and 21-19 was born.

What do you think of Australian design, where it was, where it is right now and where it’s going.

I am as deeply passionate about Australian design as I was in the days of establishing The Australian INfront with Justin Fox.

Is it necessary to define Australian design? I certainly think it’s important to document it and celebrate it which is why I think organisations such as AGDA are so important. Perhaps definitions are best reserved and formed by those minds who cast their attention through the history annuals of Australian design. Defining movements and styles from a unique perspective that only time can afford.

In my mind Australian design is and always will be incredibly diverse and rich.

I’m conscious of the enormous wealth of talented designers and creatives we have in this country and for me the most exciting prospect we share is the opportunity to collaborate with one another.

Inspiration and drive – where does it come from?

Honestly I think that we are motivated by a deep desire to connect with people.

Good design enables this. This is what inspires me – the cut through – the inescapable pull and appeal of design that speaks directly to our souls and whispers intimately to us like a truth we’ve known our entire lives.

I love the idea that design can draw two strangers inexplicably closer together through understanding and meaning.

What is the company most proud of?

Our favourite project is always the next project – not just because we love the challenge that the unknown represents, but because we are still students of design and every project offers us the chance to continue to learn.

What has been some of your biggest challenges as a team, and how did you overcome them.

The constant challenge we face is where to have lunch. Scissor paper rock works well in dealing with this problem.

Apart from that we’re constantly asking ourselves; ‘is the internet slow today?’ and finding ourselves tormented by the question; ‘what is art?’.

Coffee, ping pong, hugs, beer and music get us through each day.

Future goals.

We’re looking to purchase our own building in the not to distant future. The goal – creating our own Kessel Kramer-esque studio with a team of design ninja ping pong warriors.

Words of wisdom.

The other day Creative Review tweeted to followers to respond with the best bit of design advice they had ever heard of. One I liked was from Craig Frazier; “Design isn’t about what something looks like, it’s about what people think when they see it”.

It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Albert Szent-Gyorgyi; a hungarian bio-chemist who discovered the role of Vitamin C, he said: “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought”.

If I was to impart you with my own words, I’d suggest that you do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do.