10 Apr Interview with Alex Donne Johnson
Prepare to be dazzled with Alex Donne Johnson,
Creative Director of Dazzle Ship
Gold in Main Title Design 2018
by Christina Lauren | 10 April, 2019
“Take all advice with a pinch of salt, just get on with it, and figure out what works,” is a mantra Alex Donne Johnson, Creative Director of Dazzle Ship, finds worth repeating to others. In the fast-paced realm of graphic design, opinions and advice are a dime a dozen, and talent’s like Johnson know how to stay ahead of the game. After all, the lead of the design and motion agency with clients such as Bloomberg, WaterAid, and the Drone Racing League, began dazzling audiences at the mere age of 15.
How was this possible at such a young age? “I started off a small subculture of people who created fan sites and communities online, most of which are now long forgotten. I was heavily into Flash at the time and loved using it to make short films and websites in my bedroom,” says Johnson. “There was something about the whole culture that really grabbed me, it was a DIY mentality that made its own rules and created its own ecosystem,” says Johnson. In an artistic realm where rules are made to be broken, the graphics talent took to the grassroots approach of design. In other words, “It felt like an area where the rules weren’t yet written, and you could create your own blueprint. From here I spent a lot of time teaching myself design and creating small projects with the aim of progressing my skills,” he says.
Johnson’s approach to design is simple. In describing his process, the rep for Dazzle Ship states: “I like to simplify complex topics into narratives. All the projects I am most proud of involve taking something that people aren’t widely familiar with and presenting them in a way that is exciting and accessible,” says the graphic designer. And how does one achieve this goal? Easy, he implies, as “this was the approach for a lot of my early work when it involved translating music genres such as Grime, into the digital world back in 2001— it’s the thing we get the [best] feedback from at Dazzle Ship,” he says. In addition, “We’ve done a lot of work for WaterAid that involves communicating technical subjects revolving around clean water and sanitation that need to be put into layman’s terms for different audiences and cultures.” Interesting, and the designer seems to think so too, adding— “This is where I think the most interesting challenges can be found, [and] I think it’s really interesting to find [a new] niche and take it down an un-trodden path. There are no rules there and much more room for experimentation which can lead to innovative results,” he says.
When it comes to external influence, Johnson transforms the negative into a positive for the greater good. “I’d say the biggest influence has definitely been negative learning experiences. You can learn so much more from mistakes, both yours and other people’s rather than when everything is going smoothly. For this reason, I think it’s important to find ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” the graphics guru tells all. “I think it’s easier to go right to the edge of what’s possible, and dial it back, rather than be indecisive and not even approach the edge,” the designer tells all. You don’t learn anything that way,” continues the branding expert. And while this may seem like a simple approach, the brander’s current fascinations are a little more complex. What feeds into your work at the moment? — Indigo asks. Currently, “Mathematics, geometry, and patterns all have me hooked right now. I’d like to push things in a more organic direction though,” says Johnson. And we’ll just have to wait and see just what he means by that.
The steps taken by Dazzle Ship’s Creative Director to define his skillset boil down to one simple way of living. “Distilling the brief into the core elements and finding ways to abstract them,” is one strategy Johnson employs to achieve his goal. In addition to a personal regime that helps maintain focus and stay creative under pressure, the artist turns to nature. “Lately I’ve changed a lot of my lifestyle that allows me to perform better with work. I stepped up the exercise routines, refined my diet/nutrition, [am turning] to nature more often and [am employing] various other healthy habits. I feel this makes me so much more focused and productive,” he says. To blow off a little steam when not working, Johnson enjoys various pastimes such as cruising the world and playing tourist, snapping photographs and caring for dogs that aren’t even his own. Apparently, the artist greatly cares for a pet known as “Hendrix’, that’s not even mine,” he says, and if that isn’t sweet, we don’t know what is.
A clear mind and a healthy attitude are crucial when it comes to dealing with harsh criticism and client feedback. “I truly believe that feedback is an important part of the process, you are providing a service and if the work isn’t doing the desired the job then it needs to be scrutinized,” says Johnson. However, I wouldn’t say this ‘harsh criticism’ is something that has happened often, as the process we use involves managing expectations every step of the way. There are rarely surprises that would result in harsh criticism, as the idea is communicated as clearly as possible from the start through the treatment, references, and collaborating on the development process,” says the design specialist.
An in the case of a disagreement? Indigo asks Johnson of an example in which he handled not-so-nice feedback. What’s the best way to deal with such a situation? “I think it’s important to try and dissolve this illusion of the boundary between client/supplier. If you can take the time to understand each other, then you can make sure you both have the same goals [which] leads to much more open discussions about projects with better results,” Johnson says. “From here you can enter into a relationship of true collaboration and after that, disagreements shouldn’t be a big deal. If you have an opinion on some feedback,” the artist continues, “then it’s important to raise it so that both parties can look at it more objectively, as long as you feel you can reach a conclusion together… All of the best projects in the portfolio are much less about the idea/execution and more about the collaborative relationship with the client,” he says.
Who knew that social media could hinder design trends? According to the artist: “It’s impossible not to see the latest design trends, as they are all around us, especially in the age of social media. However, I think it’s important not to follow these too closely [as] trends get outdated increasingly quick,” he says. I think it’s much better to just focus on the work you want to create, regardless of whether it’s ‘on trend’. That way you stand a much better chance of setting trends, which is much more desirable,” Johnson says, and we couldn’t agree more.
With regards to upcoming creativity, what can we expect from Dazzle Ship in the near future? “Lately my goal is to focus more on the present, so to me that means continuous progress to refine my skills, [as well as further] development of Dazzle Ship’s team and offering,” Johnson says. Lastly, what does the creative mind enjoy most about his work, we ask? “Solving problems, working in teams [and] working with people that are better than me!” To learn more about the brains behind the enterprise, visit www.dazzleship.com.