Q&A with Nicki Wragg

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Who are you as a designer and what is your history?

  • Nicki Wragg
  • Design and Media Program Director for Swinburne Online
  • Senior Lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology

My mother was a sculptor and I was brought up in an artistic household. My father was an engineer and as such was very logical, methodical and stable. This juxtaposition of the eclectic and the logical has very much shaped my approach to design and design education.

My belief that anything is possible stems from my childhood where holidays were spent at the family business spray-painting tricycles and stapling fish lures onto lure cards. It was common to come home and find my mother had invented new uses for the vacuum cleaner (using it to heat up a forge for bending steel) or redesigning the interior (our playroom became a photography darkroom).

While my parents were both so different they worked well together and complimented each other’s skills. Mum would often make sculptures that wouldn’t fit through the door. Rather than knocking down the walls, Dad would develop solutions that would leave the house intact and not compromise the sculptures. In this environment, my belief that the impossible is possible was fostered and is a quality that I endeavour to instil in my students.

Today I am senior lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology and served as a Director on the board of the Australian Graphic Design Association from 2011 - 2015. In 2013 I was seconded to Swinburne Online, charged with the responsibility of taking Swinburne University of Technology’s renowned Bachelor of Design (Communication Design) program and translating an experiential studio based program to one that is delivered fully online to online.

Who (or what) inspires you?

Possibility inspires me. People inspire me. Ideas drive me. I love connections and networks. I am in awe of people who can cut through clutter to understand complex concepts and can identify and analyse situations quickly. I have always taken time to digest information and when people can do this quickly…it’s a real talent.

The absurd inspires me, which goes back to the notion of possibility. Living in a multi generational home provides plenty of fodder for ideation. The age span in our house ranges from 11 years old to 80 years old and navigating this requires very clever diplomatic skills.

How did you get your first break?

I graduated in the late 1980s when Australia went into the recession ‘we had to have’. There was a lot of work (short term positions) if you wanted it. I thrived in this environment as I made connections, freelanced and found work in a number of roles that allowed me to experience different areas of design.

I was one of the early adopters of the Apple Macintosh Computer. My first real job was at the Australian Jewish Newspaper where I managed the introduction of the Macintosh into the traditional typesetting area. During this time I was working in the newspaper, navigating the old and the new. True to the times, this job lasted nine months. Luckily because I was proficient technologically at a time where digital design was still very new, I was able to walk into a job the next day and commence work in a more tradition graphic design studio, where I worked in brand strategy and identity design. From there I have continued my work in publishing, magazine design and creative direction. From the outset, my roles always involved management or creative direction and so, working in a variety of areas and freelancing I was able to attain a level of seniority in design relatively quickly.

Returning to education was a natural progression for me where I could use my creative direction skills and forge connections between education and industry. I taught Graphic Design at the University of Melbourne into the Education program. Loving the absurd, I answered an advertisement in 1998 calling for a Senior Graphic Designer developing educational aids for the Media Centre at the University of South Pacific, Fiji.

The rest is quite literally history – politics influenced my return to Australia. When the Fiji coup occurred in 2000, I returned to complete my Maters in Multimedia Design at Swinburne University of Technology. That same year I commenced working at Swinburne and continue to do so, dividing my time between Swinburne Online and the on campus Honours program.

Tell us what you’re currently working on?

I’m currently working on shaping my students into the designers of tomorrow. I work for Swinburne, both on campus and online. At Swinburne I am in charge of the final Honours experience. For Swinburne Online I am the current Program Director of Communication Design and Media. We have been working in translating an experiential design program in to a fully online program. It is an exciting time, as our first cohorts of online students will be graduating March next year. Within delivering the design program online we teach the traditions but in a new way that integrates the networked technologies of the day. Students still have to draw, mock up work and develop physical prototypes but we also aim to prepare our students to work and pitch work remotely by including transferable technology and motion skills. In three years we have developed a series of 180 videos and tools that explore all aspects of design including the fundamentals, strategy, taking briefs, technical skills, working collaboratively and interview process. The lovely thing about the work with Swinburne Online has been to celebrate the knowledge of the Swinburne Communication Design staff through video development. To be able to capture that knowledge from staff, who have or are soon retiring) and pay tribute their teaching and design philosophy has been really exciting.

On campus my honours students are working on a major typography project for the International Society of Typographic Designers (ISTD). This is an annual project that is benchmarked globally and produces some excellent concepts and typographic expression.

Working in the two spaces, physical and online has bought together the elements of my life. Making Communication Design education online possible has required my teaching experience in Honours, my knowledge of the industry, my passion for ideas and connections and the firm belief that anything is indeed possible.

Ricky Mutsaers