Designers, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Daniel Agostino, Head of Design at The Brand Agency

September 3, 2019

Daniel Agostino is the Head of Design at The Brand Agency, where he heads up a team of nine specialist designers, overseeing all design work from concept through to production.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am the Head of Design at The Brand Agency here in Perth. I run one of the largest design teams in Western Australia with ten multidisciplinary designers and a team of five specialised artworkers.

I trained as a graphic designer and art director just over twenty years’ ago and have seen plenty of evolution and advancement within our industry over that time.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I’ll use the cliché of ‘every day is completely different’. I hate saying that.

It usually starts with one of my three boys waking up well before they should. I’m tired. My wife is tired. So, we usually prioritise the coffee machine as our first stop.

From then on there is a busy mix of getting kids ready for school or day care, the breakfast feeding frenzy, getting dressed and preventing the argument most parents fear most, “how come he got the blue spoon and I didn’t”.

Workwise, there’s a little more structure. We try and begin most days with a morning huddle so that everyone starts off on the right foot.

There’s a lot of work that comes through the system all at different stages – briefings, ideation, meetings, presentations – so we are constantly talking to each other or checking in as to where each project is sitting along their timeframes.

Communication is key.

As there’s never a quiet moment during the day, I’ve started to make the most of my commute to and from work. Here I can take a few precious minutes to tune out, listen to a podcast, or just sit in silence and watch the world go by.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I have a five-year-old son and two-year old twin boys, so the sheer idea of work-life balance is a completely fluid concept.

I am lucky to have a very flexible employer who is understanding of the pressures of a young family. I don’t think I’d be able to achieve as much without that level of support.

I take the same attitude with my staff. In managing the team, I think it’s important to make sure that they can also share in that flexibility.

Nowadays, it doesn’t matter where people work from and we can all work remotely when required. I guess, that’s also the benefit of the creative process being a somewhat fluid process.

A good idea doesn’t just happen within the hours of 9 ‘til 5. Plus, I’d rather my staff have the opportunity to work in the comfort of their own home, rather than burn the midnight oil in the office.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I’m probably not the best person to ask about time management, but I have started to implement some very simple practices within my day-to-day that I find help.

Two simple things that work for me are:

Write everything down. From simple ideas and concepts around design projects, to things I’ve said that bring purpose and structure to a project, or even my daily ‘to do’ list.

I can then continually refer back to it when things are chaotic, and I don’t have to try and keep everything in my head. There’s a beauty to physically writing things down.

It makes you more present, unlike quickly typing something into another online time management tool that can easily be forgotten.

Set boundaries with time. I block out time in my daily calendar every day to achieve some of the things on my list. People can’t book me for meetings or cut in to my time.

Nowadays, we are always ‘switched on’ to something so I need to be able to set parameters of when I am available and when I am not.

I understand that everyone is busy in their own way and we are all juggling so many roles and tasks every day. Every moment counts so be as efficient and effective with your time, and others’, as you can.

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For me this again comes down to flexibility. Making sure that I can split my time evenly between the commitments of a busy work life, and even busier family life. And somewhere in there, ensuring I make some time for myself.

The last point is key. If I can’t make time to do the things that I enjoy most then I’m not as productive, positive or open minded as I can be. It makes a huge difference.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

My old boss would always say, ‘pick your battles’. As a designer, I think this is really important. We always want to refine something or are continually looking for a solution to a problem.

Sometimes we just need to switch off or draw the line in the sand and prioritise what’s important.

I’ve also had to learn to delegate and say ‘no’ more often. This gives me the time to prioritise and focus on what’s really important and what isn’t.

And importantly, make space. It’s hard to think creatively in an environment surrounded by chaos. They say, ‘you need silence in order to make music’. Giving yourself a few minutes of nothingness can help create an open mind.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Not really. There are so many books in this space, but I try and avoid them.

A few years back somebody bought me the book, Superteams: The Secrets of Stellar Performance from Seven Legendary Teams.

It sounds a bit ‘epic’ from the title but for some reason it sticks in my mind. It’s written by Khoi Tu, a leadership and teamwork consultant who has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands and celebrities.

It was a little thought-provoking and made some interesting connections.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Other than caffeine, I try and make every little moment count. There is never enough time in the day, everyone says that nowadays. So, I think we need to make the most out every minute and be as effective and efficient as possible.

Interestingly, while I’m not a huge fan of time wasting, I do make sure we make time to have a laugh around the office or at home. I’d rather people remember those moments, rather than when life was frantically busy.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

A couple of years’ ago when the twins were born, life was chaos. We were running of no sleep at home, work was busy, and my wife and I were trying to juggle things the best we could. It was tough.

Someone told me, ‘things never get easier, you just get better.’ This is the best advice I’ve ever received. And to this day it still sticks.

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