Creative Directors, Designers, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Duncan Dix, Freelance Creative Director

August 21, 2019

Duncan Dix is a D&AD and Cannes Lions awarded Creative Director who has been working across film, commercial & experience for over a decade.

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

I grew up in Leeds in the UK, home of the (once) great Leeds United and some heroic Aussie footballers. I’ve always had a passion for design, so once I finished school I moved to Bristol and gained a degree in Graphic Design from the University of the West of England.

During my degree, I began specialising in motion design – although the term didn’t exist yet. It was around 2005 and it seemed like a smart move as demand for moving image work was growing exponentially with the rise of handheld devices and web-based video.

The move paid off with a job as a Broadcast Designer at Bristol-based design studio BDH.

It was a brilliant place to cut my teeth working on some incredible projects from David Attenborough’s Blue Planet to Wonders Of The Universe with Brian Cox. I owe a lot to that job, I had some great mentors and was given a huge amount of creative freedom.

I came over to Sydney for the first time in 2010 where I had a stint at the National Geographic Channel before moving back to the UK to begin freelancing in London. I freelanced at a wide range of places from Post Houses, Agencies, TV Networks & Design Studios.

I spent a number of years working on film projects with Territory Studios in London, it was a great place to be, with a fantastic atmosphere full of passion for doing great work.

I returned to Sydney in 2016 and began specialising in experience projects, working with Spinifex Group on Vivid projections for the Opera House and MCA. I also do a lot of automotive projects for the Geneva, Shanghai and Detroit auto shows.

My most recent project for the Opera House was Badu Gilli undertaken for design studio Vandal. The projection brings to life the work of six First Nations artists. It can be seen daily at 7 pm on the Eastern sails of the Opera House.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

As Creative Director, I am responsible for overseeing creative projects from conception through to delivery. My day can differ greatly depending on the project and where we are in the timeline of that job.

I could be storyboarding and working on proposals for upcoming projects, to working with the design team delivering the job or onsite testing the final delivery of the project.

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

I’ve never been a morning person, but my one-year-old son ensures I’m up at the crack of dawn!

I’ll check emails on the train journey into the city as I’m often working with clients in the US, Europe and Asia so there’s usually a fair bit to catch up on from overnight. I can potentially have Skype calls early morning or evening depending on the time zone.

The start of the day involves catching up with designers reviewing work that has been rendered overnight and making sure everyone knows their focus for the day ahead.

I try and be as efficient as possible with the rest of my day and aim to get home before my son’s bedtime, which isn’t always possible!. Once he is asleep I often remote back into the office to check on renders and planning for the following day.

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

I break down all projects into small tasks that can be accomplished in a couple of hours, even if I’m working on multiple projects that have two or three-month timelines. I don’t move on from a task until it is complete.

I will also have longer running projects or goals that I use as an incentive to complete the small daily tasks at hand, from connecting with a potential client or working on project proposals.

I use Google Tasks for this list approach to workload management.

Duncan Dix – Badu Gili for Sydney Opera House – Storyboard

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

I think that exercise is the best thing you can do for your mental health. I make sure I get out and exercise during lunch.

Sydney Harbour is a pretty special place. I will get a run in around the Botanic Gardens, Harbour Bridge or in summer a swim at an outdoor pool.

I can often be sat at a computer for extended periods so it helps to get out, get some fresh air and break the day up.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

It’s hard as I enjoy my work so I don’t just go home and switch off at 6 pm. My workload can vary depending on where we are within a project timeline and can get quite intense towards the end of a three-month job.

I make sure to get the most out of quieter periods. If I’ve accomplished everything that needed to be done that day – its time to go home and spend time with the family.

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

I always try and play the long game. Undertake projects that will be beneficial two or three years down the line. It might be a high profile client or a different type of work that is going to push your abilities and keep you relevant for future projects.

In terms of balance, reward yourself for hard work – whether that’s time off or holidays with friends and family.

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

The one I always find myself returning to is How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy.

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

By being consistent in those small daily tasks it makes it so much easier to break down and accomplish much larger goals. And coffee.

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