Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Stuart Hipwell, Creative Partner at MindJam

June 7, 2019

Stuart Hipwell is the Co-Owner and Creative Director of integrated creative agency MindJam.

With over 25 years working across design, branding, advertising, social media and content marketing, Stuart has been through it all to see the ups and downs of the industry.

Balance the Grind had the opportunity to speak with Stuart about his graphic design background, being made redundant and subsequently launching his own agency, writing a children’s graphic novel and more.

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

I started my career however in a branding agency as a Graphic Designer. There I cut my teeth on branding projects for large brands.

I loved working at the branding agency as I was very fortunate to work with a team from a multitude of design disciplines such as Industrial and Interior Design.

It taught me to think broader as a designer with served me well in later on in my career. After 12 years in branding I felt I needed to shift, so I jumped head first into the world of advertising.

Advertising was a shock at first, less emphasis was focused on the quality of design and more on the message. I adapted quite quickly and was soon leading a design department in a medium sized agency.

With the twist and turns of agency life, I soon found myself being the sole survivor after the agency went into receivership. I was moved into its sister company, a social media agency.

There was where my love of creative story telling began. After a whirlwind of acquisitions and mergers, I soon found myself Global Creative Director of Australia’s largest content agency.

Then poof, the agency was closed down after some bad board decisions. I found myself with a redundancy cheque and for the first time a blank canvas. My vision of taking some time off to ponder my future didn’t eventuate as clients from the content agency began ringing.

So, before I had a chance pack up my desk, I joined up with an old colleague and we were taking our first brief together in our new company.

That was 18 months ago, and we have been going strong since. Intertwined through all of this craziness, I’ve continually pursued my first love of cartooning both through professional and person endeavours.

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

I’m the Co-Owner and Creative Director of the integrated creative agency MindJam. As we’re an integrated agency, my day to day is never the same.

One day I could be developing creative concepts or a creative strategy, the next overseeing a TVC film shoot and as I’m still very hands on you can still find me at my desk designing.

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

I try to avoid having a typical day. I find it hinders creativity, so I like to mix it up. When I’m working on big creative concepting or strategy projects, I like to work out of my home studio on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

It allows me to get lost in the craft. When I’m working on more collaborative projects or multiple projects at once, I like to work out of our office where the energy feeds the creativity.

At other times I can find myself on film shoots in the most random places. This is what makes my career still exciting and interesting after 25 years.

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

We use a program called Jira to organise our projects. As a business owner, I view it as a powerful tool and necessary to keep on top of our workload and stay profitable.

As a creative though (and I know most creatives would agree), I prefer to organise my own work week. It produces much higher quality of creative from designers as it is driven by creative energy, not a clock.

Creativity is an animal that must be nurtured, not controlled. However, no matter what methodology you buy into, it’s important to set your own micro deadlines.

Doing this is not about meeting the project deadline, it’s about ensuring that you give every micro phase of the project the time it deserves.

Too many times have I seen a powerful spark of an idea let down because a critical phase of the creative process have been missed due to poor time management.

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

Working in the advertising industry, tight deadlines are a common occurrence. I make sure that I’m very clear about expectations, what can be achieved in a certain timeframe.

Never over promise. If you over promise, you compromise yourself both personally and professionally. This is not good for you or your client.

I take this belief into all aspects of my life. It is so tempting to squeeze as much into a weekend as possible but in doing so, you see the precious moments, not experience them.

6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?

To recharge personally, I spend time with my family in nature. Last year my wife and I made a conscious decision to move from Sydney’s Inner West to the Northern Beaches.

We loved the Inner West but as a family we wanted to slow down, get closer to nature and be present. My life now outside of work is focused around the beach.

I run along it in the mornings, take my girls down to Nippers on weekends and we love spending late afternoons down there too. I find the ocean has a powerful energy that relaxes me on a level greater than anything else.

To recharge creatively, I love to cartoon. I cartoon purely for enjoyment now. I’m currently writing a children’s graphic novel, Bun and Yip.

Every night after dinner, I go down to my studio and sketch away for an hour. It’s amazing what you can achieve by doing just a little bit every day.

My graphic novel is now up to its 6th chapter and just last year I won best Comic Book Artist of the year at the Australian Cartoonists Awards.

I’m a big advocate for pursuing a personal passion outside of work. It keeps you fresh and alive which is good for you, your family and your work.

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?

One of my best habits is always being open to change. I have become very adaptable. Throughout my career, I’ve had changes come at me from many different directions, and sometimes it can be unsettling.

My first response is not to fight change but be curious of it. Some of the best things that have happened to me in my career have come from unplanned events. If you keep a curious mind, good things often present itself.

Another good habit I have developed is to always be open and to listen to people different from me. I often use people with different viewpoints as a sounding board.

It helps me get out of my head and my own head and the internal dialogue. From doing this, I gain new perspectives and a more balance view of any issue that I’m faced with.

8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?

In the last few years I’ve become more a podcast listener than reader. I easy go through 4 podcasts a day. My favourite podcast around the work-life balance space is NPR’s WorkLife with Adam Grant.

I’ve used many learnings from this series in my own working life. It’s great for anyone who works in any size business and in any position.

Also, since starting my own agency, I’ve also got into How I Built This with Guy Raz which interviews entrepreneurs who have created very successful well-known businesses.

I’m really intrigued at what makes them tick and the human relationship side of start-up businesses. It’s well worth a listen for anyone in leadership positions or with entrepreneurial mindsets.

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

My morning runs. It is so important to me, it sets me up for the day. No matter how I wake up, I find that after my run my mind is clear, my energy levels are high, and my mood is optimistic.

The days I don’t run, I really notice the impact. If I get my morning right, the rest of the day naturally follows.

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