Four ways to master the fundamentals of design with graduate Dean van der Merwe

Headshot of Billy Blue graduate Dean van der Merwe

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Communication Design from Billy Blue College of Design at Torrens University Australia, Dean van der Merwe has made a name for himself – in branding design and interiors.

Having mastered the fundamentals of interaction design, his ability to switch modes is part natural and part learned. At Billy Blue, students develop interdisciplinary skills via the Common Core framework. The idea is that all design practices share a foundation, crossing over like superheroes in DC and Marvel movies. Exploring these crossovers is now part of Dean’s day-to-day as head of his own branding and interiors studio. Top-tier clients such as McDonald’s, Oxfam and City of Sydney call on Dean to work his magic in brand strategy, interior design, art direction and retail and environmental design. Here, Dean reveals four helpful fundamentals of design every creative needs to complement their technical capabilities.

1. Understand how different disciplines complement each other

“What I learned from graphics is applicable in interiors,” says Dean, who learnt through his work with McDonald’s that there’s more to colour choice than achieving a pretty palette. “What you may think is a brand colour actually dictates what people do in a space… At McDonald’s you actually use red and yellow as a cue to then go, ‘I want a cheeseburger’,” says Dean. “It creates great harmony when a brand and an interior speak together, because it forms that holistic thinking – it forms a whole experience.”

2. Seek feedback, not criticism

For a multi-disciplinary designer who’s worked in various studios, including Metropolis, Juicy Design, Turner, Holy Cow! and The Garden Agency, Dean knows how to seek and action feedback – minus the hurt feelings. “You’re not going to cater for everyone and not everyone’s going to like your work,” he warns. “But you can try your hardest to produce something that’s going to be meaningful to you and also be meaningful to someone else.”

3. Be a sponge and always keep learning 

Dean’s transition from graphic design to interiors wasn’t super-smooth straight off the bat. “I actually did my first interiors project just using Illustrator, which is insane considering how much detail is involved,” says Dean, who quickly realised he needed to upskill. “I did quite a few short courses and I was fortunate enough to work with quite a few talented designers who said, ‘If you teach us a bit of graphics, we’ll teach you a bit of interiors as well.’ So, I like to live by the motto, ‘Always keep learning, always be sponge.’” 

4. Make yourself the client

“Take your work even from the first trimester, look at it again and treat yourself like you are the client,” Dean advises. “Always keep reworking. Keep thinking differently. [Ask yourself], ‘If I did this slightly different, would this have a better outcome?’ And don’t be afraid to throw it all out and start again. If your portfolio doesn’t make you feel great, it’s not going to make the client feel great. You have to be able to sell the dream that lives in your head.”
 

Want more? Here's Dean's full interview at our Design Career Talks:

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