Welcome to Future Talks by RTF, a platform where we engage in insightful conversations with the visionaries who breathe life into the world of design. In this series, we delve deep into the minds of those who shape the creative landscape, unravelling their journeys, inspirations, and the stories behind their exceptional work.
Today, we bring to you insights from Jeremy Smart’s world, exploring the intricate fusion of culture, creativity, and design that defines his remarkable career. Jeremy Smart is a creative director and design commentator based in Tokyo. Born in Australia, Smart has spent more than a decade working at the intersection of media and design. Previously based in Melbourne and Hong Kong, Smart relocated to the Japanese capital in 2022 where he is creative director of Asia Pacific design bible Design Anthology. Smart also writes for the likes of Nikkei Asia and The Sydney Morning Herald on design, travel and urbanism.
RTF: Hi Jeremy, we are so glad to have you as a guest on Future Talks. Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and what were the initial sparks as a creative like?
Jeremy: Growing up, my interests were diverse but always had a creative tint. I loved to make things and I loved media. I’ve always seen books, films, TV and magazines as a form of hospitality. You have to care and have empathy for your audience. You have to deliver something they want but are not expecting. I think that desire to serve others intellectually and visually has always been a driving factor in my creative work.
RTF: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about working in design or as a Creative Director?
Jeremy: Like most leadership roles, the more you oversee, the less dirty your hands get. Early on I spent a lot of time designing, working away in InDesign or Illustrator. Today most of my time is spent conceptualising, planning, meeting and problem solving. If I’m lucky, I might still get to art direct a shoot or design some pages. Perhaps that matches the perception of a creative director, I’m not sure, but it’s certainly a hybrid role that encompasses doing, thinking and communicating in equal parts.
RTF: Can you talk us through the struggles in order to excel in creative practice? Everyone wants to work as a creative, but a few succeed. What are the separating factors like?
Jeremy: There’s something to be said for having a holistic view of the work you do and the space you occupy. One of the recurring issues I see in emerging designers is a belief that they only need to create the best work possible, and how it happens is secondary. But how you work in a team, the responsibility you take over your work and your reliability to get things done on time and to a high standard are just as critical as having good taste. Thoughtfulness and care for seemingly inconsequential details is so important. These factors are often what stand between the good and the great. I also think you need to be able to sell your ideas and your work. But at the end of the day, we’re human and we all want to work with good people. So support others, raise them up, give them energy and be someone others want to be surrounded by.
RTF: How have you grown as a professional and as an individual since your first project?
Jeremy: Having just said being detail-oriented is really important, I’ve also learnt how to pick my battles. I usually have a pretty clear vision of what I want to achieve, so when we’re working as a team I try not to get too distracted advocating for everything little thing I think should happen. As long as the work maintains our values and achieves the ultimate goal, it’s OK to not be in control of everything (or so I tell myself).
RTF: We would like to get your idea of a ‘good’ pitch and how you differentiate between a ‘positive’ and a ‘negative’ approach from the writers and designers who wish to get published on Design Anthology.
Jeremy: Given the huge geographic scope of Design Anthology, we really value a local connection. Being able to pitch a story that captures a sense of the place, and the people who live there, is really important. There are countless beautiful projects being photographed every day, but few have a really strong sense of place or a narrative that is rooted in something physical and distinct to the origin.
RTF: How would you describe the evolution of art direction since social media took center stage? How did you adapt to the changes in the landscape?
Jeremy: Like most other creative fields, art direction has become completely democratised. Editing and curating is now in our collective parlance, and in a way, we’re all art directors of our lives, certainly on social media. Art direction is about creating a world and telling a story within it. As a professional I have to be able to articulate the ‘why’ in every decision and ensure what I create is cohesive and achieves the intended goal, which is rarely just to create something beautiful.
RTF: What does the balancing act of being a creative strategist, art director, writer, and photojournalist look like?
Jeremy: In some ways it’s all one role, but with different applications. Again, it’s about telling a good story and whether that’s conceptual, visual, written or photographed, it all involves figuring out who your audience is and what kind of story you want to tell them. And then telling it in the most compelling way.
RTF: Share some tips for young designers wanting to build their outreach in today’s times.
Jeremy: Ensuring that you think about more than just the work itself is important. Learn about other industries. Be curious. Meet people, visit exhibitions, travel. Be visible, not online but in the real world. And don’t forget perfectly printed business cards.