Design

Design visionary Vince Frost on how technology is transforming the world of design

Conventional thinking holds design up as an art form, but to Vince Frost it’s anything but. And that’s what sets him apart from the pack. Rather, the founder of Frost*collective says the fundamentals of design are two-fold: process and technology.

And Vince would know.


The designer is a visionary in his field – Frost*collective is known around the world as a pace-setting, paradigm-shifting firm that occupies a unique space at the very cutting edge of design and innovation.

Frost* Design, now a part of Frost*collective was born in 1994, and over 20 years transformed into a diverse yet highly specialized company.

A paradigm-shifting firm that occupies a unique space at the very cutting edge of design and innovation.

The Frost*collective consists of six core businesses: Frost* Design – strategic branding; Jack – mindful packaging; Nest – digital; Nest VR – virtual reality; Urbanite – environmental design; Pivot – strategic business.

While to the uninitiated this may seem like somewhat of a motley crew of initiatives, they all function seamlessly to provide dynamic business solutions.

We spoke to Vince about the transformative power of technology on the world of design.

Design is not art

Defining design and its purpose is a notoriously difficult thing to do. But perhaps the answer lies in what it’s not.

“I keep telling people, ‘Guys, this is not art.’ Design is a service. Design is servicing a client. We are creating something for a commercial outcome. If you want to be an artist, go be an artist. People get mixed up with that, thinking that designers are artists.They are not and they shouldn’t be – though that is not to say they aren’t creative.

“It’s not to say they can’t have their personal passion, their personal flavour or style come across. I think that in the past that worked well, individual designers had their own approach. I know people often said to me when I started out that I was using big, bold typography. It’s quite masculine. I naturally did design in the way that I knew how to do it.

“I think today, again, you need to be much more diverse and have many more flavours because you are talking to a much broader array of clients and customers.”

It all begins with data

So if it’s not art, what is it exactly? Well, for Vince, technology plays a pivotal role. From the very start of the process, through to the final creation, technology is key.

Let’s start at the beginning then, with data.

The technological explosion over the past decade has led to a proliferation of information previously thought to be unattainable. It’s become a central part of modern business, and design is no different.

From the very start of the process, through to the final creation, technology is key

“For me, I have always been focused, with my team on designing success”, says Frost. “So what we do, from the very beginning of taking on a brief is we want to understand from the client what does success look like. So we design to succeed. We design to create a successful outcome. We don’t believe in just designing to make things look nice. We are not focused purely on the aesthetic, we are focused on the idea that it’s going to create the successful outcome that clients are looking for.

“As technology changes, as we have much more access to data, much more access to our clients and their customers through understanding behavioural economics, we are determined to find the successful outcome.

“Of course, that’s part of it, but what we are doing is designing a stimulus to create a reaction. So it’s important that we get it 100 per cent right.

“In the past, as designers in a design company, we could make things look really great, and we have got enough experience that we know that it is probably going to be successful. But today we need to utilise the data, analytics, and utilise that in such a way that we really hone in on creating 100 per cent accurate outcome.

“Now clients aren’t demanding that yet, but they are about to start demanding that. ‘Prove to me that you can create 100 per cent successful outcomes for me.’ Not judging purely on your portfolio, not just comparing your quote with our competitors and to your team, but actually ‘prove to me that you can create and design a successful outcome.’

“That’s such a big shift for us as a business and for the creative industry at large because the industry has relied heavily on winning design awards or having their portfolio’s judged by other designers. If you were to dig deep there is nothing more than that and that backs up the proof that this work is successful.

“We are focusing today, more than ever, on what I call the science of design, which is really getting to the heart of the opportunity, the client, the problem. Looking at data, looking at behavioural economics, looking at customer experience strategies. We have an obligation to get to the point where we’re really designing for our client’s customer’s and user’s needs.”

“We have an obligation to get to the point where we’re really designing to our customer and user’s needs.”

Social media has also opened up a whole new goldmine of often intimate, personal detail. Drawing key concepts from computer science, ethnography and network analysis, companies, governments and organisations mine social media data to get a uniquely thorough and complete profile.

While it certainly faces issues over data fidelity and reliability – with some 2.789 billion active social media users (that’s 37 per cent of the entire world’s population!) – it’s a powerful tool that Frost*collective is using to its advantage.

“Now we can use technology today like we have never done before to reach that goal”, Frost says.

“As a business, we are continuing to work on how do we do that. We are partnering with various data organisations. You can get significant information through social media, through the technology that we’re all utilising today. That is a real game changer.”

Eyetracking and the endless possibilities of technology

With limitless human creativity colliding with the ever-expanding frontiers of technological development, mind-boggling innovation is becoming increasingly commonplace.

One such innovation is eye-tracking.

Google and eBay have begun dipping their toes into the emerging technology – tracking and analysing the movement of the human eye as it processes images, screens, and websites.

Saccades (eye movements) have always been a key part of the design process, but new technology opens up a whole world of opportunities as to how we understand it.

Eye tracking sensors have been driving the renewed interest in the technology and allow a device or designer to understand where the viewer’s interest lies, as well as how to improve communication between the two.

It’s something that excites Vince. For instance, he explains how it could help his business understand how children process images and designs.

“Well, we’ve got guys here looking at eye tracking”, he says. “That could be part of it, too. Eye tracking is something which is incredibly exciting.

“Eye tracking is something which is incredibly exciting.”

“Take, for instance, this project for a primary school. The client comes in, briefs us, and I’ve got Ben who’s 28, lovely guy, covered in tattoos. He is sitting there, designing away the branding or the communication for a preschool. In his mind, he’s thinking primary colours, primary shapes, the cliché stuff.

“How do we connect with the mindset or the behaviour of a young child and how do we design accurately to what they respond to? Not the cliches that we naturally fall into.

“I believe that the technology can evolve, and should evolve, to help us actually understand when we are designing. That it actually helps us design to nail the response.”

The importance of software

While it is not always the flashiest part of a designer’s toolbox, software is arguably the most important. Products like Adobe’s Creative Cloud for teams open up boundless creative opportunities and optimise workflow within large teams.

“The thing with Adobe Creative Cloud for teams is it really is seamless, it’s effortless. We never lose anything anymore, it is critical for our business. It is a critical tool that we use on a daily basis, I don’t know what we would do without it.

“It’s as critical as air.”

A word of warning

One of the most memorable lines in Jurassic Park comes from Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm. Malcolm and John Hammond are arguing about the dangers of the new park full of franken-dinosaurs when Goldblum drops the now iconic line:

“But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

This still rings true today.

The massive explosion of technology isn’t a one-way street, and as Vince rightly notes, comes with its associated dangers:

“Automated design is going to come up behind us as well. People are working right now on ways of screwing the industry by it all being done through robots or through artificial intelligence. We have to really be aware that all this is going on.

“We can’t just do what we used to do, in how we’ve been doing it for years. We need to rethink and disrupt how we move ourselves along and how do we create much more successful outcomes.”

People power

For all technology’s importance, design still comes down to humans confronting a human problem and coming up with a human solution.

“What we are working on today is the work that I think I am most proud of because it’s new, it’s interesting”, Frost says.

“And we have grown as a business in terms of our collective contribution and our collective expertise. The diverse specialist’s skillset makes things better. One particular project we’ve just collaborated with is for an organisation called Nubo, it’s a child’s play centre in Alexandria in Sydney.

“We worked with the client in terms of coming up with the name and the identity.

“The collaborative project with NUBO and architects Joey Ho and Patrick Leung from PAL Design Architects is winning awards all around the world. It has won a Gold award in New York and it’s just won in Hong Kong and London.

“We didn’t collaborate to win awards, but we designed it to be something which is a great experience for children aged 0-10. Really, what we are doing is realising our client’s dream.

“Mollie from Nubo came to us with a vision and we really are helping her bring her vision to life. I think it’s important when you’re working with a client who has such a clear vision and an ambitious vision that we work hard at trying to realise that.

“The most important thing is that young families and their children absolutely love that place. The experience is phenomenal, and she’s carefully thought through that.

“We need to rethink how we disrupt ourselves and how we create much more successful outcomes.”

“Not just creating a brand, but creating a whole business, a whole structure and designing experiences.

“It’s really cool when you see a project, which is basically a clear vision on a blank piece of paper in the beginning, and the collective brings it to life and you see people engaging with that brand.

“Then people around the world are talking about something which is in Alexandria in Sydney, in a warehouse. It just proves that with a big idea and collective determination good things can happen anywhere in the world.”

You can find out more about Vince Frost and his inspiring design work here.