Sebastian O’Brien’s journey since graduating high school has been, in some respects, typical of a young Australian in the 21st century.
He completed year 12, chose a university course, began studying and soon realised it wasn’t for him. Countless others experience the same dilemma every year; some feel pressured by their parents, others simply change their mind. Many place unrealistic expectations on themselves or sign up for university because they feel society expects them to, even when they’re not ready to decide if or what they want to study.
But Seb, now an award-winning graphic designer at just 23 years of age, didn’t let this hiccup stop him discovering a career path he truly wanted to pursue.
His first pursuit after receiving his HSC was to study Japanese at university — a far cry from the creative calling he would later answer. It was only by chance that he stumbled across graphic design while looking for a second major to study as part of his degree.
It wasn’t long before the pieces starting falling into place.
“I absolutely loved it,” Seb says. “I immediately took to it and decided it was what I wanted to do and it was a more realistic career path for me.”
But while graphic design loomed as the perfect industry for Seb, he wasn’t getting what he needed from university. The course started to feel more like high school visual arts classes than a rewarding tertiary course.
“At the time I had a close friend who was studying to be a draftsman at TAFE NSW and we were talking about the work he was producing. I was amazed by it, considering he had only been there for a couple of months — this forever stayed in the back of my mind.”
Seb chose to take up an Advanced Diploma of Graphic Design at TAFE NSW. This decision was, evidently, a good one.
At the prestigious 2018 D&AD New Blood Awards — which recognises design and advertising excellence in students, grads and aspiring creatives between 18 and 24 — Seb picked up the coveted Wood Pencil award for Re-Active Duty Prosthetics, a concept for 3D-printed prosthetic limbs he co-developed in response to an Adidas brief.
Seb and his project partner submitted their response after endless hours of research, workshopping, sketching, developing ideas, pitching and mentoring. The final response consisted of a promotional video and a series of mock posters, billboards and advertisements detailing how custom, 3D-printed prosthetics designed by Adidas could help injured veterans rebuild their lives.
It’s not hard to see why Seb’s hard work was recognised: his design not only uses sport as a catalyst for change (a requirement of the brief) but also boasts gorgeous, ultramodern designs reminiscent of Adidas’ iconic line of sneakers.
“It’s still all a little surreal to think that we were awarded a Pencil,” Seb says.
“Prosthetic limbs seemed like such an obvious answer [to the brief] once we started talking about it and delving further into the effect it has on the lives of returning vets, especially at a young age.
“A lot of the physical inspiration for the design and my original concepts came from my general love of ‘futuristic’ technology and stylisation. Another part of my inspiration for the design actually also came from within Adidas themselves — I’m a massive sneakerhead and really enjoy seeing sneaker fashion and its effect on pop culture. It’s becoming its own art form.”
Seb credits the award to two things: switching courses and working his arse off.
“It’s never about talent. Anyone can learn how to design, they just have to commit to it. It’s a hard, gruelling process — but extremely rewarding.
“Now I tell everyone I meet that [the TAFE NSW Advanced Diploma of Graphic Design] is so vital to your growth and career to go that extra step further. You have just spent the last year learning all your skills, it now becomes all about execution and style.
“It also becomes all about making sure you produce work that is going to go into your portfolio and inevitably get you a job in the industry, in a field you love. It’s very intense but absolutely integral to transitioning yourself into a designer.”
Through TAFE NSW, Seb was able to make industry connections and land an internship at Re, a design agency based in Sydney, which he praises for demonstrating how the skills he learned at TAFE NSW could be applied in the real world.
“The little things like learning how they present their work to clients in a professional manner, being given real brand guidelines to stick to within a design task, working on live projects and receiving great growth-inducing, thought-provoking feedback — whilst also being able to give insight and our thoughts toward their ideas and having our feedback being respected was amazing, too.
“I had no clue as to the number of people involved in a project from start to finish and how important their roles were, and the sense of family this creates within the design agency itself is a wonderful thing to experience. The level of personal growth for me within those five weeks was awesome, and it helped bridge the ever-terrifying gap from student to designer.”
After a combination of hands-on education, internships and monthly talks at TAFE NSW where students connect and engage with industry professionals, Seb is clearly ready to make his Wood Pencil award the first of many achievements.
For now, he has his sights on becoming a junior designer at a branding agency, after which he plans on moving to Europe and experiencing the wealth of knowledge in its thriving design industry.
“Ultimately my biggest aspiration is to make sure that I do something that makes a difference on a massive scale and that I contribute positively to the future of the world and design itself.
“Can’t forget to also have a little fun along the way — after all, I’m lucky to be in an industry where I love and enjoy what I do, as well as having endless possibilities.”
TAFE NSW offers over 1200 courses with flexible study options, smaller class sizes, passionate teachers and a supportive, welcoming environment to make it easy for you to be whatever you want to be. Make the switch.