Fred’s career as an amateur hair stylist never really took off because unfortunately his skateboarding took priority and no one would trust his skills with a pair of scissors; this certainly didn’t stop him from trying. By using himself as a test subject Fred has fashioned some of the most impressive haircuts with little more than nail clippers, a razor and a bowl. He has gone through skinhead, bowl cut and rat’s tail phases, stopping just short of getting dreadlocks. Although he has stated on numerous occasions that he doesn’t like any excess trinkets or jewellery it’s clear he treats his hair as some twisted form of self-expression. His design, unlike his haircuts, is far less questionable, but equally as striking. | David Read
How did you get started?
It was probably at high school, although I’m sure I was heading down that road without knowing it long before this. From there I had two really great teachers at high school who encouraged me to really get into it. It was probably the first time I listened to any teachers and next thing I knew I was missing most of my other classes to spend all the time I could in the dark room and computer labs.
How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
I’m not sure that I have it all worked out, but i’m pretty into the idea that style is a thought process or a point of view, rather than an aesthetic. Style comes from establishing a project’s factors/needs and finding an interesting way to address them.
What designers and creatives do you look up to?
Man, so many. To list a few; In New Zealand I really like the work that Alt Group are doing, Kris Sowersby of course, DDMMYY and Noah Butcher.
Worldwide, you can’t go past Fred Smeijers, Roger Excoffon, Experimental Jetset, 2×4, Spin, Hort & Commercial type. I also have a deep appreciation for Stephen Heller, Adrian Shaughnessy, Alexander Tochilovsky and others who promote and preserve design history. The world of design would be a far poorer place without the work that these people do.
What gear do you use day to day?
Pencil – Sometimes this actually a pen.
Paper – Sometimes of the tracing variety.
A computer – Sometimes simply to listen to national radio.
Among your work, do you have a favourite piece?
I’m hyper critical of my work. Pretty much as soon as work I have produced comes out, I see only the flaws in it. Sometimes it gets to the point that I will lie in bed at night thinking about projects that were finished years ago, thinking how I could have done them better. Recently I pulled down my website because of this. (not to mention the site itself needed to be redesigned)
So I guess I would say that my favourite piece is the one I am working on right now. (That’s so cheesy, even as I type it I’m rolling my eyes. Haha.)
Did you study in your field and do you think it’s necessary?
Yes and yes. I think it’s necessary to study something to become a good designer, although not necessarily in the standard BFA (or whatever) route. There are designers out there who studied other subjects before moving into the design world that often have a unique take on design which is totally valid and sometimes more interesting than someone who has taken a very normal and direct path into the profession.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started?
Learning as you go is half the fun, but part of me wishes I had become interested in the history side of things earlier.
Best part of your job?
The people are amazing and I love the rush when you have a breakthrough when working on something challenging.
What is your working environment like?
I work from home about two thirds of the time, so sometimes it can be a little quiet. But this down time can make you appreciate the time spent in studios when you are there. Most designers I have worked with are super rad people to be around and make work a super fun thing to be doing.
How do you deal with creative slumps?
If I am struggling to generate an idea or something, I will sometimes torture myself and stay up all night banging my head against the proverbial wall. So not really dealing wth it but, most mornings I still wake up and can’t wait to start working on whatever it is I’m doing.
What other types of jobs have you had?
I worked as a house painter, as a labourer in a hospital in Colorado, I washed dishes, I worked as a cook, I worked at Boarder Distribution, then I was a house painter again for a hot second before being a full time designer.
What was the first thing you designed?
I’m pretty sure it would have be those potato stamp things you make as a little kid. It was design in the sense that you shape something into a template that can be used to produce multiple copies of something either by you or by someone else. The image cut into the potato was probably phallic but it’s hard to be certain.
Advice for someone starting out?
Michael Bierut says that Design is a licence to trespass. Which I’m super into. Most designers, if you get in contact with them, will invite you into their space and give up some of their time to speak with, which is pretty unique to design. Get in touch with people and hang around them. The best designers are nerds dying to talk about nerdy design things, they will give you time.
I also cobble together two things that Christopher Hitchens and Michael Rock said into this semi sensical/semi relevant statement;
Design is an elaborated form of writing.
Before you can write, you should be able to speak.
Before you speak, you should have something to say.
Have you always enjoyed design?
I have always enjoyed and admired great design, and I’m working to produce some one day.