In the early 90s I had applied to enrol into Design degrees at three well-respected Universities in Melbourne, Australia — and I was consistently rejected by all three year after year for two years.
I was demoralised.
My dreams of starting a career in design were shattered, not to mention my own self-confidence, self-esteem and vision for where my life was headed.
I worked odd-jobs whilst studying Art & Design at TAFE, nurturing my ability to draw, learning the then ‘new technology’ of desktop publishing and dealing with the recent recession.
When it came to reapply to enrol into a degree again, I chose not to apply for any Design courses. I was adamant I wasn’t going to face yet another rejection at the hands of academia.
So, sitting on the couch watching Melrose Place, a show about an early 90s advertising agency, I considered my choices and thanks to the karmic image of Heather Locklear on screen, I opted for the Advertising degree at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). It may have been spiteful, bitter at the number of rejections I had face. But it was as simple as that. I had a feeling in my belly that it was the right thing to do. After all, I was transfixed at this show! (I’m laughing whilst I’m writing this).
I also chose to do some studies in Marketing as well — if it was good enough for Billy on Melrose Place, it was good enough for me.
I knew very little, if anything about advertising and marketing, I was a design student, but at the time I thought it would be a good idea and I had nothing to lose.
So it was Melrose Place with Heather Locklear or bust.
Coming into this degree I quickly realised that there were students who were die-hard ‘advertising fans’ — a sub-culture I never knew existed.
These people knew the names and dates of campaigns of years gone by; they knew the names of the agencies that created award-winning advertising and in some cases even knew the names of the people who worked on them.
I was gob-smacked and humbled. I had no idea such fandom existed for advertising!
I also realised some were following the dream of one day having their own name in the trade publications or award annuals they would pour over each day.
I didn’t share that dream.
Where I was happy to simply get into a degree and eventually land a job, many people I met at that time had their sights set on stardom. Glory. Chiat Day, BBDO, Saatchi. Such high standards that working at a lower tier was scoffed at. The idea of being a lowly ‘Designer’ was talked about around beers at the pub with giggles and at times competitive scorn.
I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to be forging ahead with a career in the traditional form of advertising. I had little interest in following the majority of students knocking on the door of large international agencies.
My decision to do the Advertising degree was based on a television show about advertising agencies, I loved the course and met some really interesting people on the journey. If it allowed me one thing, it was that it tuned my radar not onto the world of advertising but onto something else.
Upon graduating I was so focussed on not looking at the advertising world that I started seeing things that I normally wouldn’t have seen.
This was a very good thing.
At the time we were seeing the rise of the Internet. Startups, incubators, user experience and usability, technology, envisioning futures, coding, hacking and prototyping were common points of discussion.
My non-advertising radar lead me to learn rudimentary code (html and action script at the time) and opened my eyes to user interface design. This lead me to a digital company called Sausage, one of the best career moves I’ve ever made. A business of 40-odd people that scaled to over 200 in the few years I worked there.
It gave me the privilege of working alongside some of the most intelligent people I’ve worked with in my career, on projects that still excite and inspire me today and all due to choosing to do a course based on a television show.
Sometimes the decisions you make aren’t rational but rather they’re intuitive, they just feel good in your gut.
Sometimes you’ll make what seems like a ridiculous decision to others, but it makes sense to you. Just go with it and learn from it.
I also met my wife at Sausage.