Australian Emerging Designer of the Year: Gabi Fountain

Gabi speaking at the Design Conference

Gabi Fountain graduated from Santa Maria College in 2011. After starting a law degree and then deciding on a change of direction, Gabi was named Australian Emerging Designer of the Year at the Australian Graphic Design Association Awards.

We caught up with Gabi to find out what she’s been up to since leaving the College.

What have you been up to since leaving Santa Maria?

The first year or so out of school was a bit of a ‘figuring out’ period. I bounced around a few universities in the first couple of years of study. I was initially enrolled in Law as I was always interested in a career where I could contribute to some form of positive social impact. Although I found Law interesting, I wasn’t overly engaged or motivated to pursue it as a full-time career. I found the film units I was studying in the Arts part of my Law degree a lot more fulfilling. So, I eventually changed degrees, throwing myself headfirst into a creative career, which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In the final year of my Graphic Design and Advertising degree at Curtin, I secured two internships; one at Chil3 in Fremantle and the other at The Brand Agency in the city. These were great opportunities for me to experience the working world at both a boutique design studio level and a larger corporate advertising agency level. Once my internship at Brand finished, I picked up some freelance work with them, eventually becoming my first full-time job in the industry.

After two years at The Brand Agency, I moved to London on a whim, where I landed a job at Futerra, a sustainability comms agency. Although I had changed careers, my motivation to have a positive social impact through my work was still strong. Futerra is where I really discovered the scale of social impact that design and creativity can have. It’s a powerful tool for advocacy and influence, especially through messaging and a behavioural change lens. Working there really cemented the goals and values I uphold as a designer.

In 2020 COVID brought me back home to Perth. After working remotely for a year for Futerra, I decided it was time to find work locally, and that’s when I ended up at Block. I’ve always admired Block as a studio and was already well acquainted with a lot of the team. It seemed like the perfect and most natural next step for me.

Tell us about what you’ve been doing in the Design industry.

Throughout uni, I liked to stay pretty involved in the local advertising and design community. I went to a lot of Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) and Perth Advertising Design Club (PADC) events and talks with my uni friends. I was also the grad rep for the AGDA WA and PADC committees for a couple of years. Being a part of these communities has been valuable to my evolution as a designer and my career progression. These are where I met people who have become mentors, collaborators and friends. I would say to any young designer; being involved in your local community is so important and great for your development.

I’m a big advocate for mentorship and try to help out students or young designers whenever I can, whether through guest lecturing at universities or attending student folio review sessions to give feedback. 

The last couple of years, in particular, have been jam-packed. In June, I was a speaker at The Design Conference in Brisbane alongside my boss Mark Braddock, which was both terrifying and a lot of fun. I also collaborated with my good friend Joseph Dennis to design the identity for Fremantle Design Week, which launched in October this year. We gave a talk about our process of designing the ID together. Mid-year, I was selected for the global 2022 Google Rare Leadership Program and conceptualised and wrote the design brief for the 2022 Perth Advertising and Design Club (PADC) Student Skulls Award. In 2021, I was a mentor in the PADC Mentor Program, a guest studio speaker for The Design Kids and a keynote speaker for the AGDA (WA) Student Portfolio Revie

What does winning the Emerging Designer of the Year Award mean for you?

I am incredibly honoured to be awarded Australian Emerging Designer of the Year. I am grateful for the opportunity to be recognised on this scale. It’s a nice reminder to keep working hard and focus on what brings me joy but also challenges me to continue to develop and grow. Being the first recipient from Perth to receive this award feels pretty special too. I’m so proud to be representing our WA creative community on a national scale. It just goes to show you don’t have to be working over east or overseas to be recognised for doing great work!

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?

I was always pretty inclined to do something creative or something that would help people or animals. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic and travel the world or become a vet. I never really thought about graphic design as a career until I changed to that degree. But I love what I do and am grateful I ended up on this path.

Did Santa Maria have any impact on your career path or on your life personally?

Santa Maria was always pretty encouraging to do things for the community. I was involved in different committees or groups at school that championed things like environmental protection or social work. I think it definitely played a role in shaping my inclination to pursue a career that was in some sort of social/environmental impact realm.

I picked up art in Year 10 and found it was a great outlet for me. I spent many lunchtimes in the art rooms playing around and also made some lifelong friends. Applied Information Technology gave me my first taste of Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, and I always had so much fun in that class.

Gabi (5th from the right) with the team from Block

What do you enjoy doing in your downtime?

To be honest, working in a creative career, I often blur the lines a lot between work and play. Outside of my full-time job, I like to keep busy doing my side projects, collaborating with creative friends, and just generally seeking out interesting things to look at or do, like small gallery shows or pop-up events. Going for walks, eating well and enjoying a natty wine in the park or at the beach with friends is always a nice wind-down.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

This is a tricky question! No doubt I’ll still be heavily immersed in the design world, hopefully travelling regularly and generally staying curious about the world! I don’t have specific long-term goals at the moment, but things always tend to work out as time goes on. I’m excited to see what’s in store.

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