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My freshman year as a Tundra designer

Nikhil de Silva
  

Monday morning. Blasting some bangers through the office and bopping at my desk in our final working week of 2023, and it got me reflecting on my first full year as a Digital Designer at 188 Gertrude St, Fitzroy.

Little Nikky began his journey at Tundra way back in July 2022 as a part-time Junior Designer with no professional experience within a digital agency. I started working three days a week at Tundra to align with the team’s in-office days. I also worked a second job as an architectural designer on Tundra’s working-from-home days, since I had completed a Bachelor of Design with a major in Architecture just a month prior.

The thing is, I had tried a few part-time architectural roles throughout my uni degree, but started to realise that industry didn’t feel quite right for me. So, since I thoroughly enjoyed communication design, media and marketing in high school, when an opportunity arose at Tundra, I jumped at it with both arms wide open. However, I was still hesitant to just abandon my four years of study and long-time architect dream, to work at Tundra ongoing. Ultimately the deciding question was, ‘Where would I feel happiest to work every day?’, but it was going to be a gamble either way so early in my career.

'When an opportunity arose at Tundra, I jumped at it with both arms wide open.'

I was a nervous wreck after initially accepting the position at Tundra. I battled with the typical designer’s imposter syndrome, questioning whether I was cut-out to be a professional designer at a digital agency like Tundra, working with some incredibly high-profile global clients. More than anything I really didn’t want to let anyone down. Luckily, my Bachelor of Design did provide some decent skills within the Adobe Creative Suite. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I hop on every opportunity to DJ with friends and discover new music. Movie theatres, musical theatres, art galleries, and the front row of a mosh pit are some of my favourite places to be. I knew I was creative to my core and I had proven confidence in my ability to learn quickly. But, I was also aware of the incredible creative output that the Tundra team consistently produces. So when I walked in on day one, and was greeted with nothing but smiles and welcomes, it’s fair to say a big weight was lifted off my chest, as I knew I was walking into a supportive and collaborative environment.

Before too long, I was getting stuck into designing Nike Air Jordan launch emails (which I had only just learned were known as eDMs in the industry) and online retail marketing banners. Within weeks I had been fully inducted into the wonders of Figma and eventually learned how to put together a design without completely confusing every component, style and library that our files are built on. I was picking up on a new acronym every day, discovering so much new terminology, and asking plenty of questions. It’s so important to be hungry to learn as a designer, but I believe it’s vital to stay curious.

'A hunger to learn will teach you what others already know, but curiosity will help you discover what others haven’t yet.'

Over that first 4-5 months working part-time with Tundra I experienced what felt like the perfect balance of learning so many new skills, expanding my knowledge base, getting to know the Tundra team, and learning our ridiculously efficient processes. This period of induction wasn’t easy, and at times it was tiring, but it allowed me to grow both as a professional and as an individual. By the end of 2022, I felt like Tundra was where I belonged. I had already fallen in love with the job, so when I was offered a full-time position for 2023, I was ready to give it everything I had.

'2023, my 23rd year on this planet, was quickly self-branded as ‘My Jordan Era’.'

I started the year already feeling so settled within the team thanks to the initial part-time introductory role in late 2022. This allowed me to focus on my development and goals as a Junior Designer with plenty to learn and plenty to give. After a coffee consultation with our Design Lead, Bec, and Director, Andy, I had clear and achievable goals for each quarter of the year. Alongside these two unreal mentors, I was also learning bucketloads from my desk neighbour, Senior Designer, Kaylee. Beyond practical design tips and tricks, this ridiculously talented group taught me plenty about being a designer, the high standards we should hold ourselves to, and all the best coffee spots within a two kilometre radius of the studio.

Full-time work unexpectedly brought along a great work-life balance. Working in the office Monday and Tuesday, the team gets set for the week, and any project related queries can be resolved easily while we are all together. Then working from home Wednesday and Thursday enables me to get to the gym in the morning and get any life admin done before work, while remaining productive and communicating with the team during the work day. Before you know it, it’s Friyay and we’re back discovering the wonders of Gertrude Street with big Friday vibes in the office. After a glorious day of productivity and completing tasks, we invariably find ourselves cracking a cold one at the pub, discussing movies and our plans for the weekend. With this constant rotation, the weeks of 2023 flew by and I was continually introduced to new responsibilities, which required new skills to be learned and deeper knowledge gained.

This constant, steady growth allowed me to assist the design team in new ways. I had already been working on live design briefs which landed out in the real world across digital billboards, the Nike App and Nike.com. Come early 2023 I was starting to dip my feet into the beast of After Effects, and rolling out social posts for JD Sports. Similar to Figma, my experience in After Effects was unmatched by the designers, because I was a novice. All I had was some foundational timeline knowledge from my own personal Premiere Pro projects. But, thankfully, the team believed in my ability to pick up the finer skills, and before long I was creating simple ticker tapes and animations for retail comms going out to all of Australia and New Zealand. I came to realise that when an animation is broken down into its various properties and keyframes, building a motion concept isn’t as daunting as I once thought.

As we reached March of 2023, we were starting to really kick into gear in terms of larger marketing campaigns. We knew that Nike Pacific were going to have a momentous year through their relationship with Football Australia and sponsorship of the Matildas, though I’m positive that none of us could truly anticipate what that campaign would become and how far reaching it would stretch across the country. While the team continued working at an increasingly speedy pace, I became incredibly thankful for the steady growth and learning I had experienced through 2022 and into 2023. As Bec and Kaylee became busier, I was getting more involved in many projects which would have previously been their responsibility. With their guidance and support, I was thrilled to be getting stuck into different projects and briefs, while continuously learning and finessing through our internal feedback loops and QA processes to ensure the work was done to the highest Tundra standards.

'With the help of my numerous internal mentors, I was able to swim in the deep end, and not only survive, but thrive.'

Over this time, we worked closely with Nike and their partner agencies, and together completed some of Tundra’s largest projects for Nike across their full ecosystem including Nike.com, Nike App, emails, retail and out-of-home (OOH). These campaigns not only supported Nike and the Matildas, but helped elevate women’s sport nationally. As a team, everyone pulled their weight in order for us to execute numerous rapid-fire, evolving briefs, and as a designer I was able to discover the most efficient working processes from brief through to delivery.

Come August, these Nike campaigns were slowing down, and what had been described as ‘career defining work’ really seemed to define my first year. Plenty was learned, but there was still so much to come. Once time in the team schedule opened up, Tundra supported me in undertaking an Advanced After Effects course to upskill in my motion work, which gave me the confidence to dive deeper into developing those skills, and allowed me to take on the rollout phase for many of our motion projects, outputting motion creative to various different sizes and specs.

The designers also tuned in online to The Design Conference in Brisbane this year, and attended SemiPermanent’s NeverPermanent conference. Along with these conferences, Kaylee and I also undertook internal monthly UX sessions with our Senior UX strategist Nath, who is a really valuable source of knowledge when it comes to UX design strategies and principles. These sessions allow us to continue learning about the latest strategies; always designing for a vast array of different users and audiences.

Soon enough it was September, and in Melbourne that means one thing: AFL Finals. I fancy myself as quite the fan, so I was over the moon to hear we’d be working on some footy finals content for both Sydney and Collingwood due to Nike’s club sponsorship. I was able to use my AFL knowledge to assist the copywriters on the team during their early ideation, and was buzzing to work on some of the social and match day content, which was seen throughout Collingwood’s finals campaign and their ultimate victory.

Once Collingwood had taken the premiership, we moved straight onto the Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival and my motion skills were at the point where I was able to design an MCG perimeter LED animation for the Race Day finish line. All of a sudden it was December, we were working through Nike’s Christmas gifting campaign featuring content from multiple world-class athletes and celebrating the end of 2023! It’s been a wild ride.

Reflecting on the year that was, I can't overstate the incredibly fulfilling experience I’ve had, working on multiple high-profile campaigns and seeing my work out in the wild, making an impact on many people’s day-to-day lives. There still remains plenty of room to continue growing in my design work, motion execution and new mediums, such as video editing, 3D design and AI tools.

'I feel incredibly fortunate to work a job which has already given me so much creative fulfilment and countless genuine connections in my foundational year.'

Working as a designer at Tundra has opened my eyes to a new industry and a working lifestyle that I didn’t believe could actually exist in the real world. So looking back on that question, ‘Where would I feel happiest to work every day?’, the answer’s crystal clear. Tundra was the right decision. And no, I wasn’t paid to write that. Actually, I guess I was?

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