Think HBR

Let's Talk With Josh Jeffress

Josh Jeffress family Credit Lauren Elizabeth Photgraphy
Photo by: Lauren Elizabeth Photography
1. In a few words tell us about your current role.
I'm the managing director and owner of Newcastle-based product design agency Design Anthology. We're a small agency in terms of staff and so my role is pretty broad. Apart from running the business, the most exciting part of my job is the design work. As principal designer, I'm responsible for all of the design work that we produce. So, on any given day I'll be meeting potential clients to hear about their ideas, sketching concepts, researching materials and manufacturing processes, doing a bit of 3D printing, building 3D models, checking technical drawings, building and testing prototypes and presenting our concepts to clients.
2. How have you reached this point in your professional life?
Through a lot of hard work. And long days. I started out as a fitter and machinist. I left school at the end of year 10 and did my apprenticeship while working at an abattoir in Dubbo. I love making things and fixing things but it took me a while to work out that design was the field I wanted to work in.
So, I moved to Newcastle and studied industrial design at the University of Newcastle. While I was studying I started working at Banlaw where I continued after graduating. I established Design Anthology in 2006, while still continuing to work with Banlaw and RPC Technologies until things really got up and running.
My wife Aimee and I had wanted to start a business that not only delivered industrial design but was able to use both our experiences and skills to assist people to bring their products and ideas to life. At the time a friend Mat, that I met through Newcastle Uni and Banlaw, was in a similar position and had the same passion so he joined the team and we grew from there. We added service design experience with Douglas joining the team. It was a great combination of skills and something that had been brewing among all of us for years, we had all dreamt of building a really special design firm in Newcastle.
3. When you’re not at work, where can we find you?
You'll most likely find me spending time with my wife and kids.
We’ve got three kids (with another one on the way) and they are loads of fun. We cycle the Fernleigh track together or go exploring at Redhead and Dudley beach. Otherwise I'll be in my yard, working on some projects, planting out and harvesting the veggie patch or upgrading the chicken house. Winding down normally involves a coffee at Pegs and a game of cards. Camping. Or trying to squeeze the 5.5 of us into an oversized hammock and enjoying the sun!
4. Where do you find inspiration?
So many places! But the two biggest inspirations for me are people and nature.
I find a lot of inspiration in sharing and collaborating with like-minded people. It’s really awesome to be able to find solutions to problems in innovative ways to help bring ideas to life. I get a real kick out of it. There are so many new ideas being developed all the time. Taking innovative risks in terms of our own business and also learning from people that have taken the leap into a new idea or space is also very inspiring. Stepping out a little into the unknown is exciting and somewhat daunting, but it’s in that space that really great things happen.
I’m also fascinated with how our world was created and designed in such a complex but beautiful way, so I find a lot of satisfaction and inspiration in nature. How there is the balance between amazing visual aesthetics working with the complexity and intricacies of it all.
5. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your field?
Three things come to mind.
The first would be to constantly critique your work. Designers learn to question every decision they make and that's a really important skill because, as designers, the impacts of our decisions can be significant. For example, regarding natural resource usage or whether a product can be repaired instead of thrown into landfill or recycled. Be aware of the consequences, intended or not, of the decisions you make. And ask yourself if you're ok with that.
Second, would be to have a really good mechanical understanding.
Learn how stuff works. I see so many portfolios that are full of stunning digital rendering, but the underlying concepts are mechanically flawed. Today, a good mechanical understanding also includes electronics, mechatronics, materials and production processes. It's a broad range of knowledge and experience that you don’t necessarily need to have, but at least know where to get the info.
And third, be real. That's our philosophy at Design Anthology and I really believe that just being a decent human being and being honest is so important. The world would be such a great place if we were all just honest with each other don't you think?
6. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I start work at 5 am most days. It's the only quiet time in my day.
7. How would you like to see the Hunter evolve over the next decade?
Newcastle was founded on innovation and that, I think, is significant. There is already rich foundation here. And you can start to see that there is more creativity and ingenuity being developed in the Hunter region. I think with that environment of innovation and creativity, there is a real opportunity for Newcastle and the Hunter to become a hub for creatives in all fields.
I think a dense network of highly specialised providers will develop here over the next decade. We already have organisations like 1804, The Business Centre, Newcastle Innovation, Slingshot, CSIRO, Newcastle Uni, creative hubs like DaSH and INNX and so many more individuals and groups that are all working to support a variety of clients and idea development activities. Once all these people get together, the creative capacity of the region will explode. I think what
we have here in Newcastle is quite unique in that we see a saturation of innovation in every sphere throughout the community.
8. What’s your favourite Hunter restaurant/café/bar?
For food I can't go past Tulullah’s at The Junction, it always has great food! But we also spend time with friends at Peg’s and The Royal Hotel, Dudley.