Interview With James Kape

This interview was originally featured on the Desktop Magazine website

James Kape is a New York based designer from Sydney, Australia. He focuses primarily on branding, print and web design and has been featured in a number of blogs and publications. James is inspired by refined design, typography and photography.

What brought you overseas and how has that move shaped your career/life?
I decided to move overseas because I needed to complete an internship to finalise my University Degree, having already worked professionally within the industry for a year, completing a internship felt like a step backwards unless it was for a dream studio overseas. So I created a book of my work (see here) and sent it to five dream studios. When I arrived in New York I had interviews at each of the five. These included: Sagmeister inc, Marque, RoandCo, NR2154 and Pentagram.

In the end and spoilt for choice, my gut feeling led me to work for NR2154. After interning for a month, I was offered a job. It was a great experience, but after eight months of working an exciting opportunity arose which I couldn’t turn down…

Detail – James Kape Personal Portfolio

Inside pages – James Kape Personal Portfolio

Was there anything good or bad that surprised you when you moved overseas?
So yes, this exciting opportunity… at the beginning of September 2011, I received an email from a recruiter at Apple. She had found my work through ffffound and I think Designspiration, which is kudos to how beneficial having your work featured on a blog can be. I had a phone interview with the creative directors there a week later, which went very well and so following this I was asked if I could come to San Francisco for a face-to-face interview.

The whole experience was quite surreal, I was asked how long I wanted to stay ( if I was to move from New York to San Francisco they wanted me to be comfortable with my surroundings) and so I said five days and with that, they then paid for my flights, accommodation and advised me of a daily budget covering food and travel which I could expense each day. It was like I had won the lottery for all expense-paid holiday, though unfortunately not all was well, once I arrived.

My interview was 6 October 2011. The day after Steve Jobs died.

I’ll never forget this day.

On the actual morning, a chauffeur picked me up outside my hotel and drove me to Apple HQ, Cupertino. Outside the front there were news teams from every TV station I had ever heard of. I asked my chauffer what was up… at this point I wasn’t aware of his death and neither was he. He shrugged and said “Apple probably released a new ipad or something.” He dropped me off outside a back door, the entrance to the graphic department, and in I went. The recruiter greeted me with, “Obviously, you have heard the news so unfortunately things are going to be a bit shaky today, but we will do our best to make it work.” I nodded and met the first of seven creatives that I was due to have interviews with that day. I found out about Job’s death in interview two.

A collaboration with Briton Smith. Devotion photography and conceptualisation for a Sydney-based musician Issac Tichauer

What are some of the main challenges you’ve faced as an ex-pat creative?
I think, one of the main challenges is adapting to a very different lifestyle heavily influenced by the working standards in New York.  For example working hours here are 9:30 / 10:00am to 7:00 / 7:30pm. I can work late, very late in fact… I remember working until midnight sometimes in Sydney, but when you’re expected to work until 7:00pm every night of the week it can be quite taxing to begin with. Initially, I also found it very hard adapting to American imperial units and measurements. Here you don’t use A4 and A3, you use letter and tabloid. Forget about gsm and centimeters, you measure stock in grams and paper sizes in inches, which being dyslexic I still struggle with. How do you divide 1/8 of inch? I find it funny that even the Americans I work with struggle with their system of measurement.

Tell me a little about your work situation at the moment, where you are working from, what sort of work, what a typical day might be for you, any interesting, exciting crazy people you’ve met.
Well, unfortunately I didn’t get the job at Apple. Though looking back I’m glad it fell through, because I’m very proud to say I now work for Wolff Olins, New York. Their ethic, cliental and culture is the best experience I have ever had, their work redfines what a brand should be and in my opinion they set the bar really high for others to follow. Most recently they redesigned USA Today and redefined what a paper should be. I got to illustrate and create a lot of the brand behaviours (for the logo) used in the campaign – which was awesome.

They other day I went to Grand Central Station and saw my work on posters, everywhere. Amazing! I don’t think I would get the opportunity to do such high-profile work anywhere else.

A typical day starts with breakfast in the work kitchen and a cup of coffee, I might read up on design news and then start my day. Like most studios I work project to project so there isn’t really a specific routine that I follow. Everyone who works here is extremely talented for different reasons, for example my main creative director at the moment is Mike Abbink. A quick look at his portfolio and you will see he has designed logo marks / typefaces for some of the most famous brands of this decade.

USA Today logo behaviours by Wolff Olins

What’s the perception of Australian creatives and Australians in general in New York?
Aussies are everywhere. The J1 visa means (compared to other countries) it’s very easy for us to work in the US. I’m not sure if there is a specific opinion toward us generally as I feel New York is an international city but also a very transient city, so everyone who works/ lives here comes from a different corner of the globe.

Any advice for creatives thinking of making a similar move?
Not specifically, though my one regret is that I didn’t spend some getting to know New York City and New Yorkers prior to working in different studios. I arrived and began straight away and as such still haven’t found the time to do and see a lot of what New York has to offer. I would have really liked to work in a bar for a bit too, I’ve never been a tourist in this city!

What’s the most important thing you’ve discovered about yourself living abroad?
I guess, more and more what I like and what I don’t like. How to have an opinion about certain things, I couldn’t really say it was one specific thing… when I studied in Sweden it was clarification. Clarification that I wanted to be a graphic designer and that was the right path for me. Since being in New York I’m not sure what that single important thing is.

Someplace Webshop – Illustrations by Kape for Sydney-based Scandinavian Clothing Store