Adam Busby on freelancing, his creative process and helping to make the world a better place

Photography by Jonah Hair

Adam Busby has had quite the interesting career so far. The American designer started out in fine arts before he chose graphic design as his forte.

Working for several design studios in Brisbane, he later went freelance to focus on design, illustration and murals. In fact, murals are becoming something of a signature – his large-scale street artworks have led to clients as big as The Commonwealth Games.

Aside from working with brands all over the world, Adam is a part-time lecturer at Shillington where he helps to teach students about graphic design. We chatted to Adam about his work, how he ended up in Australia and what it feels like to run his own business, doing what he loves.

Tell us more about your background. How did you get here?

My background is firstly American, so I physically got here (here being Australia) by meeting my wife overseas and settling down in Brisbane. My background in a creative sense is very much originated in fine arts, which I studied for two years before switching to a degree in graphic design.

The course was very tactile and physical, we didn’t even touch a computer or software until the second year. In fact, the entire first year was learning amazing skills like illustration, printmaking and sculpture, which continues to influence my work today.

After graduation, I worked in different studios for about five years after moving to Australia and for the last three years, I have been full-time freelance, fortunate to work with clients like Brisbane Festival, The Commonwealth Games, Solotel and more.

Did you always want to work for yourself?

It was always in the back of my mind, partially due to my upbringing and partially just understanding that some people aren’t meant for the traditional 9-5 routine and small talk by the water cooler situation. Working for yourself is incredibly difficult but has been so rewarding, giving me opportunities that I believe I wouldn't have had in a typical studio scenario.

What do you love about design?

I love having the tools that allow me to make the world a better place. Fitzgerald wrote that "Genius is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind." Are designers geniuses? Not sure, but what I do know is that design is a fantastic tool to put ideas into effect. Design isn’t just a craft, it’s a way of thinking and once you learn that amazing way of thinking, you can never see the world in the same way again.

Brisbane City Council

Brisbane City Council

The Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games

Do you think design alone can be a powerful enough medium to communicate a message?

I think design is a lot like fashion, a message is being communicated even if you don’t want it to. Wearing brands says something about you just as much as refusing to wear brands does. The same goes for design, whether you like it or not, every time you create something, it is communicating a message, the important thing is to know what that message is and make sure you are intentional about what you want to say.

Can you give us an example of this?

I recently completed a project that included the branding, illustration, animation and fit-out, for Matt Moran’s newest restaurant venue with Solotel called Little Big House.

This project was especially rewarding as I was able to bring the branding to life in a physical space, creating an atmosphere through things like neon signs, hand-painted murals and staff uniforms.

The venue had such a great history and story behind it, being 100 years old and heritage listed. For the branding and illustration, I was able to pull from amazing historical imagery, digging through Queensland’s library and newspaper archives, local flora and fauna and felt proud to encapsulate the essence of Queensland in this project.

Little Big House

Little Big House

Little Big House

Little Big House

Little Big House

Little Big House

You have a process. Tell us more

There is a quote I love to reference that says "Follow the process not the prize". I think it is one of the most important things for having longevity in a creative career.

Every day I remind myself to love the process, so here is my snapshot. As any business is based on relationships, I am intentional about carving out extra time at the beginning of a project for a face-to-face meeting. Next is research; competitors, history, demographics, inspiration, styles.

Sketching is the next must-have, thumbnails, ideas, word association, I love having pencil-to-paper. It is definitely my best way of processing ideas and thinking laterally.

What's been the most unusual request you've ever had?

Hobbit-themed wedding invitations. The clients were so lovely, and I’m a Tolkien fan so, in the end, it was actually a blast!

You lecture at Shillington. What do you enjoy about teaching?

I love the energy and sheer passionate naivety that students have, it is infectious and I am constantly trying to absorb it from my students. I feel fortunate to have acquired some tiny nuggets of knowledge and understanding over time, many of which I would have loved to know when I was studying and ultimately this drives me to share my experiences.

Personal animation project

Personal animation project

Do you have a favourite medium?

The one I keep going back to, ever since college is Ink Wash, basically a black and white watercolour where you dilute black Sumi ink in water to create illustrations in greyscale.

If you were a typeface what would you be?

Helvetica—sometimes a bit overworked but classic, honest and timeless.

You're based in Brisbane. What's the creative scene like there?

Exploding. I’m talking Creative Mornings tickets selling out in two minutes. Brisbane is small, but the creative scene is good and growing.

What's surprised you recently?

Not so recent anymore, but the second episode of the S-Town podcast left me physically, mouth-gaping-open, surprised.

Fiddle Leaf

Fiddle Leaf

Is there anything that's currently bugging you? How will you fix it?

Day rates. I never have understood why the design industry continues to assume that by working eight hours, there should be some sort of discount. You are adding the same amount of value, hence the rate should be the same. Let’s be real though, most of us are so incredibly fortunate, we have nothing even close worth complaining about.

What words of wisdom can you offer to those starting out in the industry?

Have an infectious passion for what you do, and to take a quote from Steve Martin, "Be so good they can't ignore you".

What's next for you?

So many things. Animation, Industrial design, more collaborations and juggling a newly growing family. Honestly, I am genuinely excited and optimistic for whatever is coming next, I know it is going to be fantastic!