- Full name : Alex Donne-Johnson
- Job title: Creative Director
- Location: London
- Website: www.dazzleship.com
- Preferred social handles:
– Hi Alex! How’s it going? Are you having a good week so far?
Hi! Yes, great thanks. Busy, but good! I’m testing out this whole ‘remote working’ trend and have come to Lisbon for a bit. The London summer was a massive anti climax (again!)
–For those Gluggers who’ve never heard of you, who are you and what do you
My name is Alex, I'm the Creative Director of Dazzle Ship. Lately, I’m specialising design and direction for animation/motion graphics. You can follow me on Instagram under the guise of Vector Meldrew.
–How did you end up doing what you’re doing now, then? Have you always dreamt of working in the creative industry, or what’s the back log here?
Yes, it’s always been a dream from a young age I knew that I wanted to work in the creative industry but it took me a while to figure out whereabouts I could fit into it. My work has been through various incarnations and influences until now. I started off as a web-designer from the ages of 15-18 in a small subculture of people who created fan sites and communities online, most of which are now long forgotten. I was heavily into Flash at the time and loved using it to make short films and websites in my bedroom. I also loved UK Garage and Drum & Bass so I would take my local record shops and pirate radio stations online and create fan-sites that promoted underground music. There was something about the whole culture that really grabbed me, it was a DIY mentality that made its own rules and created its own ecosystem. The grass roots approach meant that design was rarely paid attention to, it felt like an area where the rules weren’t yet written and you could create your own blueprint.
This led me to RWD, a startup with just 2 issues of a print based magazine. I undertook the fairly mammoth task (considering my age) of taking them online. It was good timing as it helped nurture the birth of grime/dubstep culture on the net. Although RWD has a different focus now, my favourite aspect of this creation was the (now defunct) ‘RWD forum’. It is still something that is quoted in artists lyrics to this day, by the likes of Wiley, JME and P Money. If you were a member of the forum then you’ll know how much crazy stuff took place on there, but that’s a whole other story!
I won’t go into the full RWD story but if anybody is interested then the founding editor Matt Mason went on to write a book about it back in 2008, named The Pirates Dilemma. Also more recently the second editor Hattie Collins wrote ‘This is Grime’.
From here onwards my side passion was creating album artwork, music videos and VJing live, so this really helped hone my design and animation skills. Alongside this, the culture around grime/dubstep had matured. Myself and editorial team had worked hard to translate this to online, so naturally big brands and advertisers wanted to align themselves with it. This meant were plenty of campaigns that needed to be created for the likes of adidas, Asics, Levi’s and JD sports which resulted in some great portfolio pieces from around 2010-2012.
As with this work and other clients, my approach has always been to break down quite complex topics and communicate them simply so I started to apply this methodology to bigger things. Now at Dazzle Ship, we have successfully created global campaigns for charities such as WaterAid, James Bond computer games cutscenes, and most recently for the design blueprint tech/sports start-up "The Drone Racing League".
It’s great to have the experience of working with big brands as well as start-ups as it gives you perspectives from both ends of the spectrum. In the same way that in 2002 nobody really knew about or understood grime music, it’s the same in 2017 with a brand new sport such as Drone Racing, there is a really interesting challenge there to create work that needs to tread a fine line between being informative enough to educate the viewer, but also being visually appealing enough to engage them. Too much of the former and it’s boring, and too much of the latter and it’s confusing. The feeling that you are treading new ground to create your own rules and conventions is the part that I am passionate about.
Looking back now, it was an unconventional route into the creative world, but I like to think Dazzle Ship is an unconventional company.
–What do you get up to when you’re not working? Got any exciting side hustles or passions to tell us about?
I think during my 20’s I was quite business focused, which was good as it helped get Dazzle Ship to its current state. Now, in my 30’s, I'm much more creatively focused, as I feel this will make me more effective and more fulfilled! My passions currently span writing, photography, painting, typography, and animation purely for personal experimental purposes. I like having on as many mini-projects as possible. Some of these never see the light of the day, but some make it online to my personal Instagram. I’ve realised lately how important it is to stay creative in as many areas as possible and for me, this mostly comes from experimenting and learning new techniques. At the start of this year, I set myself the task of creating a music video purely as a passion project.
–On a gloomy, totally uninspiring and day, where everything just feels like an obstacle —what do you usually resort to in order to get your inspiration back on track again?
For me, that is a sign to take a step back from everything. If all you can see is obstacles, then you need to gain a fresh perspective. Walking, exercising, traveling, galleries or just working on something totally different. These are a few ways I would use to tackle this.
–And on the opposite end —where do you usually find your inspiration in the work that you do either in your dream job or as a side hustle?
People ask this a lot and I've always struggled to answer the ‘inspiration’ question, as I feel it’s such an ethereal thing to define. On some level, everything you experience on a day-to-day basis feeds into your inspiration, so it’s important to have a strong network of people around you that offer inspiration and you can talk to openly. As mentioned above traveling and fresh perspectives play into it to a degree too. However, all of these things aside my main inspiration comes from the process. I don’t like to overthink or try to discuss ideas too much, I just want to sit down and make them. There are so many distractions in today's world, but if you can really get yourself into the 'flow state' with your task, the more you push yourself to experiment and learn, the more the creative ideas tend to build themselves and grow organically.
–Ok, so let’s get a bit dreamy, shall we? If you were to swap job with someone else in the creative industry, who would this be and why?
I’d swap with Neil Blomkamp, although they are very big shoes to fill! I’m a science fiction fan and like his films, but what I love even more is his approach to doing things. He started with indie films and made it to Hollywood as a director. Now Hollywood is dominated by big franchises it’s harder for directors (even as respected as him) to get release slots for their productions. So, on the notion of this he started Oats Studios, which is an independent studio and with a focus on ‘open source film making’.
This is the same thing I loved about grime and pirate radio — it embodies a culture of breaking rules to force innovation. It shows that you don’t need to always accept the status quo. I really believe in that mentality to this day.
- And…If you were given the opportunity to move anywhere without having to apply for any visa what-so- ever and we’d sort the packing for you —where would you go?
Austin, Texas! I love the vibe there… (and the BBQ!)
–Ok, and last but not least! Please give a link shout-out to 5 pieces of inspirational, or just plainly awesome, work that you’ve stumbled upon recently…
Die Antwood x Kanye x Drake
This is the funniest story I've heard recently.
It’s not new but I watch it often. I love the way the song haunts you. I first saw this at film night Conclave in London. The director, Eli, went on to work with Kayne West after this … and it’s shot in Texas!
What he can produce in a few hours, every day is becoming increasingly outstanding.
The Artists Way
I’ve only just started reading this but I've seen it recommended by a lot of inspirational people.
Kyle Wilkson’s Forthcoming Product Range
Admittedly I'm biased here as I know Kyle, but I really admire anyone that decides to work outside of their traditional comfort zone. Kyle was doing graphic design for years but then decided to make a chair, which went on get nominated for a prestigious award judged by Terrence Conran. He now has a full product range about to launch. I haven’t seen it but I am excited for him. Like Neil Blomkamp and like pirate radio culture I feel this is another good example of being fearless and going against the grain.