Industry Profile: Designworks senior designer, Jacob Mahoney

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 29 November 2016
Jacob Mahoney

Our Industry Profile takes a weekly look at some of the professionals working across the advertising, ad tech, marketing and media sector in Australia. It aims to shed light on the varying roles and companies across the buzzing industry.

Today we head to Melbourne to speak to Designworks Melbourne senior designer, Jacob Mahoney.

How long have you been in the industry?

Six and a half years.

Duration in current role/time at the company:

Nearly four years at Designworks, 18 months as a senior designer.

What were you doing before this job and how did you get this gig?

I worked for Extension, a smaller brand/marketing studio. I got this job after meeting James Sterling (Designworks’ creative director) to talk through my work, once an opportunity opened up he got in touch.

Define your job in one word:


What were your real and cliché expectations of working in the industry?

The real expectation was that it would be hard work & long hours; the cliché expectations were that every day would be a creative day, in a cool, converted warehouse space

How does the reality match up? 

The reality of hard work and long hours stacks up perfectly (on occasion). But as far as clichés go, not every day is a creative day, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and most of your learnings in the early years come from the non-creative tasks. As for the cool, converted warehouse … no, this doesn’t stack up, but you quickly find it is the people that make work an enjoyable place, not exposed brick.

How would you describe what the company does and what does your role involve?

Designworks is strategic brand experience agency, with a heavy emphasis on customer experience and journey. Ideally we create brand experiences or touchpoints that satisfies the users expectations, but more importantly leaves them thinking of their experience the way the client strategy intended. My role in that is to work as closely with strategy as possible to create a brand or branded experience that best aligns with the strategic idea, while satisfying clients and user expectations.

Best thing about the industry you work in:

The opportunity to create something (a brand or experience) people love.

Any major hard learnings in the job so far?

I don’t think there have been and major hard learnings in particular, but there are definitely learnings that are necessary. For me the hardest (most necessary) learning is don’t get too attached to the work you create, don’t fall in love with what you’re doing until you’re 100% sure it is right for the brief and strategy, and even then be cautious about how attached you get.

If you had to switch over to another department, which would it be and why?

Brand strategy, in working so close with the strategy team already I feel it would be the smoothest transition.

What's exciting you about the industry right now? 

The power of brand has shifted to the user and customer not the organisation. Companies no longer control the perception of their product. Brand advocacy is the hardest thing for a company to earn and the only way to that is better the user experience.

What concerns you about the industry and its future?

In contrast to the previous answer, what excites me about the industry is what concerns me, businesses continual focus on above the line activations/campaigns, as opposed to re-establishing their brand values and customer promises. Putting lipstick on a pig, building on sand, bandaid on a bullet hole, polishing a turd etc

Who is your right hand person/who guides you day to day?

Designworks Melbourne is a small but open team so day to day I’m guided by any number of the team, you’re never doing anything in isolation (even if you’d like to). But in terms of concept development, me and fellow snr designer Tim Wood will always work closely in the initial stages of a project, researching and referencing together, making sure we’re on the same page before we get stuck into a job.

And your almighty mentor that you hope to dethrone?

I’m not in the game of ‘de-throning’, I would definitely like to build my skills to match the creative directors & strategists within in the company, but the day that happens will be the right day to explore new opportunities, or I’ve overstayed my welcome.

Career-wise, where do you see yourself in 2020 and how do you plan on getting there?

Ideally in 2020 I would just be preparing to starting my own “studio/agency/company”, not 100% sure it will directing involve what I currently do now, but the hope is it does. No idea how I will get there, potentially work overseas for a time, gain a broader business knowledge and take a risk.

What is the elephant in the room? The thing that no one is talking about – but they should be.

I believe in showcasing, recognizing and sharing great work in the industry but I’m always puzzled when award shows select work that’s not really ‘real’. Real in the sense that it’s not actually in market, approved by a client and run out to the world. It may be beautiful, innovative or smart but I feel like there’s a disconnect when it’s clearly a trophy piece vs. functional design tool... It’s like having expensive furniture in your house but you’re not allowed to sit on it.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I never intentionally set time or activities aside to seek out inspiration. I try my best to keep up with blogs, awards and what other studios are doing (probably the most inspiring). But when I’m stuck on a creative problem I generally find stepping away from the computer and design is the best way to re set and get inspired.

Tell us one thing people at work don’t know about you?

All the members of the studio one afternoon took one of those ridiculous Facebook “What Spirit Animal Are You” online quizzes. People came out as bears, beavers, leopards etc…I got Butterfly. I didn’t tell anyone.

Favourite advert is:

I don’t really have one to be honest.

What’s your personal motto?

Yesterday you said tomorrow.

I got into advertising/ad tech/marketing etc because:

I got into communication design and in particular branding initially because it was what I was good at through school, then horrible at through university. But it was always fun. Before falling into a job where I found I enjoyed being creative within the parameters of a brief. So I guess I’m in this because I enjoyed the creative challenge.

If I wasn't doing this for a living, I'd be:

Landscape gardening.

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