Design Catalysts: Michael Bryce

April 7, 2009

Another of our 10 Design Catalysts, the versatile Michael Bryce talks to (inside) about his multi faceted design career, his life and passions.

JH: What is your first memory of wanting to be a designer or an architect, and what attracted you to this career?
MB: I’ve always been interested in making things. When I was a young fellow, I used to make things: toys, stage sets and puppet shows; I was always making something. I think I was the kind of go-to guy in the neighbourhood for decoration of, for instance, soapbox trolleys.
In the postwar years all the kids used to make things and so I used to paint the trolleys and I’d cut out the cartoon characters, Mickey Mouse and Superman. Everybody had a name on the side of their trolleys and I would decorate their helmets, and so I was designing miniature corporate identities at 10 years of age.

JH: Which creative professionals have inspired you most over your career, and why?
MB: My father was the main influence on my life. He was an advertising artist, a sign writer and during the war years he became quite well-known as a war cartoonist and very talented. Another influence was Gordon Andrews. He died only a few years ago in his nineties, and he was more like the father of graphic design in Australia. He designed the Australian bank notes that we use today and he was the first graphic designer to work in London designing posters for BOAC, now British Airways. I also admired Captain Marvel, Superman and Walt Disney. I don’t mind telling people that I started learning to be a graphic designer because I used to copy things. I would use tracing sheets over cartoons and draw the outline and then colour them in and try to make them look as close as I could to the characters in comic books. I should have been arrested for plagiarism!

JH: Your career highlights suggest a creative polymath, but do you have a first love in terms of creative disciplines?
MB: Each discipline I have been involved with was the most important at the time; then I would move onto something else. That’s the theme that’s running through my life and work; everybody wanted me to do something different. Looking back, however, I almost became an interior designer as all my commissions in my early stage of my practice were interior design: office interiors, foyers and boardrooms.
When I lived in London I sketched and some of my drawings were hung at the Royal Academy in London. At that time I was employed as an architect, so I became responsible for the practice’s presentation drawings. Back in Australia I won ‘house of the year’ for the Institute of Architects in 1984. The following year we were on the short list for ‘house of the year’, and I really wasn’t terribly interested in houses.
I have been the president of the Industrial Design Institute, a member of the Design Board and the Australian Council, and have won the President’s Award at the Institute of Architects for the graphics system for a cultural centre. So I have a very mixed history, and I regret that in a way because I’ve always been an architect that looked like a lawyer; I’ve never had a black shirt in my life. Today, however, my energies are focused on design and one of the things I’m most involved with at the moment is the quest for a national architecture museum.

JH: Looking back at over four decades of design practice, which of your design projects are you most proud of?
MB: What happens in one decade is the most important to you, but in the last decade the highpoint has been the Olympic and sporting period of my life. I was fortunate enough to win the competition for the design of the bid logo for the Olympic Games in 1990. It was the zigzag pattern, a design that was contemporary, but also drew on Indigenous art without apologising for it. An Aboriginal artist and friend, Ron Hurley, worked with me to achieve the design. After that it was my merger with the London firm Minale Tattersfield. They were already world famous for branding Harrods, various banks and Thames Television. And so in joining with them it gave me an edge – the ability to climb above the other bidders for international work. Then came the Wallabies, the Australian swimming team and the PGA Golf. The second most thrilling moment of my life was when we launched the look for the International Cricket Council at a time when the ICC was in worldwide disfavour.

JH: Thinking of contemporary design, who or what excites you most now?
MB: I love the work of Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hüber (1927–2004), a designer for Georg Jensen. I met her when she was on the verge of retirement, and since then I’ve been trying to buy, for my wife, every piece of silver that she designed for Georg Jensen. I like Frank Gehry and I’ve continued to be inspired by Harry Seidler – by his work, by his life, by his doggedness. I also think Sue Carr has been very influential, and [so has] Jan Faulkner from Nexus in South Melbourne, whose work is so meticulous and so important.

JH: Alongside your professional practice you have also been committed to design education. If you were in possession of a magic wand, what would you change about the way design is taught in Australia?
My aim has always been to see the design disciplines of interior design, industrial design, graphic design, fabric design and multimedia design elevated to the same respect as architects and engineers by instituting a design degree. Secondly, there must be a way in which talented people can continue their growth to an international baccalaureate degree that enables designers to interact in other studios, so that designers can expand their horizons.

Minale Bryce Design Strategy is now based in Sydney although Michael Bryce is no longer involved with the business.

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