Vince Frost: Designing a Better World

By Joe Shepter

Vince Frost needs no introduction to the international graphic design community. After becoming Pentagram’s youngest associate director ever, he founded Frost Design in London, in 1994, and then moved it to Sydney, Australia, in 2004. In 2014, he redesigned the business to form Frost Collective, a five-brand company of more than 50 people, spanning graphic design, environmental design, business strategy, responsible packaging, and AR/VR production. With a client list including Qantas, Woolworths, Sydney Opera House, Lendlease, and AMP, to name just a few, Frost has been a frequent lecturer and fixture at design competitions for decades. 

In his 2015 book, Design Your Life, Frost laid out his central idea that design thinking and problem solving can apply to everything from business to life—a philosophy he has translated into a quest for making a difference with every project he does. To that end, Frost Collective created Jack, a brand focused on sustainable packaging, and the collective also serves as a partner for companies trying to improve their products and processes for employees and customers alike. Frost also recently launched “Design Your Life,” a new podcast that expands on the ideas in his book and explores how successful people have changed their lives for the better.

Design Your Life is Frost’s book about applying design principles to managing your life, and that book has recently grown into a regular podcast.

Adobe Create sat down with Frost for a discussion about making a positive impact in the world through the power of design.

Create: Your company’s tagline is “We believe in designing a better world.” How does that translate to your work?

Frost: From the very beginning of my career, I realized that designing for me is about adding value to the world. I realized how powerful design is, and that gives us an obligation to use every opportunity we have to make a difference. It’s not just about creating something that looks great—that’s a given. It’s about focusing on how we add true value in every project we do.

Of course, some examples of this in our work are more obvious than others. We’ve worked with Ending HIV 2020 for six years. We did branding and communications for OzHarvest, which is becoming one of the world’s largest food rescue organizations.

But within any commercial opportunity, we try to understand the brief and the audience, and then we work with experts, including behavioral economists and user experience strategists, to ensure we are making something that meets the end user’s needs.

Create: Is there a specific process you use for creating an impact?

Frost: Yes, it’s simply human-centered design. Our process starts with a briefing, and then we go into research, and we hold workshops with customers and stakeholder groups. We do fast prototyping, test things out with customers, and then do return briefs—none of this, of course, is unique, as many companies throughout the world practice this approach. The key is that we work closely and transparently with clients. We design with them, instead of designing in isolation and imposing it on them. Success in design is not a mystery; it’s that you need to truly care about getting it as right as possible. You should never stop until you find a solution that goes above and beyond. Perhaps the only difference is that in order to continue to add further value to our clients, I have brought together a unique collective of specialists.

Create: When you started designing, very few people talked about human-centered design. What has changed?

Frost: Over my career, everything has evolved. In the old days and at the beginning of my career, design was very much about appealing to other designers. You looked to awards for recognition—and, yes, awards are still important, but they are not everything.

Then it shifted to where our clients were the ones we wanted to make happy. We wanted them to smile and clap, and say, “Great job; this is amazing.”

Pages from Frost’s book Design Your Life.

In the last five years, it has become about the customer, and rightly so. Big corporations we work with, like airlines and supermarkets, have all suddenly become customer-centric. You’d think it was always that way, but that wasn’t the case. Now, we’re not designing for the marketing director, and we can start homing in on who people really are and what they need…it’s about getting in and meeting them and talking with them and testing out ideas, eliminating the guesswork. Now my greatest satisfaction is when the customer really connects with what we have created.

Create: The most socially impactful part of your business is Jack, your packaging design company. Why did you start it and how does it work?

Frost: The key insight here is that business doesn’t come to you; you have to go to it. Before we started Jack, we would get packaging on a random basis, sometimes frequently. I wanted to get proactive. So we decided to design a new business and have someone head it up.

Vince Frost is one of the experience makers who will be speaking at Adobe Symposium, the Digital Experiences Conference—August 15 and 16 in Sydney, Australia. Learn more and register.

Jack comes at a good time. It coincides with much more awareness in the last 12 months around plastic in the oceans. Manufacturers started years ago to minimize waste and create products that are not damaging the earth. Plastics are obviously a big problem, and many organizations are beavering away finding alternatives to it. So we can pull in an array of people to find out how we can contribute or use the work of others. There is a lot expertise and rigor in materiality now, which makes it easier.

Create: With all your other responsibilities, do you still sit down at a computer and design?

Frost: I still work on some design projects, but for me everything is design. My passion is designing success. But I think I’ll always like to play around and wait until something gives me a bit of a shiver, that feeling that I'm homing in on something.

I have a lot of personal projects on the go at the moment. For example, I’m investing in a new gym in Sydney. I'm working with my team on giving it a name, a logo, its interior design, a merchandise website, and everything. I’m also developing a 300-acre eco-resort with my son. We are conceiving the whole experience from brand to landscape architecture. It’s a very new thing for me, to do all that, and it is very much outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes I say to myself, “This is hard; what am I doing? I’m not good at this.” But I really believe in it. I see the need and opportunities, and I want to see the idea brought to life.

Create: What’s your advice for young designers just starting out and wanting to make an impact?

Frost: The number one thing is that you need to design your life like you design any project. Often, when I was younger, I would let life just happen to me. I’d be busy, and life would take me where it wanted to. From the outside it looked great, but the reality was that I was just going with it. It wasn’t until I designed my life and decided want I wanted to achieve that it started to proactively work for me. So it’s important to have clear goals and deadlines, and to keep checking in with them, like any design project. I would also advise young designers to surround themselves with mentors and people who can guide them.

Create: What has you excited about design today?

Frost: I’m trying to find ways to test our ideas with rigor. I want to shift from “I feel this will work” to “I know it will work.” No design award is going to guarantee that what you’re recommending is a success. People say fail and fail again, and they talk about how it’s good to fail. I fundamentally do not agree with that. I do not want to fail. Yes, you can learn from it, but let’s try to avoid failing altogether. It’s hard work to recover from failure.

But I’m most excited about the emphasis on the designer being a problem solver and not an aesthetic applicator. We’re given challenges to solve. When someone refers to me as a graphic designer, I get frustrated that people don’t see what we’re doing. We never design it to be lovely; we design it for the effect it has.

June 12, 2018