Welcome to 20 Queensland Designers. Through the Design Minds initiative managed by the State Library of Queensland I was commissioned to interview a select group of the state’s most intriguing designers.

The idea was a celebration of sorts, a showcasing of some of our top talents, and a more intimate glance into their work and background than may have been recorded before. The subjects come from a broad range of disciplines, and included areas such as medical research and digital games development — areas that are not in the usual ambit of design writing. The premise we decided on was a simple one – to ask each designer what led them to the work they do today. Everybody is interested in a life story, and it is telling that many of the people I interviewed talked about early influences and identified key moments in their young lives that were turning points for their career paths. Each was generous with their time, and candid with their comments. Each has a passion that I believe is imbued in their words. I hope you enjoy these little vignettes and insights into a designer’s mind and inspiration.

As an industrial designer, filmmaker, brander, curator, writer, futurist, critic, educator and entrepreneur, it’s no surprise that Leon Fitzpatrick has a mistrust of any kind of silo mentality or stereotyping. His life has been split between the US and Australia, finishing his high school education Pasadena, California, and tertiary studies in Brisbane and Detroit. Employment has ranged from large corporations like Motorola to small entrepreneurial companies like MINIMAL Inc. where he designed for companies like Nike, Microsoft and Dell. Working on eco-design for Motorola, products for Xbox, as well as product and interaction design for the automotive industry are par for the course. Strong advocacy for social and environmental responsibility is threaded through all strands of Fitzpatrick’s work. He is also a co-founder of AUXILIARY, a new independent product design school based in Brisbane.

When did you first realise you wanted to be a designer?

For me design wasn’t an obvious choice at first. I am the youngest of eight children who are filmmakers, fashion designers, writers, industrial designers, jewellers, architects and curators. They are all much older than me. My mother had studied fine art, sculpture and theatre, and my Dad is a teacher and practitioner in design, most recently holding the position of Chair of Transportation Design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. It’s just what I grew up with, it’s normal. And although it had a profound influence, I didn’t really think of it as a career.

There was a very clear moment, though, when I did decide to study design. I was back in Brisbane after finishing high school in California. It was a culture shock to return, and I had taken academic courses at the University of Queensland in ancient history, philosophy, cognitive sciences and the like. By the end of that year I’d drawn over every book and textbook I owned, but didn’t really want to continue with the studies. So, I was standing in the kitchen with one of my older brothers, who’s an architect, asking him what I should do. He said, “Well, first of all don’t be an architect. Why don’t you just do design?”

It was clear I was interested in design of all kinds – I had sketchbooks full of cars, spaceships, and graphics. Enough to make a full portfolio. I decided to go to the Detroit College for Creative Studies and study industrial design, as it is a broad-ranging course.

I realised early on – even during school – that if I’m designing something that’s going to be thrown out at some point, then I have to think about that, and take responsibility. Cars, computers, and phones are all engineered to become obsolete. We’re part of the cycle and can’t ignore that.

At the big corporate behemoth of Motorola, I was hit by how much waste and bureaucracy and politics there is. The technology challenges were huge too. I probably got a bit cynical about some things, but at the same time there were incredible people from all over the world who’d come together to work in this beautiful downtown Chicago studio. Some were great mentors.

I tell my students not to worry about what doesn’t get realised, and to work out what is of value to the world. What you see in the world is a fraction of what happens, and the process is important. Design is a communication tool.

I love that I can live anywhere in the world with this work. It doesn’t matter where I’m based. Industrial design is not just me making a thing and putting it into the world. It’s not about creating a 3D model to send to China for production. It’s about designing a whole system and putting what’s relevant into that. It’s an holistic approach. The power to visualise and communicate is huge.

Heroes and Mentors: Nikola Tesla, Imre Molnar (Provost, College for Creative Studies), Richard Branson, Interface Carpeting Co CEO Ray Anderson, (closed loop business model)

Motto: Be holistic. Close the loop. Go local. Skill up.

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