Andrew is one of those aloof characters, from the outside he seems to be a quiet achiever and complete moodiest when he talks about his work. When you see him walking around the streets of Chapel he could be characterized as one of those hyper-chic Prahran guys, seamlessly shifting between cafes and office spaces.
It seems that he 'has it all' but after a length decision about the design world and his transformative career path, I realized Andrew is so much more. He embodies the innovative business thinking that has produced some of the best companies in the world. His humble values have transitioned into his business practice and I believe, a key contributor to his success in the highly competitive and egotistic world of design. He is a business owner, forward-thinking designer, but more importantly, he is just a human and he recognizes his inability to do it all on his own. Look outwards to find success for himself, but more importantly the team he has created.
How would you explain your design aesthetic?
It’s a common scene design; clean, clear, functional. It’s about using less materiality, taking a subtractive approach but using it in a bold way. You don’t have to throw 100 things at a project to make it impressive, in fact, I believe it’s more impressive if we can do something amazing with 2 or 3 materials across a project. Run forward with a one really strong idea and lead the whole project with the singular concept. If you have multiple directions influencing the project they always compete for attention and it does not create a strong outcome. We approach all our projects by putting together to an astatic scheme, working through the design process and before we finalize I always try to take one or two things out at the end, it just works from that process, being subtractive.
Describe a typical studio day for Andrew Zunica, if there is any consistency.
When I walk through the door I'm ON from that moment, for up to 10 to 12 hours straight. I’m the director of the business, that includes creative directing and also operations director, I’m across every spectrum of the business. It’s about being as flexible a possible to meet any deadline that comes in, general we work on a rough process of Mondays are our set up day; we catch up from the last week and set up the week ahead. Tuesday and Wednesday are the development and client meeting days. Wednesday I keep it free if anything urgent pops up its generally on a Wednesday. Then it’s a crazy rush to get everything done by Friday. Basically, is crazy at the start and end of the week with a moment of calm in the mild. It’s working at the moment, but next week it could be something different, we are always changing.
You started Zunica 5 years ago, in that time the brand has built a rich portfolio of residential and commercial projects. You have found success by cutting your path in a crowded industry, what was the focus behind starting Zunica.
Being a typical millennial as you pointed out earlier, I thought there was a better way to do business and gave it a go. I started my career with an industry-leading organization, on one hand, the organization was a brilliant place to work, with a fantastic environment to learn. On the other hand, I was introduced to an industry that was egotistic and difficult to thrive in. I did not find a supportive environment and the motivations for people working on design projects was centered on the designers focus rather than the client’s needs. My motivation to start my own design studio sprouted from that experience. I want to explore how designers related with the clients and what were their motivations for being a designer and designing. Secondly, I felt the need for an organization that developed a collaborative approach to designing, rather than designers doing the grunt work of their boss and it only achieving outcomes through a one-sided conversation. Also, I have always had the desire to create something.
What is the primary quality you contribute your success too?
We work from an anti-design mentality, it’s not about us and our egos, it’s about what we do for our clients. It’s not about how fantastic it looks or how much money we spend, it’s more about our ability to achieve our client’s objectives, through clever, well considered, common scene design elements. Something that I don’t think is often achieved in the design industry.
When it comes to small business, you are only as good as the people behind you and Zunica clearly has a strong team in place. Can you talk us through the structure of the team and how the dynamic works between its members?
Absolutely, I would not be here without anyone that works with me now or as in the past. I always say People who work ‘with me’ rather the ‘for me’, it’s how to feel comfortable with the situation. People are at Zunica because they want to be there, not because it’s a job. I want all the Zunica team members because they want to and enjoy the work. I have a vision, we agree upon the direction as a team, then I help team member facility there job to achieve the outcome for our clients.
How much influence do your personal style, taste, and inspiration have on your work?
I put my personal taste aside until we have understood what the client wants to achieve. As a young firm, we have a lot of clients that come to use without any experience of working with a design studio. They come to use with an idea or reference and simply say I want something like this. I ask them to put those ideas aside and question what are they wanting to achieve with the interior design, what the purpose, what is their style and what are you wanting to say with the feel of the interiors. Once we have that understanding and a brief written down, they release the ideas they brought to the table irrelevant. When I can focus on the style after the functionality has been agreed upon, then it links back to my minimal approach.
Through the years of developing a successful brand and name, I'm sure you have had many ups and down, however, what has been the biggest challenge in creating Zunica?
There are too many to list when you're starting your own business. But one of the biggest I came across was the decision to grow and push the business to be more than a soil trader. I know it would be difficult and challenging but did not quite know how much of a challenge it was going to be.
Now the biggest personal challenge is balancing the competing elements of the business.
As a creative director you have a full view of the interior design and architectural industry in Australia and abroad, from your perspective, how does Australian stack up on the international stage?
Australians have a tendency to look overseas for the biggest, the best and the greatest. I know it sounds horribly cliché but I believe there is a lot of talent in this country and in particular in Melbourne. We are in Australia, it’s a melting pot of cultures and as designers take from a lot of different representations from around the world. I had to give it a score out of ten I would give it an 8 or 9 out of 10. We compete on the world stage.
We need to think differently now, authority does not lie with baby bombers anymore, power has fallen to millennial, we are working with 25-35 year-olds in decision making roles. Who has grown up with a different understanding of how the world works. They question how spaces that they exist in work for them and how it influences their being.
How do you and the team tackle the digital space?
It’s been organically grown through digital. I don’t think I will ever take an ad out in the yellow pages or a glossy magazine, it goes against the idea that Zenica is anti-design. We understand the importance of how to connect with the customer, but one of the challenges of being a small business is there are so many hours in the day and money in the bank. So, the whole team manages the social identity of our online personality. We are all taking a pic on the road and we all contribute to the social story, we are all working through it. I would love to employ someone to take this on full time at some point. The digital reach has worked, we have picked up new clients from a number of different social channels.
Developing an innovative space is a balancing act between aesthetics and functionality, how do you draw the line between the two areas and make them work together?
For me, that is a really easy answer, I separate the two completely. I follow the old edict that form follows function and I believe strongly in that. The foundation of a strong design is functionality, that relates to the layout and the ability for people to operate in a space. Many designers forget about functionality. There is no point creating a beautiful space if the people that work into do not have enough room to move.
From the outside, it seems you have incorporated the idea of collaboration as an essential part of Zunica practice, with your working relationships with photographers, artists, and designers. Has this partnership spirit been a key part of Zunica success?
Absolutely, Collaboration is not a new idea anymore. Maybe the idea was ten years ago, but not anymore. I feel the design industry took alit longer to catch on to the idea, then the corporate sector. In some of my experiences I find designers default to 'it’s all about ME’, they hold onto their ideas and are unwilling to share them. The design world has taken a little longer to be OKAY with sharing process and success with a range of different people, whether that be their team or collaborators.
Also, the majority of our projects need so much more than just an interior design, there is always marketing and brand and at least a website to promote. A lot of our projects are architectural based or require furniture design. We market as the whole package that requires a wide range of skill sets. We need collaborators to achieve our goals.
Keeping that in mind, Did you set out with this collaborative spirit as a core element of Zunica's design practice or was it a factor that naturally developed?
It starts with us looking at ourselves and asking who are we, what we trained in and how can we best offer our clients value. There is no point us pretending to be something we are not or offering a service that we are not expert in. It just does not work, it chews up time and resources that we could be focusing on what we do well. We can be sharing our success with other design origination, so we can all achieve. We are collaborative within our own team structure and it works.
With your background in lecturing and mentoring new talent, what is your advice for designers entering the industry?
It depends on who is asking the question if you want to be the jet-setting designer that works on massive projects or if you’re a designer that want to cut your own path and create something different, start off in a big firm with the best possible job you can land. For the jet-setting designer work your way up. For someone who is more like me, work there until you can’t handle anymore, then leave and slowly build something for yourself. That process is completely unique to each person, but learn the basics first and take advice from people who have come before you. You have to try, even if you don’t know how to. Don’t say yes to tasks you know you can't do, say yes to the task you think you can.