"A few weeks ago I was speaking to John about the ULTRABOLD branding refresh when it struck me just how long he has been volunteering with the RGD! He has done it all and I don’t see him stopping anytime soon. A thorough professional, he has always been helpful and generous with his time. I am always surprised (and glad) that he comes back to do more. It’s been a pleasure collaborating with John." — Karin Heinsch RGD, Creative Director at the RGD
How long have you been volunteering with the RGD and in what capacity?
I’ve been an RGD since the very beginning of the Association back in 1997, but didn’t start to get seriously involved with the organization until I joined the Board in 2003. I’ve been very fortunate to participate across a wide range of activities: in addition to serving on the Board and being President for two terms, I’ve been and continue to be part of various RGD Committees and represent the RGD at events and in the media, mentoring both individuals and at Designathons and contributing to collective thought leadership for the Association through written pieces — as well as speaking at both virtual and in-person events. The growth and variety of experiences says a lot about how much we have grown as an Association over the past 25 years and the depth of what the RGD offers to the Canadian design industry.
What experience stands out for you?
DesignThinkers 2006. As RGD President at the time, I was asked to be Massimo Vignelli’s “minder” for the day on which he was speaking at the Conference. I escorted him from session to session, making sure we stuck to our schedule, as everyone — from attendees to other speakers — wanted his attention and a chance to have a one-on-one conversation. Throughout the day, I got to know him as a person. He was so incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, no matter who he talked to. It made me realize that as we, designers, age one of the most valuable things we can do is worry less about our own design output and focus more on helping the next generation of designers take the profession forward.
What is the most unexpected thing to come out of volunteering with the RGD?
The one thing I never expected was to hear from other designers how something that I had said while speaking (either at a conference or participating at an RGD event) helped shape and evolve how they approached their own professional practice. After being told that more than once, I made a concentrated effort to be more careful and balanced with my comments and opinions when speaking at an event or writing an opinion piece. As a designer with over 30 years’ experience, I need to use the opportunities I’ve been given to help the next generation of designers benefit from what I’ve been fortunate to learn along the way.
Based on your experience volunteering with the RGD, how would you describe the role of the organization in the industry?
The RGD is the connector for individuals working in or with the industry. It connects designers with people, ideas and resources that they would not normally have easy to or quick access to. And volunteering is an amazing way to experience all of these great connections first hand.
What have you learned about the industry since volunteering for the RGD?
That the career paths for practising graphic designers have changed more in the past 10 years than in the previous 50. I graduated into an industry that was based on the traditional studio system: you started as the junior person within an established design team where you learned your craft and gained experience from the more senior members of the studio. That system pretty much no longer exists with many of the designers I talk to when I'm volunteering either freelancing right out of school or working “in-house” often on their own without the benefit of having design colleagues to learn from. This is why I see the need for the RGD to help connect designers to one another and to learn from one another ever more valuable and important.
What have you gained from being an RGD volunteer and why would you recommend it to other members who might be thinking of getting involved?
The biggest thing I have gained is seeing that while we, as design professionals, may want similar outcomes, how we approach them as individuals is incredibly diverse. In this diversity I have learned that there is often far more than just one “right way” to go about something. Volunteering has allowed me to interact with far more design professionals than I ever would have from just working in a design studio, exposing me to different points of view and making me confront my own preferences and biases. And that’s something we all, as communicators, need to do on a regular basis.
John Furneaux RGD is the founder and the creative and strategic lead at B3 Strategy, a collaborative consultancy. For 30 years, John has worked closely with organizations of all sizes, from entrepreneurial start-ups to global leaders. His award-winning experience spans a broad range of brand image and identity programs as well as the communications and marketing initiatives that bring brands to life. Prior to founding B3 Strategy, John held leadership positions at a number of leading brand consultancies including Identica Branding, karacters design group, Ove Design and Publicis Brand|Design. John also teaches Design Strategy and Leading Design Teams at George Brown College in their Design Management Program. He is a Past President of RGD and is an active speaker and contributor in the design industry.