Western Australia is a funny place. Innovations are coming from several areas and industries that sometimes overshadow the accomplishments of Sydney or Melbourne based practitioners, and not just in areas we think of as distinctly western, like mining.
IT, eco-tourism and even political activism are just some of the most productive and inspiring fields to be passionate about in 21st Century WA. Another is design — in graphics, photography or illustration.
They don’t make a big habit of blowing their trumpets to the eastern states, though — partly because they don’t want to compete with the noise, but also because they’re making a very nice living (and name for themselves) among buyers and commentators throughout Asia, Europe and the US.
But Perth’s a small city — even by Australian standards — and there isn’t a thriving design community such as those Sydney and Melbourne enjoy. With no shortage of talent, someone had to do something about showcasing it.
Enter Smooch. Bought to life at the beginning of 2003 by a trio of designers and developers in both print and web, it’s now a very well known quarterly publication and website (smooch.com.au).
Perth, Smooch thinks, has a lot to say in the field of design. Co founder Ian Scott Morin explains it this way; “We wanted to expose the unknown talent in Perth,” he says. “You hear a lot about Sydney and Melbourne and they tend to get a lot of hype. Things in Perth don’t tend to get much attention so we’re sort of drawing that out. Perth has amazing talent — not only in graphic design and photography, but also in fashion and music — which we hope to feature in the [third] issue.”
“I’ve searched the web for websites by Perth designers or students but don’t notice many. I’m not sure why it is, but I don’t think it’s because Perth is an enclosed market or Perth designers don’t think they’re good enough for the international stage. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you’re good people will notice. There have been some Perth designers like Deanne Cheuk, Block Branding and Andrew Godfrey who’ve gone on to do big things internationally.”
“But the design community isn’t as big here like Melbourne and Sydney. There’s a lot of designers and not many jobs, so most of them aren’t looking to build a community but just get a foot in the door somewhere.”
It’s with that in mind (along with Western Australia’s famous pioneering spirit) that Morin, along with fellow designers Paul Bui and Miles Burke, launched Smooch to blow Perth’s trumpet.
Problem is, thanks to some shrewd early marketing, Smooch got a name for itself further afield than they expected. After friendly involvement with the operators of popular Aussie design portals Australia INfront and Design is Kinky, along with Perth IT forum Port 80, word got around.
Surely then, they must be getting at least a couple of submissions from over east?
“We’re actually getting more submissions from over east and overseas than we are from WA,” Bui says, “There’s a lot from Brazil for some reason, as well as from the UK and America.”
The method Smooch uses to generate the most interesting work is to issue a challenge; every issue has a theme hopefuls have to work to. It’s the closest a design showcase publication can offer to that most commercial of phenomena (and the thing that sorts the design wheat from the chaff); the brief.
Morin thinks it’s good both as an anchor and a source of expressive freedom. “The good idea about having a theme is that people start from the same spot,” he says, “plus you can see everyone’s interpretation.”
“It gives the designers a challenge,” Bui agrees. “If we just said ‘we want to showcase your work’, you’d get anything and everything. By having a theme, we see how people respond to an idea. It makes them think.”
But in a city as small and faraway as Perth (the first thing locals tell you is that it’s the most isolated capital city in the world), why bother with a printed publication when a virtual one costs a fraction as much and can be seen internationally — especially if the purpose is to showcase local work?
As much as Smooch is a promotion device, it’s a labour of love. “Being from a print background, I like the experience of walking into a newsagent and seeing a nice magazine, being able to pick it up,” Morin says, “I prefer to hold something in my hand and flip through it, it’s a different experience from a website. People like the feel of the stock and the smell of the ink, and I think that’s important.”
“Plus,” Bui adds, “there’s already plenty of sites out there that already offer pdf magazines and e-zines.”
As well as the selected design and photography, Smooch also features interviews with well known and up and coming designers as well as competitions, features and all sort of reasons to keep you coming back.
There are also plans for exhibitions of work towards the end of this year, featuring designs from big names and locals side by side, another avenue that promises to get some serious design spotlights pointing west.
Right now Smooch’s printed form is only available in Perth (thanks to sponsorship from Lamb Print and Spicers Paper), but Morin and Bui said they’ve toyed with the idea of paid subscriptions.
Maybe it’s something they’ll introduce in the future — their views on Smooch’s future seem pretty fluid, letting opportunity take them where it will — but if its popularity so far is anything to go by, the future of Smooch in one form or another is assured.