Bang On

Creative director Tess Robinson is steering a modern design agency that breaks all the rules

2Tess Robinson sold belly button dusters at her local market, aged five. “Yes, that happened!” she laughs. “I’ve always been a compulsive maker of things, moving swiftly from one project to the next; an irresistible urge to make, create and move forward on my own terms with a relentless fearlessness to do exactly as I wish.”

At 18, Tess launched a print magazine and then, at 22, started design agency Smack Bang Designs. “Well truthfully, I’ve never imagined doing anything else,” she asserts, now with a team of nine by her side. “Design has been an innate part of me since I could use my hands and I’ve always wanted to be a designer in some form or another.” Here, we ask her all about it.


You’re young with a young team. Advantage or hindrance?

From my perspective, it’s a great advantage! I began the Smack Bang dream straight out of university and never having worked in another studio before means that all processes, business ideas and studio life are determined by my natural intuitions and not preconceived ideas of how things should be done. Also, [it] means a constant flow of fresh ideas and allows us to move in a nimble fashion.

What makes you smile about the creative process?

I love seeing the vibrancy and excitement of a person as their idea grows from a tiny seed into a big, beautiful and ballsy concept. Since moving on from the somewhat embarrassing belly button dusters, I’ve felt a real urge to support the wave of consciousness and represent projects that I truly believe will better the world. Although graphic design has always been (and will always be) a huge passion of mine, these days I see it more as a vehicle to communicate and support the things that I believe in.

What has business taught you about life?

Along with a myriad of life lessons and exponential mind expansion, the most important thing business has taught me about life is to get super clear on your ‘why’ and stick to it like superglue. If you’re clear on why you do things and have the very best intentions behind your every move and every decision, you’ll attract all of the right people and things into your life. Being authentic is the very best thing we can do in this life, for us and for others.

What have your clients taught you about business?

It’s important to stay versatile, flexible and adapt your behaviour and language to those around you. Consider the differences in each other and embrace new ways of thinking. If you attack all situations with positivity, don’t take yourself too seriously and remain open and eager to listen to new ideas, you’ll bring out the best in those around you.

What is something businesses often get wrong with their design?

I’ve seen a lot of business owners rush the branding process and thus miss important pieces of the puzzle. Businesses often forget to include their ‘why’, launching with ‘cookie cutter’ branding that doesn’t express a strong sense of personality or individuality. Your brand should be an extension of yourself, and investing the time into representing this authenticity correctly is crucial.


What’s in a killer business name?

Choosing a great brand name isn’t easy, but it sure is important. A brand name is how a company introduces itself and is the very first impression customers receive. It should be thought-provoking, memorable, unique, easy to spell and as a bonus, fun to pronounce. When we brainstorm names for our clients we always start the process with identifying what they want their name to communicate. The name should, in part, reflect the company’s values and visions. Three-hundred thousand brand names are registered every year, so it’s imperative that your business name makes you the talk of the town.

What must you never skimp on, even if your budget is tight?

Never skimp on the foundations: your brand name, logo and branding. Just like building a house, if you do the groundwork and build strong foundations the rest will follow. If you have strong branding pillars, your website, packaging, signage, then everything else will be much easier to build successfully.

How do small businesses get the most out of their designer?

It’s important to know that we designers speak a visual language – of images, graphics and typography, so get familiar with Pinterest and your pencil to help depict the concepts floating around in your mind. It’s also crucial that you BYO flexibility, approach the project with an open mind and be prepared for your vision to grow, evolve and change in the process. Endeavour to provide feedback quickly and efficiently. Put it all in writing and break it down for your designer – what is it that you’re unsure about? The colours? The fonts? The layout? What aspects are hitting the spot? Spell it out. The more detailed your feedback, the sooner you’ll have exactly what you want.

What makes a good website?

Firstly, the world is in a hurry. Don’t let your website be that annoying old dude dawdling along a busy street. Optimise all graphics, audio and videos so as to speed up your site.

We’re a society of skim-readers so content should also be short, sweet and organised. Navigation and usability should also be a key priority. If a user gets lost on your website they generally don’t ask a local for directions, they leave.

One of my pet hates is poor photography. You don’t need loads of photos, but make sure the few that you use are of a high standard and reflect the essence of your brand. Be sure to invest in a quality photographer.

Photography: Amelia Fullarton

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