Studio Visit with Graham Wiles
Spawned from the sweaty armpit of Southern Africa (Durban), Graham Wiles is a self-proclaimed jack of all trades, master of none. He does AK’s product and marketing graphics, takes some photos, and spends too much time scrolling through the brands’ social media accounts when he should be creating content instead. He also wrote and answered these questions so that you could learn more about him, a modest guy, so here we go…
Jumping straight into it, what’s one of your favorite photos you’ve taken recently and why?
I’ve taken happy snaps on a few local trips lately, but the last real adventure I went on was to Taiwan for work in 2019. I was away for about a week visiting a supplier and I’d go out for a walk every evening to see what I could find. I have a series of 3 photos I posted, and if I had to pick one, it would be the shot into the restaurant kitchen below.
I’m quite introverted and socially anxious, but like people watching from a safe distance. I love how a photo, and street photography in general, will capture a glimpse into someone’s life, often without them even knowing. I was on an empty side street, and he was in the zone, just doing his thing.
I’m dying to get out of my comfort zone in another country again, and just made a zine from my last few trips through Asia to reminisce on.
What are you inspired by at the moment?
I’m particularly inspired by the light that’s been put on social issues over the last few years, seeing the world pause, and the megaphone of the people who won’t stand for injustice any longer. It’s powerful and helping me focus on some deep introspection and self-improvement.
Besides that, not being able to travel abroad has helped me focus on my local environment, which has been really refreshing.
How did you first get into graphic design?
I basically had two options after finishing school, and no clue what the viable career options for myself really were. It was a decision between fine art and graphic design. I didn’t know what graphic design really was, but I figured there were some steady career options in design that I could pursue.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you started getting into design?
I was extremely privileged.
Things had come together really nicely at home, and I had my tertiary education handed to me on a silver platter. I know it, and didn’t waste that opportunity. I’m extremely grateful for that.
Being aware of this, I’ve always been more than happy to share the knowledge I have too.
What was one thing that was crucial in getting you to where you’re at now?
The people around me and the support I received, no doubt. I had searched for a job I’d be happy with for about 6 months before moving to Cape Town from Durban, and was working odd jobs for another 6 months before I got lucky with SSD. I was picky, but I managed to get the job I’m still in now through an old family friend. Since then, I’ve grown under the mentorship of Clinton Filen, and the various people and brands we’ve worked with over the years.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a graphic designer?
Photography would be challenging for me socially, but is something I’d really enjoy. I like shooting action sports and outdoors, and I’m a sucker for a good conceptual studio shoot too. I love visual communication, and my day-to-day tasks are quite varied, so I have no regrets.
What is a typical day in the life like for you?
I wake up at 6:30, make coffee and stretch, and then skim through e-mails and the social accounts to prioritise tasks for the day. I then get in to the studio at 8:00 to follow up on those e-mails and check the socials again.
I typically have one big task I like to power through in the morning while my body and mind are feeling fresh. This might be copy writing, studio photography, packaging or campaign asset layouts, or designing product graphics, depending on where we are in the development cycle. I’ve usually burnt myself out by 12:30 when I take a quick lunch.
After lunch, more coffee, and I’ll usually shift over to less inspiring admin or layout to ride out the rest of the work day productively. After 16:00, I’ll usually drop something on social media, and then head home with burnt out eyes and a sore back.
If the conditions are right, I’ll take a detour past the beach on my way back to the suburbs, and then i’m just keeping an eye on my e-mails and the social accounts in the evening.
Lights out by 22:00.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I grew up listening to punk, metal core, and hip hop, but I have to keep it easy listening in the studio as the person with control over the speakers.
I’ve been listening to Highly Suspect – Serotonia and Ama Lou – DDD while I write this.
If you could jump on a plane right now, where would you go and why?
Probably just back to Durban to surf warm water with friends. Seems like they had a really good winter last year, and some Summer cyclones recently.
I’d also teleport to the Mentawai’s in a heartbeat.
Who are two people we should keep an eye out for?
My wife for one, she can’t be trusted. She’s a talented creative that I’ve always looked up to.
I’ve also always looked up to legendary photographer, Ydwer van der Heide. His life recently took an unexpected turn, and I’m looking forward to seeing his progress and the direction his work takes. He’s an inspiring individual.
There are many more, but the consistently high level of work from these two, along with their generally good vibes, keep me motivated.
What’s something coming up that you’re excited about?
We’ve been working on next season’s product range and the upcoming campaigns. It’s always a grind, and a really satisfying process once we start pushing the new projects out into the world.
Tao Farren-Hefer is also dialling in the final edit for Part 3 of the Pathways Series, which is going to be a good one!
Find Graham online here: grahamwiles.com