Human on the Inside with Büro North’s Jason Culverwell
We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …
Welcome Jason, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight!
You’re a Senior Design Associate for Büro North – a leading Australian design experience studio specialising in human centred design, customer centred design, place-making, place-branding, experience visioning, cultural interpretation & all that jazz.
In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your role entail?
At its heart my role is about helping environments speak to people. That sounds quite esoteric writing it down, but day-to-day we’re constantly probing the ‘why’ of a space, asking questions such as ‘who is using the space? What are their needs and pain points? How can we help them navigate with minimal effort? How can we maximise functionality and accessibility? What opportunities are there to imbue humanity into the environment?’ It’s not really a stated goal, but as a team we are always pushing towards outcomes that are inherently beautiful in some way – finding that sweet spot between aesthetic appeal and functional performance. Collaborating with amazing architects is central to solving these kinds of puzzles.
Your impressive career has involved senior graphic design, creative direction and experience design across many and varied industries; from retail and edutech (including exceptional work for yours truly!) to professional services, public environments and the creative arts. How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?
Wow, that’s a huge question! I’m still working this out myself to be honest. Thanks to my parents I was fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by the natural environment. I could let my mind wander and be inspired by that. Also, growing up in the country honestly challenges you to build strategies to manage boredom. For me that meant hours spent making stuff (Lego, sketching, painting, playing guitar really badly, etc), reading a lot and roaming through bushland and beaches – in other words, being a massive hippy.
Later I earned a Degree in fine art which was very formative, opening my eyes up to artistic techniques and ways of thinking, and the rich history of humanity’s creative endeavors; from fine art to architecture, archaeology and anthropology. Sadly, a career in fine art didn’t feel achievable, but I can now see that my current professional roles draw on all of these threads.
I think it’s worth stating that a lot of my educational and professional decisions have been more instinctive and happenstance than I’d like to admit. Also, like a lot of creatively driven people, I’ve had to adapt my wide spectrum of interests into a sustainable and focused professional career. An unfortunate outcome of this adaptation is the way busy full time roles can overwhelm your core person or purpose. Being a parent has also meant a gradual and awkward shift – from ‘’what is my purpose?” to “how do I nurture and cultivate someone else?”
Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?
When I left high school I did a 12month TAFE course called Design Fundamentals which introduced me to typography, layout, identity design and illustration. I had a great teacher who really encouraged me. After that I did a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art, almost on a whim. I loved it, but as I said it didn’t lend itself to a sustainable career outcome. I had a short / sharp moment of studying a second Arts Degree, which I realised wasn’t right for me before enrolling in RMIT’s Diploma of Art, Graphic Art. This course was very technical, and by the end I could operate design software incredibly quickly and had a very good handle on print production. That was the launching pad for my current career.
If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …
Not really career advice, but I regret not being more community minded when I was young. Maybe ‘be more charitable’. Wow, that’s clunky! …but I think being generous with your time and supporting people outside your regular sphere is good for the soul. Going out on a limb here, but I think we’d have better leadership in professional roles if charitable work was a mandatory part of career progress.
Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?
Human skills are at play all day, every day in my work. Every piece of communication, whether with another designer, manager or the client has an effect on the relationship and therefore outcomes. At every step of the creative process we’re asking ourselves how we can express our ideas more clearly and with more vibrancy. I see all of these things being enhanced and connected by human skills.
Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?
I have no idea, but people tell me that I take my work seriously but not myself. I always care about my work. I feel deeply responsible for the things I put out into the world.
And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?
I think about communication all the time, so I feel like I’m my own worst critic when it comes to communicating. Negative self chatter and internal talk-downs are something I’ve long struggled with. It comes with always pushing for better outcomes I think – but getting a handle on unhelpful internal dialogue has been a big one for me.
If you could share one piece of career advice with recent Uni graduates or candidates keen to work at a company like Büro North, what would it be?
Focus on developing your craft. It takes time! Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to senior professionals. They were once a graduate and more than likely want to help you on your journey. Also it shows that you’re aware, motivated and keen.
You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?
An ability to communicate ideas verbally and to always be seeking out clarification and more information. Being a good designer means being comfortable asking lots of questions. Also being a great listener.
In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?
I get a lot out of design conferences – but they’re all on pause right now (thanks Covid!)… I’m looking to find more time to read right now. I always seem to stumble on ideas in books that thread back to a project somehow! I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by super smart colleagues and clients. I get to learn from them all the time. Hopefully it’s a two-way street occasionally!