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May 20, 2016

An Interview with Dr. Don Parker

On January 19th, 2016, Centre for Arts and Technology had a guest lecturer.  Mr. Don Parker, who was visiting from the University of Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom, came to our school as a way to say hello to their now-sister school.  He visited The Centre for a few hours, talked to our Graphic Design and Web Development students and then was whisked away on an airplane to Toronto.  I had the pleasure of driving Mr. Parker to the airport and decided to turn it into an impromptu interview.  Here is a transcription below.

Here's Dr. Don Parker's website:

CAT:

So, Don.  Where are you from?

Don Parker:

Well, currently residing in Gloucestershire…

CAT

Spell that…

DP:

Uh, well…no!  Google it! (Laughs) I'm a man of pictures.  Its on the website.  (Laughs)  I'm over here doing a mini-tour of universities and colleges here in Canada and seeing what it's all about…sharing knowledge!

CAT

How long have you been doing this?

DP:

Teaching?  I've been a lecturer now for over ten years, teaching design, advertising, graphic design, things like that.  Before that, I worked in the design business full-time, as a professional, working in the film, music and television industry, mostly in London.  So advertising everything, mostly film and music…big stuff like “Men in Black II”, “Amelie”, “A Beautiful Mind”…a lot of stuff with big companies like Universal, Twentieth Century Fox…

CAT:

“About a Boy”?

DP:

Yes, “About a Boy”, which was a great film, we did some that weren't so great as well, like “Jackass”, I did that one, which was horrible, one of the last ones I did, so you don't always get to advertise everything you like. 

CAT:

People don't realize that…for instance, I saw that on your website that you did all the advertising for “About a Boy”, but then they do different kinds of advertising in the US than they do in Europe, cause people have different tastes, right?

DP:

Yeah, totally. We would take American products, so to speak, and bring them over to Europe…one interesting example, it was a real rubbish film called "Joyride", a horror film and it just didn't sell well, so we changed the name and the whole strategy around it and it did well, it made some money, which is important cause it is a business after all.  So, yeah, sometimes you have to take on other people's work and you don't necessarily design everything and that's when I ended up doing more along the lines of "Creative Strategy".  Thinking about how this is going to get out there, which is my thing, really now, why do people like that but not like that, that sort of thing.

CAT:

You were saying before in your lecture, about working on “A Beautiful Mind”, how you were studying people, why they would go to that kind of movie at all…tell me more about that.

DP:

It's kind of a move into Integrated Marketing campaigns, and it's putting all that together, talking to the client, then you research the demographics, not just number crunching but also an emotional context.

And then you gain an insight into the approach for that particular brand and from that you gain proposition, which is a word or a phrase that's going to help you talk to a certain segment of the audience.  And from there then you go into creative and write a brief.   It's quite a journey before you even get to the brief, often, it's always good to challenge a brief but not too much there's been a lot of work put into that.

CAT:

So you've been doing this for awhile now, so as far as your working environment, you said in your lecture you could be at times working up to 20 different projects at a time…

DP:

Yeah I have slipped a bit (laughs)

CAT:

How do you keep the passion going for all 20 projects?

DP:

It's not easy to do, not everyone can do it, you kind of have to train yourself to do that, its not a God-given gift, you have to actually put yourself into that mindset.  Having a passion for change is important, liking change, sometimes you are working on a project but you get bored, if you have a short attention span so you can cut up your days into sections.  And that facilities being a designer

CAT:

If you think about it, working 8 hours a day on that one project can get kind of boring but if you pace things out, maybe work one hour on this, then an hour on that, and you limit your self to that, then the next day you are looking forward that first project…

DP:

I don't think that works for an artist particularly, someone that has a vision, that's a different mindset, but if you are a designer, I think that's what feeds you, I think that's why I like working with students, cause they are like me, their minds are jumping around like jackrabbits, like mine. (laughs)

CAT:

Well that's what students do, they are always told what to do, they don't get to pick their assignments, are given their homework assignments

DP:

You jump round, well that's what we do, we do that in school and then we get that merged out of our lives and then we are all accountants…you know?  And I just don't think that's a healthy way to live, I don't understand how some people can do one thing at a time.  When you are a writer, you have to have that time with the thing you are writing about, but when you are a designer, you have to have the ability to switch projects quickly…to get paid!

CAT:

That's an adult thing that people have to think about, it's not all about the passion but you have to pay the bills right?  You hope that they are doing something they are passionate about, rather than working a 9-5 job they hate for example.

DP:

It's easier, as a designer, there are of course highs and lows in your career, students should know there will be constant growth.  It goes in waves and cycles, you have to be careful for those times when…

CAT:

When there aren't 20 projects to work on?

DP:

Exactly! (laughs) When you've got maybe one to work on and you have to go out and look for work…

CAT:

Would you agree there's a bit of a hustle involved, or hustling?

DP:

Totally!

CAT:

I try to tell that to kids when I'm doing a presentation in high schools, that it's not always the most talented person who gets the job, it's the person who tries the hardest, works the hardest…

DP:

I don't think I'm the most talented designer in the world, by a long stretch…there's a lot of people way more talented than me.

CAT:

So why do you get jobs when others don't?

DP:

I hustle, as you said.  I'm always on!

CAT:

Some people can go into a job interview and not choke or freeze, as opposed to someone who isn't as talented but can go in and have a conversation…

DP:

I remember my first job interview for a designer, this was when the Mac was first around professionally, and I had used one in university very briefly I'd used it, and I knew this was my make or break, and he asked me if I could use it and I said "Yeah, of course".

CAT:

Exactly.  Never say no.

DP:

Never say no.  But the thing is, after that, you've gotta be good.  You can't say "Yeah" and then be rubbish.  You gotta be good.  I didn't sleep for three months after that.  So yeah, you gotta hustle and know when to put it on the table, make or break, and then be able to follow it up.  I usually teach not from a position of knowledge, but I always teach from a position of making mistakes, most of my career has been a car crash, I mean it looks good on a piece of paper or a website, but at the time, me and my brother we were there, as they say, but at the time all we remember was papering over the cracks, being worried about someone exposing you as the fake that you are. So you never live the big life, and God I've made some mistakes, but then you have to learn from them, or you aren't learning.  The rate of change is life, that's what I believe.  I mean, I'm in Canada, in Kelowna, my life has brought me here…

CAT:

Is this your first time in Canada?

DP:

Yes it is.  And I'm enjoying it immensely.

CAT:

So, again, what was the actually purpose of this trip?  Just to create relations between our schools?

DP:

As far as I know the relationships already exist, are already in writing, as such, but my purpose is to come and talk to people, there's no 'sell', it's really just about starting to develop relationships in person and meet people.  But it's beginning those relationships that have more meaning and longer lasting…

CAT:

And now perhaps our students can come over to your school?

DP:

Yes, that's a big deal, we want that to happen, but apparently they can have a 'top up' year, and vice versa, I want to get the UK students can come to Canada, with you, as they're not very good at travel, they are a bit timid…it's nice we all speak the same language although they might need to learn French too.

CAT:

And our students, if they come to your school, apparently will get to see where they filmed “Harry Potter”!

DP:

Yeah they can see all that, the Gloucestershire Cathedral is where they shot a lot of scenes and they shot a lot there, and down the road from where I work, it looks a lot like “Harry Potter-land”, it literally is that kind of place…

CAT:

Quickly before we wrap up, you said earlier when you were younger you worked on record covers…did you work on “Dr. Who”?

DP:

Yeah, we did soundtrack albums, that's kind of how I got into the movie industry by film soundtrack albums.  I met a guy named Vick Flick, who originally did the “James Bond” theme, and once he came over to my office and played it on that guitar and it was the coolest thing ever!  No one cares about that guy except me!  Stuff like that, designing record covers for really obscure stuff in the 90's.  It was good fun.

CAT:

But back in the day, no one wanted “Dr. Who” albums...

DP:

It was going out of fashion, no one wanted it.  The company that did the releases, they stopped doing them because we got so many phone calls from “Dr. Who” fans, all the time, we had to answer so many questions about the history of “Dr. Who” it was taking all of our time.  We had to be experts on “Dr. Who”, so we diversified and started doing Hammer Horror Films as well.  That was great.  Alot of Hammer Horror stuff, along with James Bernard and they did the re-score for “Nosferatu” I got to see that being played at a Festival in London, so just some great times.  It's weird, when you are there, that's just what you do, but then you look back at those times you think "That was pretty damn cool" and I wish I had appreciated at the time.

CAT:

Maybe you can just look on your website once and a while…

DP:

Right!  My website!  That's www.donparker.co.uk.  It needs updating, but yes.

CAT:

It's a pretty extensive site, it took me a long time to get through it.  It's very impressive!

DP:

Well thank you.

CAT:

Enjoy your Canadian adventures.

DP:

Thanks for having me!  I enjoyed it!