Interview with John Mastro

John Mastro is a designer and creative director from Melbourne, Australia, with over 15 years of experience in brand strategy, identity design, and packaging design. In 2015 he founded Date Of Birth, a brand creation agency specializing in identity and experience design. We caught up with John to talk about design, creativity and living and working in the city.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a designer from Melbourne, Australia, with over 15 years of experience in brand strategy, identity design, and packaging design. I founded Date Of Birth, a brand creation agency specializing in identity and experience design. I love working with brave and purpose-driven clients and, with my talented team, defining and designing their vision for the future.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in design?

Art was always part of my and my family's life, literally from birth. My childhood memories were drawing with my mum and brother, or I was spending hours on my illustrating. In time, I was introduced to graphic design as a profession. I remember my art teacher telling me that the best way to make a living from creativity was through "graphic design". So from there on, I decided to pursue a career in design.

How would you describe your design style?

Bold and beautiful, with purpose. I always strive to introduce something bold and use the concept of beauty to create attention. You must create a feeling and not just a thought, and that's what something beautiful can contribute to the design. And finally, purpose. What and why are we doing this? A solid understanding of the brief, its function, and its desired outcome are critical.

What is your creative process?

Understanding the purpose of the creative output. I will then follow my heart and feelings. I'll seek inspiration in all forms. Visuals, music, books, anything online and simply being aware of my everyday experiences and environment to help inspire and bring my creative energy into the work. I finally connect my ideas to the brief and start the process of elimination. Some ideas may seem great in theory but need to be more practical. I always balance the logic of thoughts and feelings in my design work.

How much does your city and surroundings affect your creative output?

Immensely. Melbourne has an extensive arts culture, and I may spend my time visiting certain areas of Melbourne if it can contribute to the brief. We are spoilt with suburbs celebrating creativity, whether Brunswick, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Richmond, Yarraville ect. There's always an appreciation in those areas for self-expression, and it just puts you in the right mood to kick-start a project.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Melbourne?

I have to think about that. I don't have anything that I struggle with. The challenge is the size, so getting around and gaining access to certain areas can be tricky, especially now that Melbourne traffic and transport are horrible. So unless you live in these areas, getting there can be a nightmare. There's so much about Melbourne that I would love to explore and experience.

What are your city's biggest challenges?

Transport and accessibility. Most entertainment and businesses in Melbourne are central to the CBD. 

What are the solutions that your city needs to implement?

Well, better transport for one, but from a creative point of view, there is a strong level of support and commitment to the arts. I would focus on the next generation of ideators and talent that can inspire and facilitate innovation and contribute those ideas to enhancing the quality of life across all communities.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art, and cultural facilities, is that evident in Melbourne?

Yes, I see that certain councils are investing more in the arts, and there is a focus on new exhibitions both at NGV, one of the major galleries in the city, and smaller independent galleries, showcasing some of the best talents from around the world and locally.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city? 

Not solely, no. It's the responsibility of the community as a whole, whether you are a creative citizen or a corporation offering products and services, to build communities and improve the quality of people's lives. Big or small, all contributions matter.

What project have you done that you enjoyed working on the most and why?

I enjoy working on all projects, and I love working with my team. Currently, I'm working on rebranding an airport retailer with a strong focus on the culture and influence of the city. Unfortunately, I can't say much about the project now. It's been an incredible experience researching and working with our client to establish an authentic design aesthetic reflective of the city, and creating a sense of place.

If you could add or change something about Melbourne, what would that be?

Maybe I'm biased, but it is hard to be critical of Melbourne. It's a great city, and I love everything about it. It's safe, friendly, creative, and full of energy. I'd keep Melbourne as it is!

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

It's hard to make a decision. There's so much talent out there, and it is hard to focus on one individual. I love working with my team at D.O.B. I see their work and how we bring our ideas to life and it really inspires me. Apart from my team, I'd love to work with an artist that's brave and has an incredible imagination. So if I can choose ANY, Someone like Damien Hirst would be amazing. He always seems to amaze me with work. It's always beautiful to look at and impressive to comprehend how it's been crafted. His pieces are larger than life, from the simplest of spot paintings to his preserved tiger shark, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living". Overall, I just love working with talented people (known or unknown) with a passion and desire to introduce the world to something unseen and to create a new experience both for themselves and their audience. That's what I enjoy the most.

What do you do to switch off?

I barely switch off, but when I do, I spend time with family, go for walks or watch football. My two passions are design and football, so most of my time is balanced between the two. 

What does home mean to you?

It's where my family is, so home is where my support network is and where I can be me. Running a studio and working on creative briefs can be hard work, and home allows me to retreat, bringing the best out of me. 

Describe the perfect day for you in Melbourne.

A perfect spring day on a Saturday, ready to explore new cafes, restaurants, bookstores, and art galleries in the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne. There's always something new and exciting to explore.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Melbourne evoke a personal smell to you?

Well, it depends on where you are at! However, in most cases, coffee... There's a coffee shop on every corner—you can't escape coffee in Melbourne!

If you weren't living in Melbourne and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

Rome. There's something about Rome that reminds me of Melbourne, but I loved the people, architecture, and history. It made me feel like I was at home after the very first day. It was inspiring, so I would like to know what impact the city would have on my work!

John Mastro - Mixtape

Nu-disco, funk, and Hip hop. My brother had a record store for many years and has been a DJ for decades, so I've grown up enjoying a random mix of genres!

Melbourne by John Mastro

A selection of places in Melbourne recommended by designer John Mastro. See John's citylikeyou profile page here

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