“Make•Do Studio is the type of business I’ve been seeking most of my professional life,” says Darren. “A place where I can fully express my creative scope as both a designer and maker.”
Although professionally he has never worn the tag of maker until now, it has always been a part of who he is. He started tinkering in his father’s shed and at the family Service Station as a lad. Was taught how to make models and prototypes as a design student, which continued into his first job at EMAIL. With Computer Aided Design (CAD) and 3D computer modelling in its infancy making models was an essential skill product designers needed to convey and refine their ideas.
He’s also built bespoke furniture for the various Insync Creative offices and probably his biggest job, finishing his family home from the second fix stage. The experience is long and varied and is now a welcome addition his professional skill set.
Going right back to the start, Darren began his design career as a product designer after attaining his degree, Bachelor of Design (Industrial Design) from the South Australian College of Advanced Education (now UniSA) in 1986.
He spent the next six and a half years in the Industrial Design department (Adelaide) of whitegoods giant EMAIL Major Appliance Group, where he worked on such internationally renowned brands as Westinghouse, Simpson and Kelvinator.
This period refined his natural ability to think in three dimensions, and his innate understanding of the need for design of any kind to support underlying function and objectives. It also introduced him to the concept of ‘marketability’. Just as when creating marketing communications, his designs had to strike a chord with people if he was to generate a positive emotional response.
Unfortunately, however, Darren’s efforts to strike that chord were stiflingly restricted by the conservative nature of the industry. So in 1993 he stepped out on his own in search of greater creative freedom in the sister discipline of graphic design. With little capital but a great deal of courage and enthusiasm he launched Darren Miller Design, which he ran for the next six years.
Naturally self-reliant, Darren rapidly built a solid client base, including Boral, Lock LSH and Solaris Technologies. As a one-man design agency he developed a thorough, hands-on knowledge of the entire print-communications process – everything from brief to concepts to final art to production, finishing and delivery.
In the middle of this period he was also given the opportunity to spend 12 months in Perth, of which he spent 7 months contracting to top-tier firm Design by Marco Dabala. This enabled him to work on large-scale accounts such as Argyle Diamonds, BankWest, CSR and Snap Printing, further honing his graphic design skills.
Towards the end of 1998, back in Adelaide, old friend and former basketball teammate Matt Hardy, had just returned from overseas looking for office space, Darren obliged and Matt moved in. They soon put their heads together and Insync Creative was officially established in June 1999.
Insync first gained a foothold in the complex discipline of direct mail (DM), with arguably the pair’s greatest asset their intuitive understanding of how to make a personally addressed DM piece actually feel personal. Not surprisingly in a town the size of Adelaide the “buzz” spread quickly and it wasn’t long before Young & Rubicam outsourced the majority of DM creative work to them for the national Mitsubishi Motors account.
As Insync’s reputation grew inevitably they were asked to create other forms of marketing collateral. Initial expansion came in the areas of press advertising and sales collateral, with success here in turn bringing invitations to tackle outdoor advertising, banners, newsletters, tradeshow stands, logo and brand development.
With a solid, wide-ranging body of work behind it, Insync began attracting a lot more attention. In the ensuing years names such as the RAA, Lifeplan Funds Management, Red Cross, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, Credit Union SA all found their way onto the Insync client list.
In 2007 an opportunity to move the business to Hahndorf was too good to pass up, so it was decided to head for the hills. The move provided a good work/life blend as Darren & Matt both lived in the Adelaide Hills plus there was the opportunity to expand Insync’s reach. Ironically, their first new client was Samaras Group down at Gillman almost an hour away, but work for the Mt Barker Council, Hahndorf Academy and Adelaide Hills Tourism made the shift more than worthwhile.
With the marketing communications industry moving increasingly online, Darren added web design to his considerable skills repertoire, focusing specifically on the user interface and project management, then working collaboratively with web building specialists to create the final product. He also has an ability to help the client through the maze of jargon and acronyms that the online world brings.
At the end of 2013 Matt resigned from Insync Creative to pursue other opportunities, amicably ending a strong creative partnership of 14 years.
For a year or so prior to Matt’s departure, Darren and his wife Jane had been planning and saving for a family adventure travelling around Australia. The six-month trip was earmarked for term 2 and 3 of the 2015 school year, which they felt was the perfect time given their boys’ age and stage at school.
On the 12th of April 2015, they hitched the camper trailer to the ute and rolled out of Mylor for 25 weeks on the road.
For Darren the trip was the start of a ‘gap’ year – a year of taking stock, self-reflection and deciding what life and business would look like into the future.
“I think we were in outback Queensland, heading up towards Seven Emu Station on the Savannah Way,” recalls Darren. “Jane had been wanting to start her own enterprise for some time, something that brought all of her experience together. As we travelled her ideas were crystalising and the more we discussed it, the future of Insync Creative became clear.”
It was decided that Jane would join Darren at Insync Creative, changing the trading name to The Insync Collective to signal the new direction. Discussions then turned to how the business could incorporate their varied experience in the fields of design, marketing, making, teaching and fine arts. They felt the best solution was to establish three businesses – Jane Mant Art, Make•Do Studio and Honeyeater Nature Art rather than a single entity as this approach enabled each entity to tell its own story to its own audience.
The three businesses sit under the umbrella of The Insync Collective, sharing a common set of values and desires, with Darren and Jane working across all three contributing as their specific skills are required.
Nobody knows what the future holds, but one thing is for sure Darren will continue to challenge the status quo in the pursuit of a life full of creativity and abundance.