Elana Castle: Can you share some of the seminal moments in your early career and how they influenced you as a young designer?
Mim Fanning: As a graduate, I worked for a large architecture office. Fortunately, the practitioners were all very generous in sharing information and I was able to build an amazing library of expertise, both in knowledge and built form. In that time, it was a hand-drawn practice. It’s amazing how technology has changed. Those early skills have proven extremely valuable in my career moving forward. To this day I still encourage a hand-drawn skill as I feel it allows creative freedom.
What prompted you to go out and establish your own practice and what was your early vision for Mim Design?
Starting my own business was really the most significant and formative turning point in my career. I had a young child at the time and my intention was to work as a design consultant, affording me the freedom of flexible hours and diversity.
This is what initially prompted me to go out on my own, and from there I was very fortunate to have landed my first project within just a few weeks. Before I knew it, my independent consultancy grew into a studio, which has continued to grow incrementally ever since.
How do you ensure that each project has a meaningful and unique outcome?
Research. Lots of research. For example, I love retail master planning – understanding the psychology of what drives people to shop a certain way and to connect with things. It’s a great educational process. I love space planning, investigating form and function, the sculptural aspect, three-dimensionality, materiality – essentially the complexity of design.
I am lucky to have an amazing team (of 27), who work really hard to push all aspects of design. You have to find purpose and substance in every project. Design responses are holistic but also tailored to people. Design has to transcend time and have longevity. Ultimately you design for an emotional response. We want to create spaces that people just connect with and enjoy inhabiting.
What challenges have you faced at Mim Design?
When I first started Mim Design I had just had my first child. Designing, running a business and being a mum was very hard. I was told that you can ‘have it all’ and upon reflection, I don’t feel that’s entirely true. You have to figure out how you can both work and have children, and you have to let go of some things and choose your time and projects carefully. I believe that’s what makes one successful.
Early in my career, I found being on building sites quite challenging as a woman, but I also enjoyed standing my ground for what I believed in. Ultimately, it made me a stronger businesswoman and helped me realise my true passion for delivering on projects.
“You have to find purpose and substance in every project. Design responses are holistic but also tailored to people.” – Mim Fanning
How do you find the time to design when there are so many other aspects of a business to manage?
In the last six years, I have learned to compartmentalise, to be specific with my time, and then only multitask when absolutely necessary. Some days I reserve for just designing and I’m strict about this because, at the end of the day, I want my job to be enjoyable. There are always issues, but it is our role to be problem solvers so that is a skill we simply need to have. I believe that if you enjoy your work at least 75 per cent of the time, then you have a career with longevity.
How has Mim Design evolved over the past 21 years?
We recently appointed a director of architecture and created an FF&E department. Now we get involved in all aspects of design and documentation. The continuity of architecture and interior design is a philosophy that has always been central to our practice, so these additions to our studio are very exciting.
In the past five to seven years we have also made it a priority to only work with people who want to work with us. When we meet a potential new client, we invite them to meet us for coffee so we both have an opportunity to get to know one another. Projects can take years, so it’s important that both parties will enjoy the time you spend together. I also love the idea of us educating our clients as well as our clients educating us. We are a highly collaborative team, both with clients, consultants, builders and suppliers.
What types of projects would you love to add to your portfolio in the coming years?
The more diverse the project types, the better. I’d love to work in infrastructure in some way, like designing a pavilion or a bridge. A winery would also be wonderful and I’d love to do some international work and maybe further develop custom furniture. The most important thing is to grow all our divisions and to make sure that the team is always being brought closer together.
“I believe that if you enjoy your work at least 75 per cent of the time, then you have a career with longevity.” – Mim Fanning
How were you able to run Mim Design in the midst of a global pandemic and during an extended lockdown in Victoria?
2020 was certainly a year of adapting and learning, and what really came to the forefront for us was being reminded of the importance of home. We obviously had to go remote and despite that, I think we adapted really well. We had lots of group design meetings and I’m not the most technical person in that department, but I learned a lot and have enjoyed learning that further skill.
To what do you attribute your undisputed success as a designer?
People who produce great design, LIVE design. They really live design, versus just doing design. It’s also about being an originator versus a follower. Some of the best practitioners in Australia live design. It’s what makes their work great.