woman sitting against a wall smiling at camera

San San Truong may be new to her role as Victorian Premier’s Design Award (VPDA) judge for the Communication Design category, but she brings a wealth of personal knowledge and professional expertise – both here and overseas – to her position and is truly passionate about elevating the understanding of communication design and celebrating the extraordinary contributions of Victorian creatives to the field.

What makes an exceptional communication designer?

According to San San, the role of a communication designer is to be the conduit of an important message or idea. Effective communication design translates information succinctly, expressing a brand’s voice, service or product articulately in a digestible, relatable and meaningful way to inspire a connection or response to the message.

‘Today, we no longer translate and communicate messages via a single source or platform. We have multiple touchpoints and ways to interact with our audiences and receive feedback,’ said San San.

‘The communication designer develops visual, written, auditory, spatial, motion and interactive content, both in the physical and digital sense, so we need to continually evolve and learn, acquiring more skills as technologies changes. Doing so and thinking laterally makes us better designers,’ she added.

Outstanding designers research and learn the content and find a visual way to empathise with the audience or user in a way that relates to them. They are problem solvers and do not let individual biases hinder the outcome. Instead, they look at evidence and research. Most importantly, they don’t design for design’s sake or to just improve aesthetics. The work must be fit for purpose and evoke the required response. Unfortunately, it is often bad design that gets noticed, for example illegible text or confusing information. When done well, the design may go unnoticed, but success lies in the fact that the message has been communicated and understood by its audience and the required action has been evoked.

During her first VPDA judging process, San San identified that one of the traits of exceptional communication design work was the practitioners’ readiness to work collaboratively across different disciplines and organisations – with the client, researchers, technologists and multidisciplinary designers. It’s the willingness to partner and learn from others that leverages diversity of intelligence and can create compelling outcomes.

Victoria as a centre of design excellence

Originally from Western Australia, San San made the conscious decision to move to Victoria 20 years ago and establish her practice without having been here before. She felt drawn to Melbourne based on what she describes as ‘the creative buzz and a sense a constant change and innovation always bubbling under the surface.’

She’s observed that the city, and state more broadly is well-versed and mature with a solid design foundation. Victoria also has some outstanding talent but is fairly isolated from the rest of the world geographically, which presents both challenges and opportunities.

As a design city, San San is excited by what she’s seeing going on in the field of experience design in Melbourne – with more designers gravitating towards multidisciplinary and collaborate approaches – expanding creative boundaries across sound, movement, immersion and the visual for a multisensory user experience.

‘We have some of the most innovative minds in Victoria because we aren’t overly influenced by global trends and tend to walk our own path. Having said that, we may also be slightly more conservative when it comes to taking creative risks, because it may be new territory for us, but when we do take those risks, the rewards are limitless’ she commented.

‘In Victoria, there’s a huge potential for growth in communication design. We’re at a threshold of change, mainly due to fast-changing technologies and global connectiveness, which increase our chances to compete and collaborate on the world’s stage. To succeed, local designers need to grab these opportunities while staying true to the high standards of design excellence that already exist.’

Design philosophy and approach

When it comes to her own design philosophy, San San is committed to involving the client from the very beginning, researching and understanding the problem and then providing as many ideas as possible. At this initial stage, there are no wrong answers and no judgements.

‘Then, being quite selective and critical, I go back to the brief and eliminate the ideas that aren’t as effective. Concepts that have merit are then further developed and expanded. It’s a necessary part of the design process to play with ideas as new revelations can form. The final ideas are then refined further, always considering the user/audience throughout the entire process, especially at the critical thinking stages,’ remarked San San.

When it comes to her own design practice – Supersan – San San credits her ability to adapt to change as critical. Pushing the boundaries, she continually adapts to meet the needs of her clients, agencies, technology and different industries, facing challenges that only add to her skills and level of expertise.

As a communication design consultant, San San loves developing creative campaigns and designing for various touchpoints that create a meaningful connection with a brand. She has cultivated a keen interest in experience designing for technological products and projects with purpose and a potential for positive impact.

A former co-chair of the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA), San San was also a major contributor to Melbourne Design Week, promoting the future of Victorian design work under the theme of ‘Design the world you want.’ In early 2023, she created Design for Tomorrow, collaborating with Simon Breese and 5 designers from multiple disciplines to showcase bringing vision and value with design. The forum acted as a resource and inspiration for designers wanting to do better work and encouraged positive changes for the industry.

San San was particularly fulfilled with the work she did in both these roles as each gave her the opportunity to advocate for the growth and the impact of design and the creative industries on society.

Celebrating communication design through the VPDA

San San is proud to be a VPDA judge and is outspoken of her support for the program and what it does for designers.

‘One of the great things about this award is that it honours the outstanding designers who do. From a recognition perspective, it’s about our government seeing value in the positive and impactful work that designers perform, which in turn will encourage more companies and organisations to engage with the design community and source their design work here,’ said San San.

‘I’ve often seen good talent go overseas because they believe that design is more valued there. But the more the government and industry recognise and applaud good design, the greater the benefits for the local economy and the community in recognising one of our strongest resources – our creative people.’

‘The VPDA supports designers and provides them with the acknowledgment and reinforcement of the contribution made. The fact that these awards are based purely on merit, not on the size of the project or the budget, levels the playing field. It’s the potential for affecting positive change that is rewarded,’ she concluded.

The winners of the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Design Awards will be announced in March 2024.