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SJD World celebrates 20 years behind the scenes

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You will find your place: Graphic designer Stephan Johnstone celebrates 20 years running SJD World with an art exhibition in the Edinburgh Gallery at the Bermuda Society of Arts to celebrate SJD World’s 20 anniversary, from March 1 to 23 (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Stephan Johnstone’s graphic design firm SJD World has worked on everything from books, packaging and albums, to logos and websites.

Yet most people don’t give much thought to the graphic designer behind the work.

“Most of what we do is behind the scenes,” Mr Johnstone said. “I only poke my head out once in a while.”

Next month some of his favourite projects will be featured in an art show at the Bermuda Society of Arts at City Hall. The exhibition is being held to celebrate SJD World’s 20 anniversary.

The show opens on March 1 in the Edinburgh Gallery and runs until March 23.

“There is not a lot of space there, which means we have really had to narrow down the projects we want to feature,” he said. “That has been very interesting. I am excited, because this is the first time I have done a full gallery show, just along the lines of my artwork.”

Websites are never finished: Stephan Johnstone with an album cover he created (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

The exhibition will include work from five books done for photographer Ras Mykkal.

“We also did a short film called Bermudian Poet,” Mr Johnstone said. “In the beginning stages of the business we did a lot of Cup Match T-shirts which were very important to us. We will also feature different versions of websites we have done, and some history, and images from over the years.”

Mr Johnstone has always blended a talent for art with a keen interest in technology.

In the early 2000s he was studying graphic design in Canada when a friend showed him a website he designed for his DJ business.

“I was fascinated,” Mr Johnstone said.

He set about building his own website in between classes. There was only one web design course offered in his programme, so he had to teach himself coding.

“It was fun, and a challenge,” he said.

Today, web design makes up about 25 per cent of SJD World’s work.

He admitted to having a love-hate relationship with the web. It is lucrative, but can be stressful because the internet changes so rapidly.

“Sometimes we will build a site and in 30 days, elements of it become outdated,” he said. “We once spent a whole year just reconfiguring all our past sites.

“We had to stop taking on new clients for a time. Building a website is like building a house on a barge, on the ocean, with weather that keeps changing. Websites are never finished.”

For that reason, he loves the graphic design part of SJD World just a little more.

However, artificial intelligence is rapidly changing this arena.

In some ways AI helps him speed up some processes.

“If I were to do a press release or a proposal I would normally send it to a copywriter,” he said. “Now, I can write it myself and run it through AI. A lot of our tools have AI integrated into them.”

Overall though, he is not a fan of apps that use AI to generate images. He finds them too templated.

They also take away work away from seasoned graphic designers.

However, he reassured young people coming into graphic design that the industry is not going anywhere.

“It is just that what we do will change,” he said.

Mr Johnstone said for those designers who want to work for someone else, the options in Bermuda can be limiting.

“With the rise of the internet, and the slowing down of printing, a lot of the big agencies have collapsed,” he said. “Today, the teams that exist on the island are smaller and use freelancers or contractors.”

He said working in-house for a large firm like an insurance company might be an option.

“When you come back from university it is important to keep in contact with the agencies on the island,” Mr Johnstone said.

However, he thought there was more opportunity for those who wanted to start their own business.

“Once you get started, you will find your place,” he said.

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Published February 12, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated February 13, 2024 at 8:24 am)

SJD World celebrates 20 years behind the scenes

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