Rina Bernabei and Kelly Freeman - Partners and Directors, Bernabeifreeman

Rina Bernabei and Kelly Freeman
'When you enter the world of design, and fully understand the possibilities, you realise what an exciting profession it is. If you really are a designer at heart the job never stops and you never turn off.'

Rina, 38, and Kelly, 30, founded Bernabeifreeman in 2002. They share all the jobs involved in running the business – design, development, liaising with clients and manufacturers, PR, project management, marketing, distribution and packaging.

Through their company, Rina and Kelly design and manufacture their own products, create installations for exhibitions and also work with architects and interior designers to create custom projects. Rina is also a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales and Kelly is a senior graphic designer for a large retailer. They are fortunate that their additional jobs are flexible and feed their design work.

What aspects of industrial design interest you in particular?

We are very interested in pushing the technical side of manufacture – making machines do new things with ‘known’ materials. We particularly enjoy working with the manufacturers and being on the factory floor.

What type of products do you design?

Most of our products are meant to be used. We have done some lights for exhibitions, which were not designed to really go into production, but more as statements about design. Our lighting and furniture designs have an overtly decorative visual language. We incorporate classic botanic motifs and bold geometric designs – this merges the idea of masculine material and machinery with feminine digital design.

Has your previous industrial design experience helped you run your own business?

Every job you have, whether it is a part-time job while at school selling fashion or a junior design position, teaches you something. It may be how to talk to different people, how to present yourself professionally, or how to create designs in a certain material. All of our previous jobs have helped us get to where we are today. Sometimes the more unimpressive jobs can teach you the most.

What do you wish someone had told you about industrial design before you started?

How addictive it would be! When you enter the world of design, and fully understand the possibilities, you realise what an exciting profession it is. If you really are a designer at heart – and not many students find they are – the job never stops and you never turn off. You are always thinking about designs, always looking out for design, and it becomes the only thing you want to be doing. It is what you do in your spare time – which is really a very lucky thing.

What’s your work–life balance like?

In some ways it’s good as we work for ourselves and we can choose the hours we work, but in other ways it’s a real struggle. We both have other jobs to maintain a reasonable income, and trying to run our business fills any spare time.

What qualifications do you have?

We both have university degrees in industrial design. I think this is invaluable to the work we undertake, not only in the technical skills that they provide, but perhaps more importantly in the theoretical and philosophical thinking that underpins the profession.

What are your tips for preparing an outstanding job application?

Be prepared to start at the bottom. When you’re first employed you are there to help someone else with their designs. Some graduates think they will be designing as soon as they graduate – this is not the case. Make sure you have a great portfolio and be flexible.

Is there anything else people should know about industrial design?

It is not just a job, it’s a life passion. You can’t do design from 9 am to 5 pm like banking – you’re always thinking and researching. If you are really passionate about it, in a sense it doesn’t feel like work. You can’t help but do it.

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