Ken Done, a design icon.

Ken Done, a design icon.

I’ve always thought that there shouldn’t be any limit to the things that are well designed. And I think that people who consider that art should only be kept for art galleries and doesn’t have a role in public life, I think that’s too narrow ~ Ken Done

I’ve always loved Ken Done, he took his art and design and turned it into an amazingly successful commercial business, long before it was trendy to do so. Can you remember the amount of Done stuff that was around in the 80’s and 90’s? I can even remember my Dad donning a Done Design summer shirt and teaming it with white linen pants at weekend BBQ’s. It was everywhere, coasters, postcards, tea towels, t-shirts, sweatshirts, stationery, mugs, glasses, bathers, manchester… even hankies! Heck, the man even owned a chain of retail stores to sell it all!

Today, lots of designers commercially present their work in the form of fashion, stationery, posters and a variety of other products, but back then, I can’t think of anyone who was doing it. Just Mr Done and boy did he cop a backlash for doing so…

Apparently, being as commercially oriented as Ken Done was, and still is was frowned upon in some circles of the Australian art world… but honestly, who cares? I’m putting it to rest by quoting Mr Done himself… ‘bugger that’!

The man is an Australian legend.


  1. He worked as an art director for J Walter Thompson in London, New York and in Australia when Mad Men ruled the advertising world.
  2. At 40 he bailed on the whole advertising gig choosing to focus on his art.
  3. I heard him speak while I was at uni and he had a profound influence on the way I see my job as a designer and the client designer relationship. It was one of the only visiting lectures we had that is still firmly planted in my memory bank.
  4. He’s all about colour. What’s not to like?
  5. He’s been able to combine his love of art and design with fantastic commercial success.
  6. He’s just moved into theatre design for a new David Williamson play ‘Emerald City’ in Sydney. Still going strong at 75!
  7. He has long been a supporter of art in Australia and has encouraged students through awards and scholarships.
  8. He taught me to respect myself as a designer and never give away my ideas for free, even if they came easily. His reasoning being that what seems easy to me is not easy for everyone.
  9. He is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
  10. He’s fearless and authentic.
  11. He won an Order of Australia (AM) for services to art, design and tourism.
  12. Painting is central to his life’s work. You can see his current work on display at the Ken Done Gallery in Sydney.
  13. He created a series of works for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games (the ones where Mary and Fred met) as well as work for Expo88 and a variety of government commissions.
  14. His had his first office painted purple. As you do.
  15. He describes the art of design in a commercial sense as ‘bums on seats’. Spot on.

Thank you Mr Done for opening my eyes as a 20 year old and leaving an everlasting impression.

While researching Ken Done I came across a fab post from The Design Files who interviewed the man himself. If you’d like to know more, or see some gorgeous pictures of his home studio I recommend the read.

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