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May 1, 2019

Internationally recognised design duo get a commission in their hometown

Finally – the city of Adelaide has seen the light!

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  • Words: Josh Fanning
  • Pictures: Supplied

Emma Aiston and Daniel To have exhibited work at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), they have collaborated with French lighting companies, international fashion brands, global design magazines and european cosmetic companies for almost a decade.

But the Adelaide-based designers’ latest commission is a little closer to home – signage for  the AEDs (automated external defibrillators) that are being installed across Adelaide and North Adelaide.

The headline of our story was purposefully Betootian, but is in no way meant to diminish the work of the designers or their client but rather draw attention to Adelaide’s habit of being blissfully unaware of our homegrown talent in art and architecture.

Researching Daniel and Emma’s CV for this story, we noted Lucy Feagins’ (of The Design Files fame) comment about the design duo having, “an uncanny knack of making serious waves on the international design scene, whilst flying very much under the radar here on home soil”.

Lucy wrote that in 2012. It’s 2019.

In the meantime we are happy to report that Emma and Daniel’s career has progressed nicely – just this year the pair were appointed joint creative directors of JamFactory – but the recent revelation they’d collaborated with the City of Adelaide on these beautiful lightbox signs for the AEDs made us incredibly happy. Public art for the public good!

Get your heart-starter here! Emma Aiston and Daniel To’s signage above an AED in North Adelaide


“Three or four different artists got invited to tender for the job,” says Emma about the City of Adelaide tender process. “We got paid to submit a proposal and then, in September, we got an email saying our design had been approved and, ‘we want them in November'” Emma says, laughing.

The turnaround on this sort of manufacturing job was always going to take more than two months, but the rollout has begun in earnest and you’ll start to see more of these delightful designs on lamp posts soon.

The designers both agree the process of working with council was really smooth and attribute the success of it all to, “a guy working in council called Logan Macdonald” says Daniel.

Daniel says this job could have been undertaken by a signage company but, in this instance the City of Adelaide decided to seek tenders from capable artists instead.

It’s a simple way to shift a budget from one column to another and create a whole new value chain as a result.

“We want to work on projects like this – I don’t want it to be our sole focus – but it’s a lovely thing to have this sign that we’ve designed,” says Emma, “…and be a part of the fabric of the city we live in,” says Daniel, finishing his partner’s sentence.

It strikes us at CityMag that there are probably myriad opportunities across government to shift funding from routine tenders and suppliers into something with a more creative and aesthetically pleasing outcome. Art and artists needn’t exist in a bubble and the benefit of employing our best creative minds on solving problems and creating work for the public good can only have a positive result for society.

Yes, a signage company could have made a suitable light box that drew attention to the AED, but they could never have given us a Daniel Emma design.

If we can shift our thinking – as Logan Macdonald at City of Adelaide has done – only slightly, we can recognise South Australian talent while simultaneously celebrating and developing this place’s unique visual identity and the inherent value of the people who call Adelaide home.

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