Djordje Dikic

Palette, helmed by the magnanimous Djordje Dikic – or DJ as he prefers, is a Melbourne based technology company that makes creative tools for creative people.

Their mission is to bring colour into the 21st Century. They believe that more than 50 years after the invention of computing devices, the reliance on paper colour standards has brought colour industries to a crossroads where they are increasingly unable to take advantage of the digital world.

POI: So Dj, can you tell us a little about where you started and why you decide to produce Cube?

DJ: Well, I’ve found that most of the time the things you make and the people you work with are a direct reflection of who you are. When I find a product that I love, I always try to find out about the people who made it. I think the profiles and biographies of these other people is what I’m most interested in. I’ve noticed that a lot of the time they’ve faced problems, and that’s what has led them to produce something amazing.

Growing up I was an arty kid with a nerd family who were all engineers or maths teachers. When I went to university I picked the middle ground and did a double degree in arts and engineering which was great because it meant I didn’t have to choose one or the other. As part of the degree we worked on a project involving colour and noticed that one of the hardest things you can try and do is measure colour in the real world. So in a way, Cube came out of a desire to try and combine the creative side of my personality with the technological side.

POI: Why colour? 

DJ: Well colour is a fundamental element of everything, yet you kind of ignore it. It’s just there. But with technology and a little bit of effort you’re able to find a way to pull it from the background, bring it to the centre and make it the most important thing. That was really interesting to me, and it was also really technically challenging so it helped fulfil the other side of me that needed to be pushed.

During our degree we suggested the topic should be explored, which that meant that when we finished we actually owned what we had worked on. We never planned on starting a company.

POI: What prompted you to make that decision?

DJ: Well I was working for a company but I was really unhappy and only doing the technical side of things. Eventually I asked if I could spend four days working there and spend a day here. Then it increased to two days and then, when I wanted to take a third day they said, ‘You’ve got to decide. Either come back full time or you’ll have to leave the company”. I thought, “Well, I’ve got nothing to lose really. I’m really unhappy where I am and we’ve got a great product. Let’s just try it.”

It took a while to convince myself it was the right thing to do. Fear and dread quickly set in but I recognised that it was because I was doing something new and learning. For too long I’d been coasting. and it wasn’t giving me any sense of satisfaction at all. That became a very significant motivator though. The initial drive came from not wanting to fail, not wanting it to be for nothing. Before you do it, it feels like a massive thing and afterwards you kind of feel like it’s not that bad.

POI: Initially you branded in house.

DJ: Yes we did. We called it SwatchMate. It was just a conjugation of two words. That was the only thought we put into it because it was a student project at the time. Then we built a company around it, engaged in crowd funding campaigns, worked with larger companies like Dulux and raised capital from investors. It got to a point where the name that we’d picked wasn’t really appropriate. I wasn’t us, and it didn’t reflect what we wanted to do or what we stand for. 

POI: Did anyone tell you, “You need to go to a branding agency”?

DJ: No, actually everyone told us not to change it. Most people said, “Don’t mess with it.”, “Don’t waste energy and resources.”, “It doesn’t matter.” That was the overwhelming opinion, but I fundamentally disagreed with that and to this day I still disagree.

POI: Why did you disagree? It’s a big investment for a company that was already succeeding with Dulux, you were winning awards…

DJ: It comes back to why you build the things you build. I recognised there was this huge disconnect between how we were represented externally and how much effort we put in internally.  It just felt wrong. We needed to find a way to elevate the products and speak to why we built them. Something that could instantly communicate the care and thinking we’d put into it the product. It actually turned out to be something that’s paid off many times over in terms of business development, ability to reach out to retailers and customer attraction. They’re immediately drawn to it.

POI: How did you come across us? 

DJ: I knew I wanted to work with someone local so I started looking around Melbourne and quickly identified that the places I love going to and spending time in were mostly restaurants and cafes. There was something extra going on in these places. We looked at the websites, the business cards, the menus. I was basically going around collecting all of this stuff from venues.

We accidentally engaged the wrong company to begin with. It was this really awkward moment where we’d developed the design brief and the thinking about who we wanted to be and then I said to them, “We really love your work.” And started listing all of these places. They said, “Well that wasn’t actually our work.” And they told me you guys had done it. I said “Ok, cool. Thanks for your time.” And left the meeting.

After we’d talked to you guys I consciously thought “I have to make sure this happens.” Sometimes you have a gut feeling about things and you’ve got to push them.

POI: Palette was an interesting project for us because we instantly discovered that we shared a lot of common interests.

DJ: I’ve never been to a psychiatrist but it felt like a first session. Like someone was picking apart your brain, your thinking, your motivations, your likes, your dislikes, and understanding it at a fundamental level. That was an immediate “Yes” moment. Not only was I impressed with the work you guys had done in the past but you also instantly got me. That gave me a tremendous sense of confidence. I’m kind of a neurotic character who has to be in control and involved in everything but this was one of those times where I felt I could be completely hands off and let it run its course.

When you guys presented our branding it was bold and beautiful from an aesthetic perspective but it also came from a very systematic breaking down of influences, refining them to their core, and then building it back up again. That was something I really needed to see in order to be on board. It can’t just be pretty for the sake of being pretty. It also needs to be logical.

POI: So, you’re still based in Melbourne?

DJ: Yeah we’ve got families here which is one of the main reasons. But Melbourne is also a great place to work in the tech industry because there’s a great source of amazing talent from universities and school systems. Moving across to the U.S. has always been something we’ve spoken about, and may happen at some point, but there’s no real rush to do it. We’re very happy to be here.  

POI: You talk about the two parts of yourself. Do you think that is a typical feature among the creative community?

DJ: I think it’s a feature of being human. I feel the most fascinating work that’s being done at the moment is by people who are trying bridge multiple worlds. You can’t just make technology products. You can’t just make fashion items. How can you bring these things together?

POI: Do you plan the future or is it more ad hoc?

DJ:  It’s a mixture, we plan a lot but in reality we also have to be very dynamic. If you’re a small company  you can’t just pick a direction and stick to it, you have to be able to adapt. We spend a lot of time planning, strategising and exploring ideas. On Monday mornings everyone sits down together and we have a look at what we did last week and what we’re going to do this week. It’s such a simple thing but you can miss a lot working in a small team. Communication is really important, even for a small team. I think it’s one of our big strengths and we’ve built it into the way we work. Lots of talking, sitting down and thinking things through. Once we move we’re very quick, but we want to be able to make sure we’re not missing things as it’s more costly to miss big opportunities than to make lots of small mistakes. Everything is a variable, everything is a potential, everything is a grey area but if you put in the hard yards and can break it down into it’s core parts and then put it back in a unique way that’s really valuable.

Photography by Ben Clement