We had the pleasure of chatting with Chris Flack from Strategy Creative. Chris is Design Director in the Christchurch studio. He shared with us what Strategy looks for in a graduate, one of his favourite designs and a little bit about his personal project that went viral; Comic Sans for Cancer.
Tell us about where you are today and what you love about your job! I’m Design Director at Strategy Creative in Christchurch, New Zealand. What I love is seeing ideas come alive and adding value for clients. We are very fortunate to have a talented team and exciting clients that are constantly pushing us. I’m a big believer in clarity and simplicity in whatever it is you are doing. I really enjoy the energy of the studio and the chance to collaborate with the other 4 studios in the Strategy network. And you never go hungry at Strategy as the cooked lunches make sure of that.
What have been your highlights since you started out? Early on I did a project at Strategy when I was fresh out of design school. It was called ‘Santa vs Jesus’. The Sunday Star Times had asked some of the top agencies in New Zealand to rebrand Christmas for an article they were publishing on the modern concept of Christmas. My idea was very simple: a boxing match. The Father of Xmas vs the Son of God. Religion vs commercialism with the reader deciding the outcome. All executed in a contemporary illustration style. The Sunday Star Times liked it so much they ended up running it on their cover. For me, it had the perfect blend of idea, craft and execution. I still talk about it 10 years on — the true test of timeless design.
More recently it’s been projects that get people excited or have a cultural perspective. To help launch 2016’s TEDx event in Christchurch we put over 1000 red ping pong balls in a large bin, blew them up and filmed it in slow motion. It got the event off to a bang!
On the more cultural side, I’ve been really proud of the work we have produced for the Christchurch Art Gallery and CoCA (Centre of Contemporary Art) in Christchurch. These partnerships have led to a varied body of work — including custom illustrations, balanced geometric shapes, chalk shadows depicting famous statues and recently a dynamic design and bold typographic system.
On a personal level, it would be the internship programme we have recently established across the network. I got the privilege of coordinating, writing and managing the programme. The team have thrived on seeing the interns grow and learn while they are with us. I believe it’s important to give back and provide opportunities for a transitional education platform.
What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate? A tight portfolio is a must. After that it comes down to what we call ‘fit’. What I mean by this is how they fit into the culture at Strategy. We work in a fast-paced and demanding industry and we don’t have time to deal with ‘Prima Donnas’. I’m a big fan of designers who know when it’s time to knuckle down and when it’s time to have a laugh. I always look for energy, hunger and design thinking. As it’s a lot harder to train designers to think than it is to design. I like designers who take initiative and make things happen, so personal projects along with passion and a love of the craft help graduates to stand out. We take graduates through a self-directed learning programme at our studios focussing on the core competencies that we believe make a great designer – typography, image making and craft.
What advice would you give students starting out? “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take!” — Wayne Gretzky.
Get involved, ask questions, create opportunities, smile and ring your mother. If you want something, ask for it. If you make a promise, follow through. Don’t make stupid promises!
Any personal projects you would like to share? past, present or future? In 2014, I created Comic Sans for Cancer. It was a campaign and exhibition that used the 20th anniversary of Comic Sans (the font we all love to hate) to raise money for Cancer Research. The campaign had a global online reach of 13 million people, raised over $12,000 for Cancer Research and was featured in a wide range of publications/blogs. We got a mixture of international designers, including Vincent Connare (Comic Sans creator), his nemesis Ban Comic Sans, Hey Studio, Spin, Sawdust, The Partners and many more. Along with getting abusive emails from my design peers (ha!), it proved my long-held conviction that if you have a great idea and make it share-able, anything is possible; even making comic sans popular for a day.
What’s on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months? Professionally we have quite a few projects on the go in the studio; including an identity for a video-based global learning platform, design and motion for an exponential thinking summit and finding the best angles to rotate a rectangle for a group of activators. It can be hard keeping up sometimes.
Personally, I’ve just been given my first record (a Van Morrison album) so I’m hoping that will kick start my record collection. I’m an avid traveller and photographer so I’ve started to carve out some time to self-publish a book of my photographs. My wife started an Irish Dancing school at the start of the year so I’m busy helping out there when I can. And early next year I’m due to become a father for the first time, so exciting times all round.