In-house Design Luminaries — Oscar Thomas with The New Zealand Police Force
This series profiles the best and brightest designers in Aotearoa’s in-house design studios, this week we spoke with Oscar Thomas at The New Zealand Police.
Oscar is (compulsively) hardworking, generous with advice and has fantastic (& furry) in studio benefits in his role with this critical and visible brand!
Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you’re at now?
I really enjoyed perspective drawing in high school. My interest in design grew from there, nurtured by a few really great high school teachers who shaped my sensibility. Throughout high school I wanted to draw concept art for movies or be an architect. So naturally, I did neither and enrolled in a graphic design degree.
I quickly dropped out of that degree, thinking my time & money could be spent better elsewhere as I’d kind of self-taught myself up to that point. So began my glamorous lifestyle of dishwashing & catering. Which sucked, but now when I have a shit day I know at least I’m not unblocking a sink of elbow-deep pig fat.
My first proper design job was at Antipodes Skincare. Admittedly mum pulled a few strings to get me an interview. I didn’t get the job but was asked to cover until the new person started. Those four weeks somehow become 2 years. And although my girlfriend was really enjoying the free products, I resigned at the start of 2018 to spend some time in Japan.
While overseas, mum sent me a graphic design job for NZ Police (basically mum’s carried my entire career). I was hired, and since April 2018 had a desk at NZ Police National Headquarters in Wellington. Now I’ve just made the move to Auckland.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
After not enough sleep, early morning phone usage, and a dodgy bus timetable; I’ll cruise into work just after 9am. First I check emails and the to-do list I made the day before. Sometimes I take a while to warm up, in which case I’ll read some articles or look at some design reference to get me in the headspace for the day. I’ll start chipping away on work around 9:45am.
I don’t really have a solid structure to the way I work. Priorities can change at Police quite quickly, so often I’m not working on what I planned to do — it’s never boring.
In the afternoon I’ll try to get away from the screen. Even in shitty weather I’ll try and go for a walk, just to have a breather. Afternoon swims at Thorndon pool was a go-to for summer.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I’m working with Ogilvy to put together a brand manual for NZ Police. They’ve done tremendous work already. It’s great to be a part of collating & recording it into a document which hopefully does it justice!
Do you have a campaign or project you’re particularly proud of?
A past project I’m really proud of is the brochure done for New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective. It’s a resource for sex workers who have experienced sexual assault, and the first time NZ Police & NZPC have collaborated on a document. I was really proud to see the final product rolled out nationally. It was a privilege working with Dame Catherine Healy, Haley Ryan, and the rest of the team involved.
How much of your work is internal (supporting the NZ police team) vs external (public) focused?
A bit of both. Previously NZ Police’s design output was mostly external, but there’s more focus on the whole of Police’s branding now. Which means an increased amount of smaller jobs both externally and internally. I’d say my work is slightly more internal, there’s a lot of quick turnaround stuff to support the team.
What are the best bits about working with The NZ Police?
How does New Zealand culture inform your work?
Off the back of moments like ‘always blow on the pie’, NZ Police has cultivated this charisma that’s distinct to us. Getting our kiwi wit across visually is a unique part of our branding, which is lots of fun to work with provided we’re respectful of the subject matter. Previously we’ve looked corporate, even a bit colonial. Now we’re trying to put the ‘New Zealand’ visually back into ‘New Zealand Police’. A huge part of this is the Including more Tikanga Māori and Te Reo in our design to bring us closer with our cultural identity & heritage.
We also have to make sure whatever we do design-wise doesn’t distort the reality of policing or the seriousness of our subject matter. That balance can be a challenge, but it’s also fraught with really great opportunities for design to help move people forward.
Outside of work hours what creative projects are you passionate about?
I’m a compulsive worker. It’s something I’m trying to get better at. I’ve never been able to shake having a side project, the most recent of which is Panorama. We recently put out our first issue, ‘Watching’ which is available to read in full on www.panoramamagazine.com. Currently, we’re looking for donations to support the creation of issue 2!
I do pretty much anything creative that I find captivating. I’m a big believer in working on a broad range of things. What you learn in one discipline can be surprisingly useful in another. It’s simple: Overspecialise, and you breed in weakness. It’s a slow death.
Do you have any other advice for designers who aspire to follow a similar path as yours?
Don’t borrow someone else’s path. Gain knowledge whatever way works, and make a life habit of just being curious.
Personally, I don’t truly believe in talent — I actually find the term a bit insulting. It’s a slow road, so putting one’s success down to natural ability is disrespectful to one’s failures. You’re always failing, learning, failing, and sometimes you win a little bit. Education doesn’t stop at a certain point (especially in an age where change happens so rapidly). For me, not having the validation of a degree has led to bouts of imposter syndrome. But it’s also led to a different perspective when creating work, one that I might not have if I went down the same path as everyone else.
Ditch trends, never design on an empty stomach, and tell people you love them more often.