Design Assembly has become the home of New Zealand visual design –providing a collaborative digital and physical platform for kiwi visual designers to learn, keep up-to-date and be inspired. We couldn’t do that without the support of our Friends. This series profiles some of the studios and individuals who have shown their love and support for DA. In this feature, we talk to Alister Coyne of Auror
Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you are today?
I’m hearing impaired, so my world is much more reliant on what I can see. I look for visual clues from people and places to help me navigate through life. To pinpoint the exact moment I wanted to be a designer? That would have to be Transworld Skateboarding magazine, as art directed by David Carson. The layouts, typography and photography smashed into print were meticulously analysed and replicated into my own work. The rules are that there are no rules.
After failing to get into any universities I completed a Year 13 Art & Design course at Brighton Bay in Melbourne. I learned about my creative strengths in graphic, industrial and interior design and was over the moon to then receive an offer for the Bachelor of Design course at Swinburne University of Technology. While I flourished on the practical side of the course, I really struggled with theory and failed my first year. So I spent the following year repeating one subject and working in a timber mill four days a week. A year of working in the mill gave me a reality check and reinforced that I needed to finish the course. By the time I reached 3rd Year my love of computers and design saw me majoring and completing my honors in Multimedia Design.
I landed my first job as a designer at a startup in Melbourne called Sputnik. We were a sister agency to Exit Films, operated out of an amazing studio filled with film directors, designers, photographers, creative directors, developers, editors, producers and comedians. Yes, comedians. We saw online as an entirely creative medium and treated it as an extension of film and storytelling. We made up a lot of stuff but we had a lot of fun along the way. After that I freelanced in Edinburgh, London, Melbourne, and Auckland for ad and media agencies and thoroughly enjoyed the variety of work that came with the territory. The digital space was still uncharted so we had a lot of scope to try anything! Whilst at Affinity ID, I picked up an internal project to design a product that would allow us to coordinate and manage marketing automation. It was here where I fell in love with product design and the problem-solving that came with it.
From there I joined Trade Me and established the design team in Auckland, learning a heck of a lot about product design, user experience, and design at scale. Trade Me is one of the few organisations where you get to see people using your produce on buses, trains and ferries and it’s quite an eye opener when users aren’t a fan of something.
After experiencing design at scale at Trade Me I wanted to try something new. I spent over 12 months looking for company that were doing something more interesting than banking, finance or communications. It was super exciting to join the team at Auror in 2018 and be involved in all aspects of the business, from strategy to product and marketing!
We love products that make contributions to our communities. So DA admires Auror’s ambition for design and intelligence to improve safety! Tell us about Auror and the crime prevention / reporting tools you are designing for?
Growing up on a diet of The Secret Seven, Famous Five, and Agathie Christie books, I’ve always loved crime related problem solving. Taking note of clues like distinctive clothing, unique walks (a slight limp has a story) and facial features, it was a no-brainer to join Auror when the opportunity arose. Auror is LOVED by the crime prevention community. We’ve seen first hand how crime affects the safety of both staff and customers, and it’s genuinely satisfying to see how we can help to prevent crime and build a community of retailers and police who collaborate and partner as a team.
Where are you based and what shape does your creative team take?
We’ve grown a lot in the last 12 months, and we now have a team of 36 amazing people. The core team is based in Auckland, and we have recently opened offices in Melbourne and Denver. We have a design team of four, with two product designers (myself included) and two graphic designers.
How much of your work is internal (supporting your colleagues) vs external (public/new business) focused?
I like to give my team as much autonomy as they need, and estimate that 50% of my time is supporting the team, 25% on new business, which includes dreaming up new product improvements, and 25% on continuous improvements.
What do you enjoy most about your role at Auror?
Collaboration. I’m a big fan of talking face to face vs documentation. Being able to show my thinking visually as part of the problem solving process helps to facilitate better conversations. We’re passionate about design being accessible to everyone in the business and we have a very open door policy on feedback, critique and suggestions.
Do you ever suffer brand fatigue working with the same visual language and or messaging if not how do you keep things interesting and diverse?
There’s always something interesting to learn when it comes to product design. We start with a hypothesis and see if it sticks when we launch a new thing. I love learning about how people interact with the product knowing that nothing is ever finished and there is always room for improvement. On top of that user testing is always humbling, you learn so much about the people who use your apps and it’s rewarding to know if you’ve got a good idea vs a great idea.
Last year we set a really lofty goal to generate new leads. Through our design, marketing and comms we almost quadrupled that goal in the first two weeks. It’s suffice to say that the work supporting the business is incredibly effective. In terms of visual and brand design, our approach is to refresh our collection annually which allows us to drive 12 months worth of material with an overarching concept to keep everything fresh. We can spend three months developing ideas and design direction that meets the demands of a growing business and nurtures our creative selves against brand fatigue.
Do you have a project that is memorable because it challenged you but that you ended up loving and being really proud of? If so, what lessons did you learn from that project?
I once came up with a bunch of concepts based around water conservation as part of a client pitch back in 2001. While we didn’t win the project my boss thought they were great and pitched them to an upcoming film director to shoot as television commercials. When it came to the day of the shoot my boss was mysteriously out of town and left me in charge. It was one of the most fun, daunting, bewildering and exhilarating of days. I had NO IDEA what I was supposed to do, but I was convincing old ladies to suck on tea bags (gosh that sounds wrong). By the end of it I knew I definitely did not want to be in the film industry. Later that year, my boss and I were attending a showcase at the Australian Centre for Moving Image in Melbourne and they played my ad to a full cinema. Everyone laughed at the punchline and I cried tears of joy. I learned that having a great boss who pushes you out of your comfort zone but completely trusts you is everything.
What does your design process look like?
I read an article recently that talked about designers being driven through chaos vs process. I’m definitely chaos driven, but there’s a method to the madness! My process is to talk to as many people as possible to understand the problem space, from there I sketch out my thoughts and get as many ideas, designs and processes onto paper or whiteboard. I use design as a tool to facilitate conversations, and then get things into high fidelity designs as quickly as possible to share internally. One thing I’ve learned is that no one will give construcive feedback until it looks like the real thing.
What do you see as the 3 biggest factors impacting the New Zealand design community over the next 5 years?
I think we’re going to see more diverse leadership in the design community, and the effects of this will bring positive changes to the industry. New Zealand has a vibrant user experience culture, and I can see how New Zealand will mature to a healthy, successful startup culture which will attract more talent and create opportunities. I’m also observing the demise of Adobe as the core platform for creative tools, with cheaper software alternatives with better user experience taking over.
What do you see as the biggest benefit of being a DA friend?
Being part of a community of designers that is supportive of one another while celebrating our successes! DA gives me exposure to events and opportunities for growth that I can share with my team that is uniquely design-centric. Hooray!