5 minutes with… Susannah ‘Roxy’ Huntington

2 years ago by

Ahead of our Auckland DA Event: Out of Office – Conversations on working inhouse we caught up with Roxy Huntington – Former Head of Design, Trade Me.

Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you’re at now?
With a Market Researcher mum and Research Scientist dad, questions such as “why?” and “what if?” feature pretty strongly in my DNA. Combine that with a love of aesthetics, fashion and advertising, design seemed like a no-brainer for me.

I completed a BA of Graphic Design at the University of Canberra, with a year on exchange in the UK, then headed home to Sydney to brave the design world. Six years later I was back in the UK, then to the world’s coolest little capital, Wellington in 2007.

I’ve intentionally sought out different working environments: agencies, in-house design teams, freelance, big companies with world-wide reach and small “mum and dad” businesses. It’s the variety of sub-disciplines, creative rabbit holes, mediums and different ways of working that has kept me going. You also get to meet so many different people!

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?
I trusted myself. And trusted those around me to be the best versions of themselves. I’ve trusted myself to set a clear vision and then stepped back and empowered others to bring it to life. Any design work is more robust, inclusive, successful and fun as part of a good team. I’ve trusted that a cohesive, authentic brand will bring both happy customers and increased profits. Moving companies and people who aren’t naturally design-literate in a positive direction, one step at a time. It’s hard work but worth the time and the effort!

I’ve trusted that being open about mental health is scary but necessary. Being honest (and even more frightening, vulnerable!) gives others a chance to learn and an opportunity for them to be kind. It always surprises me how powerful honesty and generosity are! As a leader, I also realised that I needed to set the example that it was ok to talk about these things and that they’re nothing to be ashamed of.

What do you see as the biggest benefits to working in-house as a creative?
For me, it’s getting to know a brand inside and out. Working in an agency environment has lots of variety, but often it felt a little mercenary. There’s only so much you can learn about a company and brand as part of the brief, so often you’re having to make a hell of a lot of assumptions when doing work. Not only are you taking an educated guess at what the client wants, but also about what their customers need.

I found working in-house at Trade Me a great adventure as I could truly understand where we had come from as a company and a brand and helped inform how we could evolve and best serve our (huge variety) of members.

And the biggest challenges facing in-house designers?
Oh, there’s a few! Shameless plug: Come see my talk for the full list! As a starter: Doing something new in a way that is authentic to the brand you’re working with. It’s a fine line… you need to evolve and keep moving but do it in a way that is genuinely connected to your brand. It’s like a person wearing a sharp new suit that makes them look their best, rather than something that makes them look like a try-hard. It needs to be for the evolution of the brand, not just your portfolio.

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?
Totally! This is the most obvious negative of working in-house, so you better choose a company that you really love and that interests you. I like to think about that friend with the new suit again… it should be someone that you’re interested in getting to know better, make new memories with, grow and nurture.

What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
Not really a project per se, but a huge part of my role as Head of Design at Trade Me was growing a) the understanding of the value of design within Trade Me, and b) the confidence, collaboration and culture of the wider design team.

What does career/creative success look like to you?
Work that is interesting to you (the creator) and that adds value to the world in some way. Work that has a sense of beauty about it – that doesn’t always mean polished and perfect!. A design team that is valued and customers that feel heard.

How do you find balance between work and life?
For me, it’s about listening to my gut. Feeling too content, on the verge of complacency? Time to mix it up! Look for new adventures or new work. Feeling impatient and burnt out? Suss out the things that are really valuable to you and focus on those. You know more about your colleague’s lives than your best friend? Time to lock in some catch-ups!

Do you have any other advice for designers who aspire to follow a similar path as yours?
Stay curious and take a risk, even a teeny one, once in a while. Follow things that interest you and be generous with that knowledge.


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