Getting Under The Hood With… Alistair McCready

1 year ago by

Our next Under the Hood is fast approaching on Thursday 28 January 2021. Get Tickets here!

Thanks to our event partners Adobe, you are invited to join us online as two designers walk us through how a design project worked and an Adobe rep shares tips and tricks to improve your daily workflow.

Today we speak with one of our January UTH presenters Alistair McCready about which project he will share at the event, the creative hurdles and when things started falling into place. We also discuss Alistair’s creative journey, typographic craftsmanship, his interests and ambitions.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry?

I’m a typographic designer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Prior to studying design at AUT some years ago, I ran a small screenprint studio in Hawkes Bay, where I grew up. I’ve always felt a great deal of satisfaction from making things, but back in the day I’d had little to no training in design. My business partner at the time, Lee Hansen, had studied in Whanganui and was able to make visual sense of things in ways that I simply couldn’t — so after several years of printing I finally left to go and figure it all out for myself.

What does a typical day as Designer at Inhouse involve?

No two days are the same I’d say. We’re a close-knit bunch, so communication between one another comes easy. Jane and Arch (MacDonnell) nurture a strong feeling of trust in the studio, which is something I’d not really experienced prior to joining their team. It really makes a huge difference. Day to day, it’s the standard stuff: admin, meetings, creative, artworking — we all do a bit of everything.

What insight can you give us to your design process?

If I’m honest, I don’t really feel like I have a process. The design impetus is always coming from a different place which tends to dictate how I get started. Sometimes it’s just a case of gathering references together and then throwing ideas around to see what sticks. I often build out a presentation framework before there’s any work to place into it, just to help me think. Ideation has never been my strong suit though, I’m much better at the crafting aspect of design. This is where I’m at my happiest.

I chat with my good friend and mentor Jeremy Tankard most days, and we share workings with one another. His insight is always tremendous and he encourages me to look at things in ways I wouldn’t have thought to. I’ve grown a lot because of his influence.

What project will you be presenting in Under the Hood?

I’m going to be sharing some of my ongoing research into New Zealand memorial typography. Many years back I published an exegesis called Type As Monument, that received a really positive response and resonated well with people. I’ve been continuing my work in this area and in many ways it’s come to represent my personal output of late.

What was the most challenging part of the project and what lessons did you draw from it?

The project initially began as a collision between two different personal interests — heritage meets design. Sadly these two areas share little common ground in the output of most designers today, which is completely understandable — innovation over restoration, etc.

My biggest hurdle has really been trying to show the validity of heritage and that sometimes the best way to see forward, is to look backwards. I’ve found that trying to explain this to people is never enough and that only by trusting in your own instincts and putting ideas into action, eventually others will understand and believe in what it is you’re trying to communicate.

Was there an ‘Aha!’ moment in the project when things clicked and fell into place?

There genuinely was, which isn’t that common for me. I recall a point where I’d initially taken a lot of photos and read a whole lot on the subject, but I was still looking for ways that I could personally respond and build upon things. I began to redraw some of the memorial lettering I’d encountered, and through doing so removing many of the material cues imbued in each character. I eventually reimagined complete character sets, which in essence drove the rest of the project toward where it is today.

Do you have a favourite feature or shortcut in Adobe Creative Cloud programs?

It’s the simple stuff I like the most. It might sound a bit dull but the duplicate shortcut is something I use all the time. It’s got to be one of the most basic things in Illustrator, but it works and you never forget where to find it. Command+D. Done.

What are your interests outside of design?

My workmates will tell you I have a thing for planes, and as the studio is right on the flight path for Whenuapai airbase I tend to stray from my desk to watch whatever is coming in overhead. My father is a pilot, and my grandfather before him. I’ve always wanted to fly and will no doubt learn one day. I’m a member of NZ Warbirds and head out to the airfield with dad on many a Sunday to talk about miscellaneous aircraft matters with the crew out there.

The pandemic response has created a reset in our practice — what do you hope for the future of design in New Zealand?

It’s been a strange year, I think the industry has been fairly agile though. I think remote working has become a lot more acceptable and will be here to stay, which is great. Up until now, there’s been an intensity around time spent in the studio — thinking that it will lead to the best results. I obviously can’t speak for everyone but I feel very empowered when I’m trusted to carry a project forward, and that this trust remains despite life needing to be lived alongside the task at hand.

And finally, what areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?

I’m always drawing and working on new typefaces. I’ve amounted a fairly large personal catalogue now, some of which will eventually see the light of day. This in itself isn’t a small task. All my spare time is about to take a hit though, as my wife and I are about to become parents. I feel that any sense of self-understanding is set to be really tested, so I’d be foolish to say anything more than…wish me luck.


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