Scrolling Linkedin recently a bright bold and brilliant billboard for The Safe Space Alliance caught our eye. We reached out to NZ Aids Foundation designer Matthias Bucher to learn more about the billboard (& the community response), the important work he is doing, the shape of the NZAF creative team and Matthias aspirations for the future.
What led to your career in design and who were your early creative influences?
Everything in my life seemed to point me towards design.
Growing up in Switzerland, I was surrounded by a family of creatives, artists and collectors. So, from an early age I was introduced into the world of art and design, as I was dragged along to exhibitions, shows and performances. A special shoutout to my mum, who has always provided me with the materials and space to experiment with and develop myself creatively.
I moved back to Aotearoa in the early 2000s and, as a typical ‘noughties’ kid, started to take a greater interest in technology and the internet. Much to my family’s initial confusion, my creative direction veered into the digital realm too! When I was 14, I actually ended up starting a side-hustle selling avatars I’d built in Adobe Flash for the online game Whirled – I even got a cheque in the mail from Sega for some of them! Seeing a cheque from a huge international company with my name on it was the point where my family stopped viewing my time on the internet as a waste and started properly supporting me.
An early influence on my art-style was Brittney Lee, a visual development artist at Disney, who was actually one of the designers who worked on Whirled (small world), which you can probably see in my vector illustrations.
During my diploma of digital creativity at uni, the design section really kept calling out to me as something I could do every day. It felt like all the skills and knowledge I developed for fun as a kid had come together into a career path!
Can you tell us about your career milestones and creative journey so far?
I’ve got several more pieces of paper with my name on them since that one from Sega. I completed a diploma in digital creativity and a bachelor of media design. I worked for a couple of corporates and did the usual under-charged freelance work for a bit, too. All of which led me to a role as the New Zealand AIDS Foundation’s graphic designer.
A huge milestone for me was working on the promotion and aesthtic themes for the two most recent Ending HIV Big Gay Out festivals – watching my peers dancing and celebrating front of the designs was surreal!
As well as my work with the foundation, I’m incredibly pleased that I have been able to collaborate with local artists from my community, including: Blaise Clotworthy and their sold out show “Everybody Interesting Is Gay”, Jaimie Hutton on a drag show called “Gowns, Beautiful Gowns”, and, more recently, for Shannon Novak from the Safe Space Alliance’s “Taranaki: The Rainbow Region” billboard.
Not to mention creating a vector portrait of the iconic Michelle Visage as part of NZAF’s campaign to get her to do some HIV awareness promotion while she was here filming RuPaul’s Drag Race Downunder. She even surprised us by coming along to the very end of Ending HIV Big Gay Out 2021, where I got to spend a moment with her and she told me she loved the portrait.
What does a typical day as Graphic Designer at the AIDS Foundation look like for you?
Honestly, it’s quite a unique experience. Our work is unabashedly sex-positive in order to best reach people when we’re talking about HIV, which is primarily transmitted through sex. This becomes immediately clear if you’ve seen any of the work I’ve done for our Ending HIV brand, as I’m designing for an audience of highly-sexualised men who have sex with men.
There’s not really a “typical” day. Every single day here is different and the range of work changes dynamically. One day I’ll be working on designing anal-swab instructions for an STI test kit, or drawing an illustrated orgy for a poster that raises awareness of the harm reduction support available to those participating in chemsex (you might need to google that one…). The following day it will take a complete 180° and I’ll be creating a soothing image to invite people living with HIV to a meditation support course, or making a super-polished organisational action plan to be presented to the board and stakeholders.
Some days I even get to create a full brand suite for a fundraising campaign – check out Sweat With Pride!
Where are you based and what shape does the AIDS Foundation creative team take?
My team and I are based in Tāmaki Makaurau, but we have offices in Wellington and Christchurch that I collaborate with regularly as well. My immediate team is made up of social media experts, digital specialists, public-health and social-marketing whizzes and comms people. As a not-for-profit, our NZAF whānau is pretty small, but makes a big impact.
What do you enjoy most about working there and the important mahi you are doing?
Being part of the team at NZAF has been life-changing. Being able to use my skills and creativity to make an impact in a community I care about has been so empowering. I get to work alongside like-minded, passionate folks and be a part of pieces of work that go out on a national scale to support and educate my community in so many different ways.
We love the work you did for The Safe Space Alliance, tell us about this project…
Shannon Novak, director of the Safe Space Alliance reached out to me about creating a billboard to help grow acceptance for the Rainbow community in New Plymouth. I’m always interested in creating work that raises awareness, engages and challenges people. Which is what the billboard has ended up doing!
My intention for the billboard was to spark a conversation. I wanted to present the Rainbow community in Taranaki in a positive, fun and inclusive way and took inspiration from American town welcome signs. It’s incredibly empowering to see your identity recognised with such a statement on a billboard in the center of town and I hope the Rainbow folks in the region can see themselves represented in that image.
There have been many angry emails about the billboard (which just reinforces the need for it in my opinion…), but, just as many positive, thankful and heartfelt ones too. That has made this whole process absolutely worth it.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I’m working on balancing my day-to-day work at NZAF and my passion-projects. I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with and supporting the Rainbow community and I want to do more of that – while also keeping myself productive but not burning out, rest is super important!
How much of your work is internal (supporting your colleagues) vs external (public) focused?
I would say my work is mostly external. Most of the things I design are intended for the public and our target audiences, but I get the internal request occasionally, too.
Does the AIDS foundation use your in house studio exclusively or do you collaborate with external design studios from time to time?
It’s mostly me but we do work with agencies on some of our bigger projects which means I can be working alongside their in-house design studios. As we are a small team who are already putting out heaps of work, working with agencies and our retainer designer (the talented Ben at Mix!) allows us to maximise our impact and get even more creative people in the room. Sometimes my role in these situations is creating briefs and brand guidelines for externals to hold entirely, other times my role is to bring external work more in-line with our brand and the needs of our community – these are usually pretty intense design sprint situations which are full on but fun and really rewarding.
How do you see your work and practice developing, and what are your main aspirations?
I’m connecting back to my swiss heritage through design. I want to learn about the swiss design conventions to hopefully grow and inform my own design process while still keeping my own twist on it – I want this to also influence my illustrative work – looking at how I can simplify my vector art process to present cleaner & simpler illustrations.
I really would love to turn my illustrative work into limited edition t-shirts & prints that people would want to own. I have a clear image of what I want it to become, so watch this space if you’re looking for some proudly queer art!
Where can people get intouch with you to connect and learn more about your work?
Check out my portfolio website matthias.co.nz to keep up to date with my latest projects. You can also check out my insta @somatthias for my just-for-fun illustrations. If you want to contact me for commissions or work, feel free to flick me an email at email@example.com!