Under the Hood with Steve Hansen & Gareth Rice, Special Group

4 weeks ago by

For the month of May we’re putting a focus on Design &…Business with featured thought leadership articles, events & workshops, and design projects from and for our community. You can check out more from the Design & Business series hereAhead of our Under the Hood Design & AI online event happening on 2 May, we briefly chatted with two of our featured speakers, Steve Hansen & Gareth Rice of Special Group.


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

Steve: I’m Steve Hansen, Creative Director at Special Group, Auckland. I have never been the coach of the All Blacks. I’ve been a creative in the communications industry for just over 15 years. Time flies. My origin story is a bit different to most of my peers. I fell into the industry by accident. I was working in a streetwear shop as a youngster and was tasked with creating ads to promote the shop in magazines. I loved the process of coming up with an idea for these ads and the production process involved in bringing them to life. But I didn’t want to work in a shop forever so took the next step and found out there was a thing called AdSchool. I enrolled, built my portfolio and stepped straight into agency land once I graduated. I’ve had the privilege of honing my craft at multiple agencies across Auckland and Wellington since.

Gareth: Originally I started in design, then wandered into art direction in the fashion and photography world. That developed into advertising and creative, skipping onto Melbourne, Amsterdam and London over 12 years. The literal plane landed back in New Zealand and I am currently working at Special New Zealand as an Associate Creative Director.

What project will you be presenting in Under the Hood?

Steve: Gareth and I will be chatting about our journey so far integrating AI applications into our workflow process. The good and the bad. It’s early days with the tech so we’re still learning about where it fits and where it doesn’t. I’ll also take a quick deep dive into a recent project we’ve just finished up for Contact Energy and the role AI played in its creation. The brief was to tell the story of Contact Energy’s road to Net Zero energy generation by 2035. We could have very easily fallen into quite a dry territory with a message like this so the challenge was set for us to tell this story in a fresh and invigorating way that would connect with the country.

Gareth: A piece of work we produced for Uber (a service you take when you can’t be bothered) who decided to sponsor the Black Ferns and All Blacks (two teams that do bother at elite levels). 

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

Steve: The trickiest part of the project was visualising the slightly surreal concept we had on the table. It was a big switch in brand tone for our client so we had to make sure we could visually demonstrate exactly how we were going to bring this world we were creating to life to give them the confidence to press go on the concept. 

Gareth: The misalignment of two polar opposite institutions/brands. 

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

Steve: We definitely had a few of those moments along the way on this job. It comes with the territory of creating fresh and original ideas for our clients. We’re treading through the unknown always. The ideas start off raw in their infancy but as we move along the creative process things just fall into place and it all comes together. There’s a bit of magic involved in this game.

Gareth: The Black Ferns and All Blacks are only elite athletes when they are on the pitch. Off it, they are just like everyone else. 

Now that the project has finished, what are you working on? 

Steve: You’ll have to wait and see but there’s some exciting things going on behind the curtains at Special Group right now. Stay tuned.

What insights to your methodological approach or philosophy can you give us?  

Steve: My philosophy with my work is the same as my outlook on life. Be nice. To yourself and to others. It gets you further than you think.

Gareth: Long before you put a pencil to paper or pixel to screen think about whatunderlying truths and insights are in front of you when considering a brief. How is the product or service perceived? How does it overlap with the audience you are speaking to?

Outside of work hours what creative projects and/or hobbies are you involved with?

Steve: With the explosion of AI tech and applications that are hitting the industry right now, I’m finding my downtime is spent tinkering with them. I feel the FOMO if I don’t get playing with the new tech or AI tool straight away. I was making some AI based music the other day just for the hell of it. Does that make me a musician? The jury is out. My mind is constantly blown at the capabilities and the speed this technology operates at. It’s only early days too, scary. So I guess I’d call that my latest hobby right now, getting to know and learning more about these new technologies to help me keep up with what’s out there.

Gareth: Consume an unsustainable amount of content.

And finally, where to next for you? What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?

Steve: I’m straight onto the next brief. Always learning, staying curious and keeping an eye on where the culture is heading. Personally, I’ve got a whole lot of shows and books I’ve been neglecting that I can’t wait to get stuck into. 

Gareth: Look for more areas to be inspired by. Remain restless.

Steve Hansen, Creative Director at Special Group bio
Gareth Rice, Associate Creative Director at Special Group Bio

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