Q&A with Grant Alexander

‘talking not drawing’, the first in our series of conversations about design. 
Our writer Gozzie had a chat with resident Design Director Grant Alexander...

Q: Looking back are there projects that stand out for you?
 I have always enjoyed working collaboratively with other designers. Any work I am associated with is the result of working with creative partners. For example, working closely with endemicworld.co.nz, from startup ten years, ago has been a rewarding experience.
The new NZ flag design exercise is also memorable – but not necessarily for the right reasons. Our profession learnt quite a bit about itself and the folly of politics through this process.
Less ephemeral outputs are rewarding, such as the Auckland City pedestrian and park signage.
British Petroleum. (BP) beyondpollution posters. Using international commercial vandalism as creative inspiration was invigorating.
And measurably successful projects, some recognised by design awards in NZ, Australia and the US, reinforce a sense of belief in our profession for all those involved.


Q: How would you describe your approach to design?
Collaborative, open and rigorous.


Q: Are there any particular categories where your expertise and experience is under utilised?
Helping clients harness the commercial benefits of design across their wider business.
Helping clients develop marketing plans that ensure the spend goes in the right area.
Helping clients with the execution of marcomms to ensure good design talent is found and well briefed.


Q: How has your early career informed your current creative life?
On a personal level publishing is a big interest now. I started out in publishing 40 years ago and I can feel it pulling me back. Telling stories. Book design is a very pleasurable pastime. My early career in fashion art direction involved a lot of photo editing and curation. So observing, recording and manipulating images and words remains an ongoing interest.


Q: Can you share any trends that you see impacting the design profession here?
IBM is now the biggest employer of designers in the world. Increasingly design expertise is being resourced inhouse. Training designers to work inhouse requires some different skill sets. Some tertiary institutions may already be onto this. For many small and medium sized businesses this is not practical. To remain relevant and valuable, design businesses need to engage with clients on a more holistic level.


Q: Over your 40 year career in design what are the brickbats and bouquets for the design profession?
 Bouquets. We can now throw a great party once a year. (NZ Best Awards).
A growing number of NZ companies are employing design in ways that parallel the best in the world.
The best design in NZ is now at a consistently high international standard.
Brickbats. Many public voices and media bang on about science, engineering and innovation when they really mean 'design'.
Too many NZ companies don’t employ design in ways that could improve their businesses.
A few tertiary organisations are still producing under trained graduates.


Q: The transformation of the media landscape is gathering pace. Is digital affecting your guiding principals for good design?
There are high profile internationally successful companies out there operating very poor websites so I know there is no direct correlation between good web design and commercial success. Looking at this as an opportunity it means companies like Onfire that understand digital, can help companies become more successful. Especially if time is taken to understand user needs.


Q: You’ve established and grown a few successful design businesses. What made you partner with Onfire Design?
A: Sammo is crazy. Just kidding. Its because they’re a young talented team combining a thorough knowledge of digital with an enthusiasm for good design. There is unrealised potential here which I look forward to encouraging and helping direct.


Q: How can clients benefit from a partnership with Onfire?
A: We can help clients that want to use ‘design' to grow their business. Its a journey travelled together. We are creators, problem solvers, educators, developing assets and tools that businesses can continue to benefit from. Good design and good marketing never sleeps.


Q: Besides your work, what else are you passionate about?
A: Laughing. Listening to stories. Telling stories. Learning from the past. Reading. Asking questions. Research. Making art. Drinking beer. Observing by walking. Taking snaps.

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