Southern Stories - Chris Flack

Southern Stories is a series of interviews with designers from or working in the South Island about what it is like to be a creative or run a design-led business there. This week we talk to Chris Flack from Strategy.

Q: Were you born and raised in Christchurch?Chris: Hi, I was born and raised in Dunedin. During my first year at Otago University I saw a flyer for a graphic design course at the Design & Arts College in Christchurch. This course also offered a scholarship, so I applied and got it. The rest, as they say, is history.

I hadn’t really thought about moving to Christchurch but it was an offer too good to turn down. I now call Ōtautahi home and love it here.

Is there something about being a creative in the South Island that you feel is entirely unique?
I’m an outdoors type — so I love the access to the hills, the beach and the snow. I love the easy access to nature and the ease of getting around. My commute is 15 minutes by bike so there is a great work/life balance. You could say lifestyle is really important to me. I’ve got a young family so I really enjoy the fact that I’m not losing valuable time to a long commute.

The clients are very diverse and interesting. At Strategy, we have such a range of work which includes everything from making He Puna Taimoana an outstanding success, to injecting new life into the city for a new retail precinct ‘Five Lanes’.

A few years back a lot of the work that I was involved in at Strategy was to help enliven the cultural fabric of Ōtautahi. We did campaigns for CoCA and a lot of work for TEDxChristchurch which I’m super proud of. Recently, our work has changed to be more about adding a sense of place and space to the city.

What is the one cultural, design, culinary, artistic or other object or person from the South Island you think has been under-represented and should, by now, be considered an icon?
Chris: There are so many things that come to mind. If I had to choose one I would say ‘The Port Hills’. They help to frame the city and give a sense of location/orientation. The ease of accessibility to the hills and the running, biking and adventures possible there help to give Christchurch a point of difference.

A lot of your work has had a philanthropic goal such as raising funds for cancer and  earthquake relief — why such interest?Chris: I’ve always been keen to help out and give back where I can. I’m not really sure why — I like to see the ideas in my head come to life and I guess I’ve also felt the need to respond to whatever is happening around me. It only takes one person to start something and a good idea will always attract and grow if you give it the right energy and time/space to become its own thing. 

Comic Sans for Cancer was born out of the idea that friends were having family members being affected by cancer. I wanted to do something to help raise awareness for Cancer Research and noticed that no one was celebrating Comic Sans’ 20th anniversary. It was pretty simple in the end — everyone hates cancer and comic sans. I then let twitter and the internet do its thing. It went viral and ended up with a sold out exhibition in London with the font’s creator (Vincent Connare) and a room full of designers singing happy birthday to Comic Sans.

As I was in London when the Christchurch Earthquakes happened and couldn’t be on the ground to help out, I decided I would get a group of New Zealanders together overseas to raise money for the Earthquake appeal. We climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and raised a lot of money for the Earthquake Relief Fund in the process.

More recently I was trying to explain to my 2 year old son about the climate crisis and why we could see smoke from the Australian Bushfires in Christchurch. Which led me to creating a simple poster with the words ‘CLIMATE ACTION NOW”. With the help of my son’s scribbles it turned into “MATE ACT NOW”.

This then turned into a digital protest campaign. This project got the New Zealand design community together, raised money for our friends in Australia and helped to keep the climate crisis conversation top of mind during lockdown and beyond.

What do you think has been the impact of tragedies such as the earthquakes and the mosque shootings on local creatives? Do you think there have been specific changes to creative output, etc?
Christchurch has been through a lot over the years. I’ve found that as creatives and designers we are very good at being resilient. We just have to get on with what needs to be done.

In terms of changes to creative output it has allowed us to start to add more empathy and emotion into the creative work. Some of the best work out of Christchurch has been focused on how to be aware of what others are going through (the Alright? campaign) and inspiring young people to believe in themselves (University of Canterbury — Believe You Can).

DINZ Interviews

When the opportunity arises, DINZ interviews leading designers from here and overseas. These interviews seek to dig beneath the surface to address the common and uncommon challenges, problems and opportunities the design community faces.