25.03.19 / Designers Institute of NZ / Interview with Stephen McCarthy

Stephen McCarthy, PDINZ
Design Intervention

Judging by the wealth of cool design work coming out of his thriving Christchurch studio, you’d never guess that Stephen McCarthy was rejected from Christchurch Polytech way back when.

Rejected but certainly not dejected, Stephen’s on-the-job education kicked off at Arch Hill Records where he cut his teeth designing album covers. A stint at the Nelson Evening Mail followed, then he moved to the agency side of the business.

10 years ago he set up his own studio, McCarthy, in the heart of the Garden City. “It’s funny when we now host student nights and they ask me where I studied. I tell them I didn’t and they can’t really understand. Different paths for different people, I guess,” Stephen explains.

Being in the South Island, Stephen felt somewhat removed from the industry awards scene that he perceived as more of an Auckland thing. That all changed when he was invited to judge The Best Design Awards. “I saw the calibre of work that came through and realised it’s not just about getting a gold. It’s about entering, maybe becoming a finalist, maybe winning an award. Now I see it as a celebration, a recognition that we’re all in this together. It’s the chance to acknowledge other designers who are at the top of their game too.”

For Stephen, belonging to The Designers Institute is not just about inspirational guest speaker events like the Designers Speak series. “There’s a lot of value people don’t realise about DINZ. There’s legal help you can get by simply phoning up. There’s a body of people there to support you in ways many members may not even realise.”

In 2017, the team at McCarthy came up with the light-hearted piñata campaign for The Best Awards. “Sometimes you can take design too seriously. For us, it was about having a bit of fun, because that’s what we do as a studio.”

Stephen is now on the Institute’s board of directors. He hopes to continue building and fostering an inclusive community. “There’s a diverse group of people around the board table with a variety of different strengths. It feels like we’re one design body all working together to make our industry stronger. Our new mentorship programme is shaping up to be a really great way to encourage the younger generation. People like me get to share the knowledge back and move our industry forwards.”

Speaking of sharing his wealth of knowledge, he had the following advice for young designers just starting out. “Don’t get stuck on all the design blogs looking at fads and trends. Everyone’s an individual. You’ve got your own spark, so get your personality into your design.”

Storytelling by Simon Otto.

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