People of Asuwere - Ed Burak
Asuwere member and Industrial designer-cum-experience designer, Ed Burak, is no stranger to an award or three; designing experiences for arguably New Zealand’s most recognisable brand, and beyond being incredibly talented at what he does - he is just a top bloke.
We recently met with Ed whilst on a trip to the garden city, Christchurch, and talked about projects he's done, his upbringing and his immense passion for the detail, it was inspiring to say the least. After showing us his local coffee spot he kindly offered us a ride to the airport in his Bronco. Legend.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Well, I’m the son of Polish refugees who both turned up here as orphaned children, invited by the NZ Govt during the Second World War. Both of my parents had incredible stories of survival and their journey from the Soviet invasion of Poland to forced labour camps in the deepest parts of Siberia then onto refugee camps in Persia and Rhodesia, finally arriving in Aotearoa via a US troop carrier vessel. The current situation in Ukraine would have been distressing for my parents to witness and proves we as humans do not heed history well.
I have to say I had a great upbringing in Upper Hutt, attending Secondary School at St Patrick’s Silverstream (Sector Fidem boys!) and still enjoy a close bond with my fellow old boys (even though I was a pretty average Rugger player!) I've got a couple of wonderful kids in their early teens, which means my weekends are well booked with sports or skiing over the winter. I consider myself a ‘classically trained’ Industrial designer - which basically means I’m from the old school - Design School era - where we spent more time in the workshop building our design projects using lathes, builders bog, and paint booths - and I’m eternally grateful for the experience, nothing quite beats holding the design in your hand and making quick adjustments using a rasp or grinder. We spent hours and hours refining our ability to sketch and then render using markers and gauche - on reflection, it was an absolute treat to be in this environment with some of New Zealand’s best design tutors and Professors alongside a highly competitive and talented group of fellow students. Only fifteen or so entrants were accepted annually into the ID Diploma that was offered back in the day so we were all highly motivated to do well.
Career highlights include a long tenure at Formway Design Studio heading up some wonderful design projects and being fortunate enough to attract a handful of Best Design awards from the Design Institute of New Zealand (DiNZ) including the Stringer Award, NZs highest accolade for Design. Formway Design Studio is the classic New Zealand untold story of the little studio that could. A studio so steeped in design thinking and innovative problem solving, it is responsible for designing some of the world’s best-selling commercial furniture which is produced by global powerhouses such as Knoll and Natuzzi - driving design royalties back to the studio which inevitably gets reinvested into insatiable R&D. It’s worth checking out their latest foray into residential furniture, Noho; Stunning NZ design, performance and meaningful sustainability all wrapped into a dining chair. My time at Formway and the people I worked with there remain a huge influence.
The time spent crafting the fuzzy front end of problem identification at Formway set me up beautifully to go on and introduce design thinking to an entirely different yet exceptional team at Tourism Holdings Limited (THL) a huge publicly-listed tourism business. Originally bought in to redesign Campervans, the role quickly expanded to customer experience design - mapping and illustrating our customer experiences across the many businesses run by THL - From interviewing RV Owners in the 'hickest' parts of Hick-town Texas to avoiding Saltwater Crocodiles whilst developing 4WD Campervans in the Kimberly desert, even developing an EV powered Campervan purely so THL can begin to understand what challenges they have to design for in the near future.
About four years ago I moved south to Christchurch due to a handful of compelling design challenges in the tourism sector, spending a few years as GM of Design for Ngāi Tahu Tourism. It was an opportunity to grow culturally as a citizen of Aotearoa and gain empathy and appreciation of Te Ao Maori as well as be involved with some incredible projects. Two highlights are my involvement with the Dark Sky Project in Takapō and leading the research, design, and execution of The All Blacks Experience at Sky City in Tāmaki Makaurau.
I now run my own independent experience design consultancy Burak Consulting Ltd (and back doing some truly interesting work at THL) and am also a founding Partner at Joots Limited, a really interesting customer insights business where we offer a unique mash-up of data science and analysis with Voice of the Customer and other qualitative research methodology, wrapping it all up into accessible actionable insights via large scale illustrated posters.
Coming from an industrial design background to designing experiences, how much cross-over is there in your research to understand what we need as humans?
The secret is all about uncovering and understanding unmet human needs - as opposed to human wants - that are easy to surface. Getting below the waterline to understand motivation, behaviour, and reaction to a service, product or experience is key - and that takes experience and an approach that is learned over years of getting it right. I’m fascinated with cognitive ergonomics, an area of science I first learned about by trying to design environments that enhanced the likelihood of creativity occurring in the workplace.
You’ve heard about physical ergonomics, right? Making products comfortable and enjoyable for the body - well cognitive ergonomics is making things also work well with our minds, how we make sense of things and how our minds are wired.
The All Blacks experience in Auckland, which you lead, has been open for 2 years, what was the process in creating something like this?
It was the classic design thinking process of discovery, design, and delivery, but overlayed with some pretty hefty challenges and significant pressure to get it right for a multitude of stakeholders. Creating an authentic embodiment of what it takes to make, shape, and be an All Black in a paid experience that must be deep & rich in content enough to delight our domestic market who know Rugby and the All Blacks very well, whilst very important from a brand, revenue and visitation perspective is equally compelling to a broad international audience that spans between fervent opposition rugby supporters and those who know nothing about the game but are aware of the All Blacks and possibly Haka.
We started by interviewing fans of Rugby, domestic and international - from players to their parents and coaches, a whole array of personas - and importantly not only supporters of the All Blacks but those of our greatest foes as well. We were curious to understand what All Blacks meant to them, what they were curious about, and what was it about the Black Jersey that made the hair stand up on the back of their necks - how do we bottle this and design it into the Experience.
I spent a lot of time with All Blacks, and people influential to have the legacy that exists - an absolute privilege to spend time with the likes of Ian Kirkpatrick, BeeGee Williams, Buck Shelford, Wayne Smith, and Gilbert Enoka amongst many others - A Players Advisory Group was formed to ensure authenticity and representation that would connect with the players. I was invited to travel with the team to the UK for the Tests against England at Twickers and the Irish in Dublin - a brilliant opportunity to understand what went on in the closed training sessions and speak with opposition fans about what All Black Rugby meant to them.
I could go on and on about the many prototypes, board meetings, and design concepts we went through - it was an incredibly intense couple of years of design and building but a definite career highlight - we worked with incredible New Zealand creatives to capture and pull everything together - you would not believe the lengths we had to go to capture an actual in-game Haka - one shot, no rehearsals, no acting in an environment we had zero control over, that’s definitely a story for the directors cut. It opened precisely around COVID which has been heartbreaking in terms of international visitation but the feedback and reviews of the experience have been incredible and immensely satisfying. The guides are incredible and I look forward to seeing the numbers grow now that borders are opening up. I’d definitely encourage all Asuwere members to visit the Experience, take visiting friends or family.
What is the best experience or event you think is a must for everyone's bucket list?
My mates will roll their eyes but I always go back to the 4WD self-drive experiences I’ve had with my best mates in the far northern territories of Australia. I had the fortunate task of refining and designing rental products for the Britz 4WD fleet (operated by THL) and you can only design well for a product you know well. Driving from Broome to Darwin across the Kimberly Desert is an absolute must-do experience and it's basically right on our doorstep across the ditch.
The sheer scale and beauty of outback Australia is mind-blowing and it has a way of touching your soul that’s difficult to describe. Plus there is nothing better for the head and heart than a week or so of good yarns and banter around a campfire after four-wheel driving through one of the most isolated parts of the world, where most of the wildlife wants to eat you. Plans are underway for a trip to the Red Centre next year…
Any coming projects you can let us know about?
I’d have to kill you if I did...
As someone who spends their days researching what humans need, what kind of activities do you find yourself doing in your spare time?
I’ve always been interested in the culture and creativity that drive great food and dining experiences - The environments created, the attention to detail, the lighting - and of course the food. The creativity and energy of great chefs astound me. I wouldn’t call myself a great cook but I deeply enjoy the process of cooking and serving up good uncomplicated food. I love cooking over fire or hardwood charcoal when I can make the time, inspired by Al Brown's cookbook Stoke and then a few visits to Austin TX where I even did the pilgrimage (a four-hour queue, every day) of Franklin’s BBQ amongst others. The multi-sensory process of cooking over fire with friends and family is rather special.
Most recently - in the search for something that works for me in terms of mindfulness or self-fullness, I’ve started building kit-set models (as I did as a kid) but really paying attention to the detailing and finishing - I've found the full concentration it requires totally relieves me of the stresses and anxieties that life throws at us and provides a huge level of satisfaction. An hour or so of this at night with the stereo playing and I sleep like a baby.
How does Asuwere suit your lifestyle?
I’m a huge fan I have to say. I know I can trust the cut and quality of the pieces and the fact they all layer up so well makes it a no-brainer for me. Not many brands demand my loyalty like Asuwere but the quality of service is delightful - and I genuinely enjoy the effort made in creating the wider community of good buggers and doesn’t bang on about the products - they look after themselves. Plus who doesn’t like getting a fresh piece delivered to the door each month?
Shop Ed's looks
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