Remembering Rob Coats: great artist, great man

People will recognise the work of Coats Design from the aisles of their local supermarket and logos of their local retailers. It’s responsible for wrapping design around the products of big Kiwi names such as Michael Hill, Rodd & Gunn, Barker’s of Geraldine, and last year’s redesign of Hubbards cereal. And the man who kicked it all off was founder Rob Coats, who passed away on the weekend and is remembered fondly by his colleagues and contemporaries in the industry.

“Rob was a great artist,” says colleague Matt Grantham. “All his thinking and planning came out in his sketches… although it is a disservice to call them sketches. He would easily produce the most beautifully rendered pen and pencil artworks, from Michael Hill’s brand typography and the famous retriever dog of Rodd & Gunn’s – all of these came off of Rob’s drawing pad.”

Coats started as an advertising man, having come up the ranks at Colenso in Auckland during the late ’70s and through the ’80s (Grantham recalls him talking about being on the exec team when Colenso gave Rachel Hunter her big break).

He saw a gap in the packaging design market, left Colenso and set up Coats Design with wife Vanessa, one of the first specialist packaging design studios established in New Zealand.

The design agency has since catered for many major Kiwi brands, but also involve themselves with smaller businesses, lending advice on branding and packaging needs, and talking them through day-to-day business needs. 

Outside work hours, Coats was a “typically honest, straight forward Kiwi bloke. He certainly did not – and never did – conform to an ‘agency’ man,” says Grantham.

“He was equally at home in the outdoors, hunting, fishing, enjoying the family bach in the Coromandel, as he was at his desk dealing with the latest branding project.”

He says people came first to the designer, and clients quickly became friends with him. 

“It always amazed me that, no matter where we went, he always bumped into someone he knew. If he didn’t know them, then he made absolutely sure that by the end of a conversation they knew him. He was a big character, had a kind nature, and always had something to say. Having worked with him for ten years he was certainly my mentor, sounding board and, above all else, family.”

Vanessa Coats says his lifelong passion was crafting great design and it was his wish that the company continued that tradition. 

“He was so appreciative and constantly amazed to have had the support of such a great team of people who have passed through Coats and contributed to its success,” Vanessa said in a message to the Designers Institute of New Zealand. “The Coats legacy will continue having happily passed the mantle on to the loyal and talented team that is Coats Design today.”

  • The funeral, which, the Facebook page says, “will inevitably have a number of hilarious stories and anecdotes for which he was famous”, will be held at St Marks Church, 95 Remuera Rd, Remuera, Auckland at 1pm Friday 25th July.

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