AGSM graduate and visual artist Zina Kaye shares her passion for digital and fascination with big data.


At this year’s Vivid Sydney festival, you exhibited a visual art piece, Space Folding, which was a huge success. What inspired it?

Space Folding is an experiment in data visualisation and immersive screens that happens to be rather fun to interact with! Professionally, I've been working with data visualisation and large data sets for a number of years and this experiment is about visualising complexity in a way that resonates with the physical, posing questions such as ‘can we sense a data set through our body?’

I've used a data set that is quite transformational - flight data. We're invested when we travel and often there is a sense that we can become someone else when we get to our destination. Transport data is also a key indicator of underlying social, cultural, political and economic change. Dubai, for example, has gone through huge economic and cultural change through the creation of what is now the world's busiest international air hub and a very competitive national airline.

You did a Bachelor of Fine Arts at COFA (now known as UNSW Art & Design) before completing your MBA (Executive) at AGSM @ UNSW Business School in 2013. It’s an interesting path to take…why did you decide to do an MBA?

The MBA felt like the next logical step in my career and a point of differentiation as there aren't many people with MBAs in the creative or digital space. I very much wanted to do an elective that incorporated doing business in Asia as well as a semester overseas. Ultimately, I had my second child in the middle of the degree and did the former and not the latter.

I wanted the strategic tools to differentiate one great idea from another, to help me understand scaling at a practical level and how to get staff and stakeholders truly invested. I also wanted to be immersed in likeminded individuals and am so grateful to have found some great minds that I still kick about with regularly.

What’s the most important thing you learnt during your MBA and how has this helped you get to where you are today?

The tools we learnt during the Strategic Management Year have been very useful to communicate where we are going and analyse opportunities. A successful business is one that has a map.

You are Managing Director of Holly, Sydney’s first digital agency. Tell us what you do.

We are a cutting-edge digital agency heavily invested in innovating human computer experience and the future of digital and public space. We work for a broad range of clients. You may have used our interactive multimedia and touch screens at the First World War galleries in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra or our online interfaces for Colonial First State, NRMA or the ABC. You may have even jogged past the Earth v Sky installation in Glebe or used the SmartArt App to see a sculpture on the UNSW Art & Design building in Paddington.

What are some of the challenges of being creative and commercial?

The disruption in our industry has come from many directions. In an effort to reduce costs the separation between developer and end-client has decreased and work is offshored and then brought back onshore to fix. Managers are digitally savvy but cannot foresee the impact of their requirements in terms of specific user-experiences and touch points.

My biggest challenge is that in the medium term there is a short-fall in good local STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) talent. If I had a magic wand I would increase overall investment in the knowledge economy starting with primary education. It’s no good teaching computer software if you don't teach students how software is made.

Technology is not only changing art and business but also the business of art. What does the future look like?

The future certainly has some challenges in store and I think the big one is that the channels where we meet users are rapidly shifting. Museums are competing against shopping centres on the weekend and people are doing BuzzFeed quizzes instead of reading paperbacks. Art, technology and business shouldn't fight it out – ultimately, they work perfectly well together. That's the future I am creating for Holly. We retain creativity at the heart of what we do and keep generating ideas that harness old and new technology. The way I approach work is from a user-experience perspective so every decision made must stack up against the user story to keep the future in their hands.