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Book review: New Zealand by Design: A History of New Zealand Product Design

Book review: New Zealand by Design: A History of New Zealand Product Design

When designer Michael Smythe was asked to teach Unitec’s new design management course, he discovered that actually, there wasn’t very much by way of solid information about New Zealand’s product design history. This goes some length in explaining why his new book isn’t shy of text.

Covering the history of New Zealand’s product and industrial design from early Maori carving to current innovations in medical appliances, he presents a wealth of information about the political, cultural, geographical and social influences on design. However, readers needn’t be daunted as we are given an average of two full colour photographs per spread, meaning this book finds the perfect balance between information and illustration.

Smyth covers not only how designers have shaped New Zealand but also how New Zealand has shaped design.

You’ll find out how Fisher & Paykel became a household name and led the way in standardising and simplifying whiteware. We witness the birth of a New Zealand aesthetic through our domestic design and see how our passion for doing things smarter has put our products on the world’s stage.

Politics and economics have often hindered design, but Smythe explains how designers have played their part in economic recovery post-Rogernomics.

Design students and professionals will enjoy this entertaining, informative and surprising book, which is less a reference tome and more of a conversation starter.

Smythe says the book isn’t the last word on the subject of New Zealand product design, but that said, I certainly have more to talk about now that I’ve read it. 

New Zealand by Design: A History of New Zealand Product Design

By Michael Smythe (Random House) $65

Originally published in Idealog #35, page 93