Design guru David Kester gives NZ a pep talk

David Kester, ex-UK Design Council head, dishes on how to invigorate a culture of constant design in New Zealand.

David Kester is, as you’d imagine, a loud cheerleader for the design industry. He believes it’s at a crossroads as new, developing economies quickly realise the power of product and experiential design in the global marketplace.

At the same time, his recent jaunt through New Zealand, where he met with fellow design talent, both establish and emerging, left him with the impression that Kiwi businesses and organisations are right at the forefront of design-led thinking – even if some businesses have that in-built inertia against investing in mould-breaking ideas. Some things are the same the world over.

“More and more companies, both large and small, are being forced to realise the behavioral shifts in consumers,” Kester says. “They want higher service and better quality.”

So, for a country on the edge of the world, which in many sectors targets niche markets Kester believes New Zealand businesses are well-placed to position themselves toward those consumer – many already have succeeded in it. He rattled them off.

“Icebreaker clearly gets design. Air New Zealand clearly gets design. They are geared toward the constant need to innovate and design, for resilience and survival.

“Air New Zealand is a prime example of constant innovation, from the premium economy seat right down to the design of their coffee mugs. Nothing is designed ‘just because’ – [rather] it’s based on shrewd observation of their customers.”

Kester believes it is this emphasis on service design that can counter the onslaught of price efficiencies offered by emerging economies.

“Smart economies still have a 20-year head-start on emerging economies, which are only now changing from sweatshop economies to design-based ones.”

The former industry head isn’t shy about putting forward some provocative ideas to keep the New Zealand design sector moving forward at etching the philosophy of constant innovation into both one-man start-ups and listed companies.

He puts emphasis on Kiwi SMEs embracing design, so that the next wave of Fisher & Paykels can emerge.

“We need to accelerate design for small companies so they can manage the ladder of growth.”

The best way to do this? With proactive, state intervention whereby the state is the client and investor in the sector, partnering with smaller companies on large design projects.

“The key is the control over the intellectual property,” Kester says. “When the great ideas were envisaged, you have to look beyond the initial project to what could also be exported and built upon.

“These SMEs should also own the IP, instead of a public sector department. That is what will pay dividends in the future.”

However, he also warns against the outsourcing of design agencies.

“You need to have the design philosophy in-house initially, so that it is etched in your company’s DNA and you see yourself as a design-based company. That education to innovate and customise is priceless.”