At the Best Awards this year, Designers Institute chief executive Cathy Veninga was awarded a Black Pin.
It’s a high honour given to someone who’s made a lasting and valuable contribution to the New Zealand design profession and towards design in general. And even though she’s the go-to person for pulling the awards together, she had no idea she was up for the honour.
You’re the go-to person for pulling the Best Design Awards together but someone managed to keep your Black Pin a secret. How did it feel when you realised what had happened?
I knew every word in the script and every slide on the AV, but they cleverly conspired and caught me out. I was pissed off at first – they thought I might be, as it happens – then truly humbled. Especially when you look at the those who have received the Black Pin since 1996 – it's an impressive lineup and I feel honoured to be part of that history. Of course, when it comes to some of the people on that list, I’ve secretly conspired with their business partners and wives to get the recipient to the awards without their knowledge. Now I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such a conspiracy! Some people might find it hard to believe, but I don’t need to be the centre of attention in that way if it’s about me. If it’s about the Institute, sure as hell I’ll be right out there though. I do know I have the respect of my board and the community, and that respect is my reward – and the Black Pin is appreciated.
How have you seen the Designers Institute change in the time you've been with the organisation?
So many good people, with enormous intentions, voluntarily contributed to the professional body over many years. This includes those who worked tirelessly way back before the Institute was incepted in 1991, when there was the NZ Interior Design Association (NZIDA) and the NZ Society of Industrial Design (NZSID). But to create significant change and culture shifts, to be nimble and flexible as an organisation, you need to have a CEO to drive, influence and make things happen.
And new achievements?
I'm about building a community, whether through the Best Design Awards and our Designers Speak events or with other like-minded organisations here in New Zealand or internationally. As an example, we’ve built relationships with and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) and the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) and Industrial Design Institute of America (IDSA). AGDA and DIA are invited to judge at the Best Design Awards each year. We’re working with the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) to form an MOU that will respectfully recognise our individual organisations but will also identify the intercept for collaboration. All healthy and for the greater good of the community. Inclusivity and collaboration should be part of our DNA. We are a multi disciplinary organisation and represent an energetic, vibrant and rich community with a lot to offer culturally, socially and economically.
What do you see in the future for the design profession?
Our future thinking studios understand the need to be more versatile in how to help their clients do better business and they’re moving into more multidisciplinary areas. These studios understand the value of working with clients to help them understand who they are as a company – what their core values are that will build a culture that defines them uniquely, a culture that supports the development and communication of well-considered and researched products and services. We’ll see more of that, especially with our emerging talent where tertiary organisations are moving away from the traditional teaching methodologies and siloed departments. It will be exciting as these graduates will be the influencers in shifting existing studio models.
Which achievement are you proudest of during your time there?
It’s not about my achievement but the design communities’ achievement – so I'd say the Best Design Awards 2013. We had 1,000 attendees – students, design practitioners and clients got that it was cool to celebrate design and hang out together.