Orcon Designer Series Semi Permanent winner Anna Phillips on how to make functional cool

The process of design is different for everyone – as is the finished product. But for one young woman, it’s precisely that finished product which has people positively buzzing.

We'll be honest: modems can look pretty boring. Plain, white boxes that seem to suck up more dust than a vacuum? Yeah, nah.

A young Kiwi woman thinks she's found a cure for our aesthetic agony - and is racking up the accolades. Orcon Designer Series Semi Permanent winner Anna Phillips created her own modem design, utilising her background in coding and design and melding a triangle-heavy geometric pattern to “make functional cool.”

“I predominantly work in coding, so the Orcon Designer Series challenge inspired me to get creative again,” she explains. “I went home and spent a couple of hours drawing all these crazy triangles until it started looking interesting. It was really fun and I’m stoked with the result!”

Phillips, who recently returned to Aotearoa after living in New York and Montreal, studied at Auckland’s Media Design School, and has been an avid attendee of the Auckland design event Semi Permanent since 2009. “I wanted a bold palette, so my starting point was looking at the colour scheme,” she says. “My focus then shifted to triangles and how these could form a geometric pattern, playing with symmetry and evoking flax weaving. Orcon Designer Series is all about dusting off the modem from under the couch, so I wanted my design to be bold, cheerful and to stand out in a room – a good break from the boring white box!”

Phillips says functional design is about so much more than how a product works – and that aesthetics can play a big role. To that end, she says, her life experiences provided ready inspiration. “Semi Permanent inspired me and I left ready to test my creativity,” she explains. “I started my career as a graphic designer and now specialise in web design/development and photography, so I took the challenge as a fun opportunity to get back to my design roots. I’ve been interested in design from a young age. It’s a great way to express myself and I feel lucky to have turned that passion into a career.”

Then there’s the sources of her inspiration – and the design process itself. “Films and photography inspire me. There are lots of overlap between those fields and design – from composition to colour. Travelling to new places is also a great way to fuel inspiration.  I love wandering around a new city - photographing things that catch my eye. I’m not great at drawing, but I’ll often sketch out basic ideas. I’ll then head to the computer and iterate from there until I’m happy with the design. While designing my Orcon modem, I had ‘Route One’ by Sigur Rós playing in the background. It’s a 24-hour video of the journey around Iceland’s coastal ring road – it’s strangely mesmerising and made the design process really fun.”

And, of course, design is an ever-changing field, she says. “Minimalism and flat design are really big at the moment,” she explains. “In the future, I envision things becoming less minimal with more focus on photography, bold typography and strong colours. On a grander scale, I believe more people will start to realise the importance of sustainable design. These days, technology is changing so quickly it’s difficult to even imagine what lies ahead.”

Anna Phillips with her modem design.

But probing what might lie ahead is also why Phillips keeps attending Semi Permanent. “My first Semi Permanent was in 2009,” she says. “The boss shouted us VIP tickets and we got to meet the speakers, which was an awesome experience. Te Radar’s a great host and I really love the energy and sense of community. It’s great to come back from the event feeling fresh and inspired.”

This year was no different. “I was really inspired by Maria Scileppi’s talk. She highlighted how it’s so important to take risks and go after the things you want in life. I also really loved Sam Bompas’s presentation. The projects from Bompas & Parr are all so joyful and unique. Who knew gherkins could double as light bulbs?!”

In sum: design can not only be functional, but look pretty cool. It’s continuing to evolve. Oh, and one more thing: anyone can give it a shot and, well, create something.