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Take a moment to appreciate industrial design

Did you pause for a moment last Friday to recognise how much easier industrial designers have made your life? Of course you didn’t – the more successful industrial designers are the more their efforts go unnoticed!

Michael SmytheFriday June 29 was the fifth World Industrial Design Day – inaugurated in 2007 to honour 50 years since ICSID* was established. (*That’s ICSID as in the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, not ICSID as in the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes which, of course, has no relevance …)

Speaking of 50th anniversaries New Zealand should be jubilant that 1962 was the year that industrial design began being officially taught here at both the Wellington Polytechnic School of Design and the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Art.

When James Coe took the job of director of the Art School at Wellington Technical College in 1959 he made it clear that he wanted to do more than produce commercial artists for the advertising industry – he wanted to add industrial design to the graphic and textile design programmes. When New Zealand’s new technical institute system was established in 1962 its first three-year full-time professional courses were offered by the Wellington Polytechnic School of Design.

In 1960 Robert Ellis, a senior lecturer at the Elam School of Art, set about modernising and developing its design courses. At Kent Engineering he found Elam graduate Jolyon Saunders who had returned from London in 1958 (to avoid National Service) armed with a postgraduate industrial design degree from the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Jolyon was appointed as a full-time lecturer in design in 1961. The following year Peter Haythornthwaite was a first year student at Elam who, when exposed to industrial design, realised “This is what I was made for!” The rest is history.

Fifty years on the first graduates of these courses are flashing their SuperGold Cards, having paved the way for many more to spend their lives enhancing our experience of manufactured products.

Michael Smythe is the author of New Zealand By Design: a history of New Zealand product design, which won the Best First Book Award for Non-Fiction at the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

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