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Kiwi industrial design pioneer dies

Gifford Jackson, one of New Zealand’s first industrial designers died on 30 October.

Throughout his career, Jackson mastered the styling and critique of manufactured products, drawing inspiration from Walter Dorwin Teague’s design, in contrast to the smooth streamlining designs of Raymond Loewy. Jackson once described style as “what’s left, when nothing can be added or subtracted”.

Fellow designer and colleague, Michael Smythe, says he was “a well-informed critic of styling clichés” of the 1950s and 60s, and although they spent many hours arguing about design, Smythe said they enjoyed the philosophical debates. 

“I soon came to recognise Gifford Jackson’s skill and experience, which included an ability to produce elegant, minimal form when it was appropriate,” he says. 

Smythe met Gifford in 1967 at a New Zealand Society of Industrial Designers meeting. They went on to work together at Fisher & Paykel. Because of Jackson’s naval architecture background, Smythe says his designs “embodied sound engineering as well as elegant form”. Smythe says Jackson’s drawings were accurate and informative, making them among the best pre-computer era designs.

Jackson discovered industrial design in the 1940s. After spending 17 years in New York, Jackson returned to New Zealand in 1966, contributing significantly to the gradual acceptance of industrial design in New Zealand. Working from his Devonport studio, Jackson designed for Fisher & Paykel (along with many other clients), helping style the company’s Shacklock stove control panels. Jackson also designed shower controls and heads for Keith Relf’s Steam, for which he won an award for in 1996.

When he was not designing products, Jackson worked on designing and building his own private boat, the Marisol skiff. In 2005, he worked on American magazine Wooden Boats which featured sketches and blueprints for the Marisol skiff. Although many people bought the title to enjoy the drawings, Jackson said around 15% of readers actually built a Marisol skiff from the designs.

Jackson wrote The Industrial Designer in Practice in 1972, which became the essential handbook for all New Zealand industrial designers. Throughout his life, Jackson lectured at several design courses, including those taught at Unitec and Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design.

The Designers Institute of New Zealand awarded Jackson its highest accolade, the John Britten Award in 1988. He was also awarded an ONZM in 2013.

“We became enormously fond of his gentlemanly manner, his generous mentoring and wonderful backstory,” says Smythe.

His funeral will be held 6 November at Holy Trinity Church in Devonport.

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