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These are a few of my favourite things: DNA's Nico Neethling

As part of Idealog's Design Month, we picked the brains of some of the most interesting individuals in the industry to find out their favourite design-related things, their not-so-secretive side hustles and what inspires them creatively. Here's interaction design agency DNA's experience innovation director, Nico Neethling. 

What’s your favourite…

Brand identity?

My favourite brand identity at the moment is probably Thankyou New Zealand water. Not necessarily from a look perspective, but I am a big fan of brands that align their business model to a purpose - I think what you do and what you believe should be aligned. 

Building?

I watched an episode of Abstract on Netflix and since then have been a bit obsessed with Bjarke Ingles’ Amager Bakke – a power plant in Denmark with a ski slope on it. I have always loved the concept of subverting the idea at the centre of an object to create a completely new experience. 


Object?

A couple of years ago I went to Madagascar with my wife and I got really fascinated with their secret boxes. A wooden box with a secret latch - it looks un-openable. I have a beautiful rosewood one. I love watching people pick it up and being flummoxed for ten minutes. I’m captivated by the beautiful craftsmanship and the fact that the craft has been passed down over generations. 

The Lego block - probably one of the main reasons I'm a designer.

Land Cruiser J40, I grew up in Africa and it is still the symbol of adventure for me.

Designer?

That's a tough question… at the moment Don Norman. His thinking has had a deep impact on my work.

Clothing brand?

Nike, a great example of a brand that leverages technology and business models to design truly desirable experiences. 

Use of design to change behaviour?

I’m not sure if they thought of it as design, but I am deeply inspired by the effort to stop smoking in New Zealand. From a behaviour change perspective, the effect has been incredible and I think this is down to the multi-faceted approach to the challenge. Thinking about the complex system that is culture - I think they designed some really great deterrents like the disgusting pictures on the cigarette boxes, and some really great attractors like not being able to smoke if you want to be in a bar with your friends. Sorry to any smokers reading this, but it’s not our future.

As a fun one, I have always enjoyed the fly on the urinal to get men to focus and pee straight. 

Inspiring design-related book/podcast/TV show/website/magazine/story?

A piece on Johnny Ive in the New Yorker called “The Shape of Things to Come.”

Design project you’ve had a hand in?

I love the financial services space. So I don’t have one favourite, but we have been doing some really exciting projects designing both customer and internal facing experiences for our financial services clients.

I also really enjoyed designing a digital service for Skinny.

Design project that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?

I really like Clever Kash, I love the idea of making money tangible for kids again. 

What first drew you to design?

Lego, hours and hours of Lego.

I religiously watched "How Stuff Works” as a kid. 

I also spent hours looking at concept cars, they fascinated me. There was something about helping bring something like that to life that drew me to design. 

Where does inspiration come from for you?

We practice human-centred design, so my main inspiration comes from the people we design for. There is nothing like talking to the actual people who are experiencing a problem to get me really invested in a challenge. The bigger and more complex the problem, the better. 

Do you have a design ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

Design for people.

Design stuff that will work in the real world.

Do you have any creative side hustles going on outside of your line of work? If so, what?

Always sketching away on some fin-tech ideas.  A while back, some friends and I hacked away at the idea of a digital service to connect creatives who wanted to give a boxed amount of time to a cause. We got as far as a prototype. For now, it’s on the back burner.

How has technology impacted on your work? How do you think it will impact on it in the future?

Technology has a constant impact. Our work is to deliver great experiences within the ever-changing ability and constraints of technology. Our main job is to always ask what a new technology should be used for, not just what it can be used for. An example at the moment is chat bots. People seem to want to use them all over the place, but in a majority of cases, it can make an experience worse. Understanding where this technology can really improve people's experience and in turn, deliver effect for an organisation is our job. I think this will continue into the future, especially as AI’s ability continues to grow. 

Who are some of your design heroes?

Sir Johnny Ive. Richard Buchanan. David Kelly.


Sir Johnny Ive is the chief design officer at Apple.

Best design-related advice you ever received?

Make sure you are solving a problem that actually exists. 

What do you enjoy the most about working in this industry?

I love being surrounded each day by people who want to make great things and in some way make the world a better place to experience.

How do you define New Zealand’s design culture?

I think we are pragmatists, and that can be a really powerful thing, but sometimes we can be too pessimistic about our own ideas. I think this is shifting though - we are starting to build more and more confidence and giving ideas the space they need to take hold and come to life. 

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