I don't see a New Zealand design identity. Swiss design of the 50s - 70s, the simplicity of Bauhaus design, and the strong graphic nature of Japanese design created national design identities. In reality, defining uniqueness is created by individuals not by the masses, unless a community is engaged in a common vernacular such as Mata Ortiz ceramics. What we do see in New Zealand are examples of highly original and thoughtful design by world-class individuals and teams, across all disciplines. Our place, our pioneering heritage, our evolving culture shape a creative lens. Maybe, aggregated, one day this will give rise to a New Zealand design.
There are however a number of common characteristics which can be identified in certain New Zealand designers and their work – of course they are also inherent in creative people worldwide.
An energy and ability to position companies and offerings in a singular manner – going against the grain of common idioms. For example, phd3’s Bella Akroyd has helped capture the hearts, minds and tastes of milk product buyers across New Zealand and many parts of the world through a disparate, nonconformist approach. Such commercial energy is not created by mimicking what others have done.
The ability to shift from one area of design to another with ease, transferring a way of thinking and doing into a new space of endeavour. Cheshire Architects are exemplary for an ability to shift from objects to planning, from churches to workspaces and from houses to retail. Their multidisciplined work for the Auckland City Works Depot project is a marker of design fluency.
The ability to see and do things differently, in a ‘new and better way’. Inhouse Design, for example, consistently surprises and challenges with their publication, brand and packaging design. Project requirements, sifted by ingenious minds, lead to unique insights which in turn determine clever, refined and commercially viable outcomes. No two answers are the same.
An innate sense of time and place. An ability to grasp the global, social, cultural and technological changes that are occurring, or likely to occur, on a national and international scale; and to translate what is meaningful to determine what is needed.
Watching and engaging so as to better understand what people think, feel and desire. The word ‘empathy’ is overused but it is germane to better design. Equally, so is a comprehensive consciousness of global issues that must be addressed by better future thinking and design.
Peter Haythornthwaite is speaking at Idealog's Design Event on Friday, May 18. Get your tickets here.
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