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Modern design meets traditional values: 10 questions with Designworks’ Anzac Tasker

Anzac Tasker – Creative Director of Te Ao Māori Designworks wearing Kiri Nathan Korowai: Kāhu Huatau

Take one look at the work of Anzac Tasker, creative director at Designworks, and you’ll realise he knows a thing or two about culture, design and Te Ao Māori.

Look a little further - perhaps at the slew of awards Designworks has scored in recent months - and you’ll notice he has a bit of a knack for taking home trophies too.  

But with great talent surely comes great responsibility, and for Tasker, great design comes with the obligation to walk the fine line between celebrating culture while protecting it at the same time. 

So Idealog sat down with the creative director to find out just what goes into creating some of New Zealand’s most respected design work, the power of collaboration and what’s next for the champion of New Zealand culture. 

IdealogHave you always had the design bug? What’s your earliest memory of thinking ‘hey, I could do that’?

Tasker: ​I’m not to sure about the design bug but I’ve always had the creative bug in my DNA. My dad’s a ceramic artist so I was raised in an atmosphere of narratives, shaped by clay and mud. I guess by nature my choice of discipline to express my creativity fell into the field of design. I just loved the idea of communicating a simple thought to a wide group of people to provoke relevant conversations and shape common understandings.

How did your design education play out? Where did you study? What was the most important thing you learned? 

My design career had a rocky start, I was actually one credit short of receiving University Entrance from high school so I had to go back the following year for two days and resit a test to get the extra credit. Being an 8th former for two days was definitely a low point. From there I attended the Design School at AUT, finishing with a First Class Honours, specialising in Design Communication. I was then nominated by my lecturer for the Designworks fellowship where I met Jef Wong, he took me under his wing and gave me the opportunity to be something in the design world. I think the most important lesson I learnt throughout my studying days was understanding the value and appreciation for good typography. All very ironic considering I have the gift of dyslexia.

How would you describe your style? 

Over the last 10 years I’ve always worked amongst a big group of people and been supported by other amazing creative and strategic minds, so it’s hard to pinpoint what ‘my style’ is, as it’s always been influenced and enriched by my peers. Clarity of concept and quality of execution is what underpins my design approach. Taking a look into the recent work I’ve been privileged to lead, it definitely is defined by my Māoritanga. Merging modern design principles with traditional values and narratives from Te Ao Māori or ‘the Māori world’ has been an enriching journey and one I’m still finding my feet in. I hope and anticipate it’s something I’ll never completely find a formula for.

You’re a creative director with Designworks. What are the challenges associated with the role?

So my role at Designworks is creative director within the realms of Te Ao Māori. With this role comes a lot of responsibility to be able to find the right balance between protecting the culture and celebrating the culture. The precious ingredients that come from Te Ao Māori need to be handled with care and understanding through every step of the process to have the best outcome. Every decision I make within my practice is to uphold the mana of Māoritanga and do justice to the beauty of our culture. I find it both a challenge and a privilege every day.

Designworks has won a stack of awards recently. Which of those sticks out to you?

We were very humbled to be acknowledged by our peers at this years Best Design Awards, across such a vast range of categories. I think it’s evident that some of the challenges we are facing in the world today are having a big influence on not only the type of solutions we are seeing but the type of collaborations beginning to unfold, where organisations are putting their own agendas aside and coming together for the greater good of our nation and the world. For us, picking up the Purple Pin in Public Good and being acknowledged for the role we played in defining Tiaki – Care for New Zealand, was one we’re all really proud of. To pick up a Purple for Pepeha was also a highlight for us, as it was a kaupapa we initiated ourselves. We saw a genuine opportunity to give something special back to Aotearoa. Design with purpose and providing cultural solutions is a space we pride ourselves on at Designworks, so it’s great to be recognised for it.

Of all the projects you’ve worked on, what are the ones you’re most proud of? 

It’s about committing your skills towards building mana into something bigger than yourself. So when we were given the opportunity by Air New Zealand to create a piece of design, to identify fluency in Te Reo Māori speakers amongst their cabin crew, that really was the beginning of my cultural design practice. To be able to collaborate with some of New Zealand’s most experienced master carvers including this years black pin recipient Clive Fugil at NZMACI (New Zealand Māori Arts and Craft Institute) to create something unique for our culture was still to this date a career highlight. Since then it’s been adopted by the wider community and some to aspire to. I’m taking a year off next year to do a full immersion Te Reo Māori in the hope that I can confidently wear the pedant we design. That kaupapa was special and something we can all look back on with pride.

What’s the secret of great collaboration when it comes to design? 

Honesty and remaining open-minded… Until you have the idea, then just make it the best it can be.

What’s makes Designworks a special place to work?

If you look into the whakapapa of this place you’ll find a rich legacy of so many design legends that have passed through these doors, and still continue to. It’s a place that has played such a significant role in shaping the identity of this nation so there’s an expectation in the air that we have to whakamana that legacy and further build on it. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. It’s the people that define this place and it always will be.

Crystal ball time! What’s the next big trend in design?

Tāngata Whenua Centricity, Circularity and bilingual design thinking is something that really excites me within Aotearoa. There’s no reason why we as a nation can’t lead the way with these design philosophies, shaping our own methods as opposed to adopting foreign design fomulas. I think we can probably acknowledge the end is nearing for design that places humans at the centre of our thinking and start to look into a world where the mauri (energy) between people and place becomes our core focus. An intrinsic partnership with our land and a co-designing structure with our cultures. It’s all getting a little more real.

What would you ultimately like to achieve in the design space?

Continuing to champion our culture through design is all I ever want to achieve. I would love to see the day where Aotearoa, New Zealand becomes a bilingual nation and I think design can act as a genuine tool to help both facilitate and fast track our country to achieve this aspiration. I’ve been encouraged to see the nation’s enthusiasm around the revitalisation of Te Reo Māori so if I can assist in restoring the language to thrive within Aotearoa, I think that’ll make my ancestors proud.

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