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Design Weeks’ Rising Star Award goes to only Aotearoa nominee

The only New Zealand nominee for the prestigious Design Week awards has snagged the Rising Star Award for 2022.

The awards highlight the very best in the design category, and judges have recognised the work of New Zealand-based graphic designer Russell Hooton-Fox.

Working for the Māori-owned creative agency RUN, Hooton-Fox is the only nominee who was shortlisted for the Rising Star Award from outside the United Kingdom.

His winning project “Woven” was designed to engage the community with the Māori culture by “sharing their approachable values” through the art of weaving.

“Woven” also aimed to teach visitors and engage the community with sacred values of Māori culture such as manaakitanga – hospitality and welcoming and kaitiakitanga – guardianship over our natural resources.

Hooton-Fox was the creative director and graphic lead for the project, alongside fellow graduate students Jack Whitehead, Case Dakota and Desmond Chang.

The project was a pivotal moment for Hooton-Fox, as the project grabbed the attention of RUN, the company in which he works for. Since then, he has worked in incorporating cultural aspects into his work from what he has learned and experienced as his main inspiration when in his creative element.

“Most of our work works for clients either interested in taking a more cultural lens or art specifically for Māori,” he says.

Hooton-Fox is not of Māori descent and is an immigrant from Zimbabwe. “I am a Pākehā, I have no whakapapa Māori, but I am an immigrant. I came here when I was really young from Zimbabwe, way across the world.”

Read more: Bicultural design at Dunedin’s George St.

“I would say that my lens is that I never really had a sense of cultural belonging, which has left me quite open minded and curious about other people and their cultural experiences,” he adds.

“Strictly through university, I connected with a lot of the Te Ao Māori values, and I took on a couple of projects that allowed me to connect despite not being Māori.”

A lot of Hooton-Fox’s work centres around the understanding of values and mindset that he picked up along the way in his journey to become a graphic designer and he says this shaped how he thinks and goes about his life.

Despite studying graphic design to make use of his creative skills, Hooton-Fox was surprised to find himself drawn to problem solving and the design process, even more-so than the visual/graphic output.

“That is what I really connected with, I really fell in love with the problem solving and the thinking of things,” he adds.

He adds that the creative problem solving is not often found in the design but in the process, such as convincing a client to go in a specific direction, or sometimes it can be in the storytelling process of trying to “open up the mind to the potential”.

“A big difference for me is I’m not nearly as interested in the visual side as a lot of graphic designers who happen to be very good at it too. For me what it’s about is trying to make something different and is there anything more important than what it looks like?” he says.

Throughout his career as a graphic designer, Hooton-Fox has won a number of accolades from AGDA and the NZ Best Awards, and now the Design Week 2022 awards.

“We are very proud of Russell. He’s a key part of the RUN whānau and it’s awesome to see his mahi being recognised at a global level,” says RUN Creative Director, Raymond Otene McKay.

As for his career as a graphic designer, Hooton-Fox wants to continue working on cultural projects that focus on values that he has picked up in his lifetime. Looking to the future, Hooton-Fox hopes to one day win a gold pin from the NZ Best Awards as it has been something he has always looked up to since he was a student.

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email bernadette.basagre@scg.net.nz

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