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In kōrero with... Clem Devine Back to Discussion
Clem Web 2000x3000 RGB

Ngā mihi Clem, you reviewed our environmental, identity and typography categories; could you share the artifacts that stood out to you across those categories?

Yeah, so I think my favourite project was Marine ecology ropes, Te Wananga which was by Isthmus Group. When I started to review the project, began to understand that this was a really interesting (and new) approach to how you might tell a story, or express and idea, which is related to the Maori worldview.

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It was one of those projects where, I wish I’d been part of that project team. It had this scientific element to it where they were having a conversation about marine ecology – about the foreshore – about Downtown Auckland, and just through mussel-farming techniques – purifying the water. Then, obviously with a really interesting cultural overlay. So, I thought that was a really beautiful response – very elegant – a really good idea with some real depth to it.

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The other project I did like, again from Isthmus Group was the walkway, Maungawhau Tihi, which is on Mt Eden; this project is a really nice approach to the designing the kit of parts, which they could then assemble, very humbly on site. I haven’t actually been up the mountain, because I don’t like walking up too steep an incline, but the pictures take you there, and from what I saw with the imagery, and reading the story of how they developed this it sits very lightly on the landscape, respecting that place, was quite beautiful, and has some real rigor to the industrial design componentry.

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But it was thoughtful and they were able to actually install it by hand – the posts were hand-dug. So, I had that feeling of kaitiakitanga again another elegant solution. So, Isthmus are killing it, within that environmental space.

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Then, the other project that I really liked was Onfire Design, Chapter 2 Bikes brand; again, it’s another project which had a very beautiful craft to it, the outcome is really appropriate to its market, and the high-end price point. I know that the Onfire team are really passionate cyclists, as well. So, you could see that coming through in the brand.

So, I think all of those projects were on-point when it came to responding to the problems.

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They are all really standout projects because of the heart that’s in them, right? It’s so much beyond craft, and the execution; it’s about the passion or the intent or the storytelling that’s driving it, as well.

Yeah, just conceptually very sound. They weren’t trying to be something that they weren’t. It wasn’t trendy. You know? It’s just this really good design.

So which insights emerged for you? Which trends or themes revealed themselves in the categories that you reviewed?

Well, I think obviously the emerging understanding or wanting to engage with te ao Māori – those two Isthmus projects are bound together with te ao Māori. They did a really good job of expressing it. What else did I see? I did see some trend-driven work that was really slick, but perhaps didn’t have that much conceptual depth to it. So, there were a couple of things that I wasn’t really sure what they were communicating, they looked really good. They’re awesome work as a design exercise, and craft-making, but I think it has to say what it does and that was perhaps lacking in some of the projects.

Yeah, that’s something that was really important to us with the archive as well; we wanted to capture work that said something not only about our practice, but our national identity or what we value. So, it wasn’t just about the aesthetics and the visuals. We really wanted to sort of drive deeper into what the projects were about, and what that means. Did you have any preconceptions about what you might see submitted in the body of work?

I was impressed by the breadth of work that was submitted.

I like the fact that Clemenger and Colenso supported the archive by submitting their work. And that some bigger studios have gotten behind Kātoitoi despite being in its first year.

I was thinking that it would be more student-based work, and maybe some smaller studios, but it was good to see a real range of work even from those larger agencies.

I think that the way that the panel was set up to review it; I feel that what ended up in the archive was a good reflection of views of the reviewers. As a reviewer, you had to really look a bit harder, and sit with the work itself, rather than talking about it with others. I think sometimes – well, anything where you’re judging it – but let’s not beat around the bush; we judge stuff every day. We’re like; oh, is that very good – no, it’s not – oh, should we do that – yeah, we should.

There are always judgement calls being made as a designer. So, I think that interrogation was – and having to write about it – sit down and actually craft a few comments; I thought that was really helpful, like marking work at university.

So, I think that’s what makes this program stand apart from an award program, this idea of editing, reviewing, and then creating an archive of work that has been done at that point in time, I think is really interesting.

We see this as being its own territory. Kātoitoi intends to start conversations and dialogue to contextualise the work, and that’s why we’ve commissioned essays, and why we’re having these conversations. The archive is a platform to better understand practice, and catalysts for discourse and connection.

I think it raises the question of what is helpful – what is more useful for the community. I think the fact is; these programs become directories. It’s how you find designers. It might be how clients find someone they want to work with. So, they are kind of weigh-points, and inclusion act as a bit of a currency, sometimes. Especially in advertising; more awards you win, and the more recognition your work gets the more money you get paid. There’s lots of problems around all of that, which I think that you guys have sort of side-stepped a little bit, with the kind of intent of what the archive is for. Having a bit more intellectual inquiry to it, rather than just; oh, that looks cool. Do you know what I mean?

 I really appreciate that, Clem. One of the big drivers behind this project is, we were looking at ways of extending what DA is already doing. So, as you’re saying; it becomes a weigh-point – it becomes a directory, but the better we understand our practice, not only as individuals, but as a community, then the better we can talk about our practice to others, and demonstrate our value to clients, and to be able to say, well the kaupapa of this work, or our methodology or the innovation that we brought to us was respected by our peers, and discussed in these ways, and there was this commentary around it, or this discourse around it. That helps strengthen the collective position of Aotearoa Design. Research and knowledge-sharing is a means to elevate everyone as a community. Can you share a moment of delight in the body of work?

Just had to be the mussel-farming Isthmus project. Beautiful – love it.

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Is there anything else that you wanted to say more broadly about the initiative or the value of New Zealand having an archive?

Yeah, look I think you’ve just got to keep going. I think the success of it will be as it continues under its own steam; the more people who join it, becomes respected within the community, keep making noise about it. You know what I mean? So, I think you’ve just got to keep it up, and I like the fact that you guys have got funding from CNZ. So, it becomes a cultural object, rather than a commercial one. I think that’s kind of nice to separate it from other things. When you get up to Archive 10, then you can look back and go; well, that’s been the success of it.

We really want to make the archive as inclusive, diverse, and as successful as it can be, so we don’t want big fees for people to participate. Getting CNZ onboard as the funding partner, facilitated that. The funding for the pilot was an encapsulated project to just test this iteration, and we plan to do a strategic review, user interviews to gauge feedback, from the community before we look to future funding mechanisms. But we are really excited about it, once we’ve engaged the community, captured their thoughts, recommendations and all of that user data, then we’ll figure out how and where we push it forward.

Yeah, I think opening up to spatial and broader design fields would be quite good, because a lot of the disciplines are getting quite blurred now. People are working across different things. That might open up another audience, and more sponsorship and funding opportunities.

Maybe even the iwi partners or something like that, that could give you some money to keep it going, as well as – But I think CNZ gave the pilot some real credibility. Support from an independent official body. Kātoitoi is a cultural project. I think that’s quite powerful.

The portrait artwork to accompany this interview is by Bonnie Brown

Thanks to Creative New Zealand who funded the 2020 Kātoitoi pilot. This interview and illustration sits within a series of commissioned essays, interviews, podcasts and artworks to be published over 12 weeks supported by CNZ.

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