Cathy Veninga FDINZ
In 2013, the Designers Institute of New Zealand honoured its Chief Executive, Cathy Veninga, with its highest award – a Black Pin for her outstanding “contribution of service and leadership to the institute.” As Tony Parker, a Fellow of the Institute, said at the awards presentation, Veninga is “totally dedicated to advancing the importance and contribution of the New Zealand design profession, to the value and quality of design professionals in our country and to the vitally important role design makes to our economic performance, cultural expression, national identity and sense of wellbeing.”
Like all Black Pin winners, Veninga has a long background in design leadership. She was first elected to the Institute’s Board in 1998, was its first female president – an important milestone with gender parity in design and architecture still under the microscope around the globe – and, in 2005, she was appointed as the first Chief Executive Officer of the Institute in 2005.
“At that time there were major global influences around design thinking and we needed to be responsive to this thinking as a professional body if we were to remain relevant,” she says. “Organisationally, and as a design community, we had to stop navel gazing and develop a more inclusive collaborative approach to the way we worked and engaged. The Institute, as a multidisciplinary organisation, gives us this rich and our unique point of difference.”
Veninga’s career in design could be considered synchronous with the growing sophistication of New Zealand’s growing design industries and cultures.
Up to 2005, the Designers Institute was an organisation that relied solely on the voluntary support, hard work and passion of its members. A full-time CEO provided some real operational structure to the organisation and allowed it to widen its ambitions while improving its ability to respond nimbly to challenges it faced.
Over the years, it began developing richer programmes that both inspired, educated and justified membership. The Designers Speak Series, says Veninga, has been especially successful in communicating the challenges designers face; “it talks about design process; it gets inside the stories”.
From the outset of her tenure, Veninga says her aim has been for the development of an inclusive organisation that encouraged the development of peer relationships through industry events. Importantly, the exponential growth of the Best Design Awards provided an annual benchmarking activity for the industry.
“The significance of the Best Design Awards is that has been crucial to raising standards in design while also providing a window of insight into what is actually happening in the design community. It is also an opportunity for those involved in design to get together with their clients and colleagues.”
Veninga cites the establishment of the Best Effect and Nga Aho awards as important recent milestones. Best Effect qualifies the values of design to potential clients and might offer leverage in the argument that design has an important role to play in New Zealand’s economic future. Nga Aho recognises New Zealand’s fortune in having strong indigenous culture and heritage to reference in its design expressions.
“Nga Aho – that’s really important. I would say it is the most unique award of its kind in the world because of how it really values and appreciates how we are imbued with our own indigenous culture and how we are able to work collaboratively towards a co-design agenda.”
Just as the Best Design Awards can be seen as a means of benchmarking and standard-raising across the country, Veninga thinks the establishment of relationships with like-minded organisations in Australia and further afield can both raise design standards here and draw international attention to the quality of work here.
Veninga has formed strong partnerships with key Australian design organisations, such as AGDA (Australian Graphic Design Association) the DIA (Design Association of Australia), and the Australian International Design Awards, as well as reaching out to other international design organisations.
Networking with like-minded international design organisations has been a key component of Veninga’s time as CEO of the Designers Institute.
“Building these international relationships puts the spotlight on New Zealand design,” she says. “But the most important advocacy is to New Zealand’s central and local government, and to local businesses. It is important for us to produce case studies that demonstrate that design is a significant part of New Zealand’s economic future. Designers and their clients already achieve significant and measurable returns internationally. We just need government to signal more widely that New Zealand is an innovative country using great design.”
Veninga, who looks across New Zealand’s design landscape from an almost unrivalled position, believes New Zealand has a richness of community.
“We are a diverse community operating across different design disciplines, but there is a recognition, I think, of the need and opportunity for collaboration. I think our communities are very responsive to global influences, especially around how design is implemented for clients. What the Institute is really about though, is building community, and while we try to deliver meaningful professional services as an organisation, we are really about facilitating the growth of the community and developing value for the community.”
Veninga was humbled to receive the Black Pin award – and also, perhaps, just a little angry that she was singled out for the unexpected honour. As many people in the design industries might agree – work can be its own reward. Veninga certainly enjoys hers. “I have the best job in the world as it offers diversity, vision and challenges. The challenges form part of the vision that creates the excitement.”
Grenville Main FDINZ
The Designers Institute Black Pin for Outstanding Achievement is conferred upon an individual, who, as a member of the Designers Institute of New Zealand, has made a lasting and valuable contribution to the design profession and to design in general.
Grenville Main, creative director and managing director of the design consultancy DNA and Fellow of the Designers Institute of New Zealand, has done more than most to improve the perception and raise the value of design in this country.
Across his career, Main has worked to improve the perception of graphic design above that of “the colouring in guys”. He works strategically with significant companies, improving their systems, communications and services. He has also played a key role in fostering the talents of a number of New Zealand’s top designers.
It was at a youngish age that Main discovered his own talents lay in the visual arts. As a student at school he recalls being “relatively aimless” until a career councillor suggested he venture into the art department. He took to it, and cites himself as being lucky to have someone at school suggest that he go to polytech to do a course in design. He was young, though, but already a potential disruptor: “I was seventeen-and-a-half when I began design school and loved it. I had a bit of a rocky road; I had a poor professional attitude and was actually put on probation for my last year, so I had to sharpen my attitude up. Actually, I’ve probably still got a poor professional attitude…”.
Out of design school, Main was employed by Gus van de Roer, who was confident enough to entrust him with the task of establishing Van de Roer Design in Auckland. He eventually returned to Wellington, “took a bit of a break to work on Wellington’s version of Metro magazine for while”.
“I can’t remember what it was originally called, Cosmo I think, which was a disastrous name, but then they called it City Mag”. Lloyd Jones was the editor, but Main was soon on the move to Bright Newlands and Associates (BNA), where he became a partner, helping to help drag the company through the post-1987 doldrums.
BNA was eventually renamed DNA in 2000. It is, says Main, “a classic little Kiwi company”.
“It started off with five people and grew to 60 at one point, until the recession said that that might have been a little on the high side. And, we’ve developed as the industry has. We’ve got people in service design, we’ve got people in digital, and we’ve got people researching services and experience out in the field with customers. We’ve become a lot more user-focused which has made us a lot better at what we do.”
What was once just “graphic design” has, for Main, become a constantly changing and ever-interesting field. Over the years, his firm has morphed from a graphic design team into a strategic consultancy with full digital capabilities, and he’s quick to point out that New Zealand design companies are selling themselves short by not seeking stronger quantitative analysis of the benefits their skills bring.
“Graphic design is where the discipline started, but I think that’s a term that really holds us back as an industry,” he says. “Graphic designer doesn’t sound hugely compelling any more. It’s a thing that everyone understands at one very simple level. But communicating what it does rather than what it is – that’s the thing that is the challenge. As an industry, we’ve just been woeful at selling the value of what we do.”
“We all think we’re pretty good. I mean in my case, I’ve lived through the 80s, you know, god forbid, where people were a bit obscene. There were pots of money being thrown around. From a design point of view, you might almost be fooled into thinking that people then appreciated design better than they do now – but it was all about showing off. Today, people really need design based on what it helps them do. Design has come to the fore and a lot of organisations really see its value – and that’s where Best Effect comes in.”
The Best Effect is, of course, the new Best Design Awards category for which Main was an influential agitator. It is a “business take on what has design done here, what’s it unlocked, what’s it achieved, rather than what does it look like.”
Main’s other keen interests have included harnessing talented young designers and putting them to work in effective ways. Ten or fifteen years ago, he says, employee selection might have been about picking the best craftspeople. “Now, effectively, before anything else, we’ve got to have listeners that are problem solvers that can increasingly work in a really collaborative and fast-paced manner. If you’re a really good craftsperson and a stylist but you don’t have an ability to communicate – that’s a fail. If you don’t have empathy for other people and it’s all about you – then that’s a fail. I look for people that are broad and ambidextrous.”
The current crop of talent impresses Main. “They’ve been open minded, they’ll have a crack at anything. They are here to learn. There’s also a bit of that classic kind of Gen Y of thing, they want to run faster than maybe they can, but at least they're ambitious, they learn remarkably fast, and are so capable.”
And what of Main’s work. Any chance of playing favourites? Not really. It’s hard, he says, to pull out key works. He enjoyed doing early strategy work around the All Blacks brand.
“I suppose that stands out in some respects, because it is quite nice to work on quiet iconic brands and organisations and really help them. I suppose that its really important to look at lots of other sectors – the power sector, the public service – where we’ve made massive inroads and transformational change into the way businesses do things. That’s all through design thinking and good delivery of a much better experience”.
After twenty-four years at DNA, and having witnessed his own industry’s transformational change, you get the feeling that design thinking is what it’s all about for Main.
“People choose us to help them because we’ve got particular methods, basic fundamental practises, that involve observing and finding different ways to unpick a problem before building it back up to deliver something – a better service experience, a communication, whatever it may be.”
- 2012 Sven Baker
- 2011 Fraser Gardyne
- 2010 Tim Hooson
- 2009 Dave Clark
- 2008 Professor Leong Yap
- 2007 Brian Richards
- 2006 Grant Alexander
- 2005 Hugh Mullane & Craig Horrocks
- 2004 Michael Smythe
- 2003 Ray Labone
- 2002 Doug Heath
- 2001 Robin Beckett
- 2000 David Bartlett
- 1999 John Hughes
- 1998 Not awarded
- 1997 Max Hailstone