Brought to you by The Designers Institute of New Zealand, The Best Design Awards is an annual showcase of excellence in graphic, spatial, product, interactive and motion design.

The National Graphic Design Awards were established in the mid seventies to celebrate New Zealand’s best graphic design. Attracting 300 entries, the awards exhibited 130 works as part of a touring exhibition and lecture series.

In 1988 the name was changed to the New Zealand Best Design Awards and enabled a growing community to benefit from the experience of a jury of international peers.

In 1992 the awards were expanded to include Spatial and Product design.

In 2010, Interactive was established as a distinct discipline. Ngā Aho and Best Effect were added in 2012 and Public Good along with Moving Image in 2015.

The very best piece of design in each discipline is given the supreme Purple Pin and held up as work that raises the bar of New Zealand design.

Black Pin

Each year, the prestigious Black Pins are awarded to individuals for outstanding achievement.

The John Britten Black Pin is awarded to a designer for their leadership, vision and achievement both in New Zealand and internationally.

The Designers Institute Black Pin is awarded to a member of the Institute who has made a lasting and valuable contribution to the design profession and design culture in New Zealand.

2016

Ben Corban
FDINZ Designers Institute Black Pin

Originally trained as a painter with an honours degree from Elam School of Arts, Ben and fellow founder, Dean Poole set off on their OE to further their artistic careers, with Ben undertaking post graduate study at Goldsmiths College of Art - famous for the YBA movement. However, Ben and Dean soon became absorbed in the wider art world of the late 1990s in the UK, where artists such as Damien Hirst were combining their creative skills with commercial excellence. They were so taken with this creative model that they decided to return to New Zealand to set up a design company with a difference, where clients were presented with an idea first and the most appropriate execution second.

Alt Group was founded in 1999, and the unique mix of art and design, business and culture began. In the 17 years their team has grown to 24, and has become New Zealand’s most awarded design company, having won 450 local and international design awards, including 30 Red Dots and the German Design Award.

Alt Group operates in the intersection of design and business. As Ben says “it’s not what design is, it’s what design does that counts.”

This philosophy lead them to champion design to the wider business audience with the “Better by Design” programme in 2004. With a passion for taking New Zealand design to the world, Ben has worked with Formway Design on their seating philosophy and the global branding for Fisher and Paykel over the last 7 years. They have exported ideas from here into the global marketplace, working with Italian manufacturer Natuzzi and the Chinese appliance company Haier.

However it’s not all about the business of design, Ben believes that design is also the most powerful expression of culture. And its the creative people of a place that define who we are and what makes us unique. Alt Group has supported culture, through the branding of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Auckland Museum. He also generously gives his time as the chair of the board of Objectspace, the Ponsonby gallery for New Zealand craft and design.

The Outstanding Achievement Black Pin is awarded to Ben Corban for his commitment to promoting design as a tool to enable change, for his role in ensuring that Alt Group’s business is kept on an even keel, and for nurturing the young designers who have come through the studio doors – and stayed.

He has a simple philosophy in life, lead from the shadows, type loudly, feed everybody, and design for as long as you can.

He was supposed to be a winemaker, we are glad he choose design.

Ben Corban

2016

Danny Coster
John Britten Black Pin

Danny was born in Christchurch in 1967, and lived in Auckland for 10 years before beginning his studies in industrial design at the Wellington Polytechnic. . He joined esteemed peers like Matt Holmes and was tutored during his studies by Mark Pennington, Noel Benner, Leong Yap, Eric Bond and Tony Parker.

After graduating Danny ran his own consultancy with fellow graduate John Woolett, in Wellington for a year. His early work included a range of life jackets for Hutchwilco and a modular shower for Clearlite Plastics, each of which he designed through to production. For the next five years Sydney, Australia was Danny’s home and work experience with the KWA Design Group.

While visiting the United States in 1993, Danny showed his portfolio to studios in New York and California. This led to a full time position with Apple in 1994, where he joined a very small team of international designers. Danny holds over 500 design patents and several utility patents.

Danny’s contributions with Apple’s Industrial Design Team have been recognised by a number of International awards. These include the pre-eminent international D&AD Black pencil in 2012 for the Best Design Studio of the past 50 years. Permanent museum collections worldwide feature Apple products, including New York's Museum of Modern Art and The Pompidou in Paris.

This year he moved to Go Pro as the Vice President of Design.

Danny Coster

2015

Professor Tony Parker
FDINZ Designers Institute Black Pin

Tony Parker is described as having a refined sense of form development and aesthetic judgment and that he can articulate design in a way people can understand. Tony has an expert understanding of the way ergonomics, form, product architecture and customer engagement work together.

His extraordinary visual acuity ranges from his incredible drawing skills, his digital illustration skills to his appreciation of visual communication design. He is thoughtful and passionate about design and his horizon is international.

Tony's passion for design education has nurtured several generations of product designers, many of whom are scattered across the globe, much to their teacher’s delight. People such as Matt Holmes, Head Designer at Nike, and Danny Coster, who is in the inner sanctum of the design team at Apple.

As Head of Industrial Design at Massey for over ten years he has mentored young industrial designers and matched graduates with his incredible international networks. He himself has a Masters degree from the Royal College of Art.

He walks the talk by continuing to practice design at the highest level through his work with Gallagher. He is the creative brains behind a slew of innovative designs, from petrol pumps to the Hulme Supercar.

Professor Tony Parker is a past president (2007-2013) and a Fellow of the Designers Institute. He has been the convenor of the product judges at the Best Design Awards since 2007. He is currently Associate Pro Vice Chancellor as Research Director for the Massey University College of Creative Arts and, and a member of the Industrial Design Society of America.

Professor Tony Parker

2015

Kris Sowersby
FDINZ John Britten Black Pin

Kris Sowersby works in a singularly solitary profession, and yet has achieved world acclaim for his craft. He is a thoroughly modern designer who has helped to redesign one of the most traditional of British newspapers.

While it may seem to be an unusual craft in this digital age, people like Kris have reinvigorated the art of type design. He has been described by admirers as one of the leading rock stars of type design because he combines historical knowledge with rigorous contemporary workmanship and finish.

Kris is a graduate of Whanganui’s School of Design, and after graduation spent three years teaching himself to design typefaces. His first retail typeface, Feijoa, was released internationally in 2007, and his second, National, won a certificate of Excellence from the Type Directors Club of New York. Since then he has received two more certificates of Excellence. Kris is a member of the prestigious Alliance Graphique Internationale, he has been honoured by the Art Directors Club and this year won the Judges Choice in the Type Directors Club awards, for his Domaine Sans typeface.

Clearly, as can be seen by the commission from the Financial Times, Kris has achieved international acclaim at a relatively young age. Despite the antisocial time difference, Kris spent some months working on a new typeface for the new design of that august organ, the Financial Times, which has been widely praised by its readers. The typeface was aptly named Financier.

Kevin Wilson, Head of Design for the FT, said the newspaper specifically wanted type that wasn’t a traditional news typeface. He said “We wanted the typeface and redesign to have a considered personality to match our style of journalism, which is our strengths in analysis and comment.

“The reaction of readers to the font has been very positive. In focus groups, readers typically described it as “elegant, distinctive and more attractive to a modern readership.”

Kevin also said Kris was quirky, knowledgeable and fun to work with.

Kris Sowersby

2014

Matt Holmes
John Britten Black Pin

With his accomplished career, one suspects Matt Holmes has already achieved a kind of design nirvana upon top of which the Black Pin for Career Achievement is, perhaps, a cherry – albeit a sweet one – on top.

Holmes, a Nelson boy, has, through design, ended up quite a way from the top of the South Island. Since May ’97 he’s been based in Portland, Oregon, working his way through the ranks to the position he holds today: creative director of innovation at Nike Global Footwear. There, on a campus of around 10,000 staff, including 800 designers, Holmes works out the future product directions of the footwear and apparel giant.

Talking with Holmes, one thing is obvious. He loves his work; however, importantly, he’s found a way to maintain delight and curiosity, two qualities he exhibited as a sports-mad Nelson youngster extending the life of his weekday tennis shoes ($9.95 Bata Bullets) with metal plates, Shoe Goo, tape and deodorant roller balls (toe-dragger) so his number ones (Nike Resistance, yes, presciently on brand) were preserved for Saturday mornings. He’d literally rip through a pair of Bata Bullets in a fortnight, he says. Modifications were essential.

Born in the UK to creative parents (Mum: sculpture and piano; Dad, “everything”), Holmes was five when he arrived in Nelson, a town that was perfectly suited to his parents’ arts and crafts inclinations. At home, he learnt woodworking, welding, metal casting – aluminium, bronze – air brushing and sculpting. A few years later, the school guidance counsellor, finger perhaps not on pulse, suggested he enrol in nursing school – which he duly did, before being saved from a life of saving lives by a ‘Delorean moment’. That is, he saw a Delorean (you know, Back to the Future’s time machine, if you have to ask you’re too young) on the streets of sleepy Nelson. He saw it when he was answering a classifed ad placed in the Nelson Evening Mail for a pair of Nikes, believe it or not. “It stunned me,” he recalls. “Wow! Somebody is making these things?”

The following day he went to his art teacher on a quest to find out “who does cars, shoes and equipment?” “An industrial designer.” “Why have you never told us about industrial design!?”

One viewing later, of a video showing Phillips designers at work on radios, and he knew; “This was it.”

Wellington Design School beckoned. Leon Yap, Noel Benner, Mark Pennington, Tony Wincart and Helen Mitchell were lecturers. Workshop tutor Eric Bond is fondly remembered: “He was just brutal but you learnt so much about perfection; you’ve got to keep doing it until you get it right”. Tony Parker, he recalls, was the only professional industrial designer. “He was our role model…great at rendering and finishing skills. He was super talented.”

After graduating, Holmes’ career followed what has become an almost typical New Zealand design trajectory. He went to Mosgiel, to Fisher & Paykel, to work on ovens and cooktops before joining the DishDrawer design team. Them that achievement squared away, and after seven years in Dunedin, it was time to head offshore. Portfolio in hand he hit San Francisco and was interviewed at Ideo, Sony and Apple. Job offers followed, including, memorably, a position at Apple. “I was sitting with Jonathon Ive,” he recalls. “He said, ‘We’d love you to join our team but it seems like you’re really into sports and fitness. Do you really want to work on computers? Do you think it’s something you’d love to do?’”

Actually, it wasn’t. Ive, admiring his honesty, put in a call to a friend at Nike. “They flew me up the next day and I got the job. It was pretty crazy.”

At Nike, Holmes’ first role in cross training gear was aided by his wide interest in sports. It was, he says, initially challenging because there was not one clear consumer, but it was an opportunity to learn about “how to get products to connect with consumers without a lot of help from the brand”.

Nike Running – the company’s biggest category – was next. After a four-year stint as design manager he became design director for the next three. It was hard work. Long hours, a huge amount of travel. “Sixty-five hours a week travelling to Korea and Taiwan nine or ten times a year. It just about knocked me over. In the end of that they just said where do you want to go? I said tennis or innovation. So I got a short time in tennis, it was supposed to be a year and half, but ended being nine months. I got to work with Roger Federer and Nadal, and that was just amazing. Because of the nature of the tennis tour, you just follow the sun.”

Today, as creative director, Holmes role is to set a vision for his team, recruit the right people, find the right mix of problem solvers, those aesthetically strong and maintain an all important “positive vibe”. At the moment, there are 23 in his direct team, which includes sector design directors each with a team underneath them. “I’m setting the future direction for those guys, challenging them, trying to show them things on the horizon from science that are coming along and are going to affect athletes – and us – across the next 10, 20 and 30 years.

So, what sorts of things are Homes’ priorities right now. What are the things to look out for. “Design starts with insights,” he says. “You’re always trying to make it better for athletes, so you’re constantly searching for insights, whether it’s in the Nike sports research lab, by looking at high speed video, watching games and analysing data around a game. You might be watching Rafa [Rafael Nadal] serving and see his shirt twisting and pulling; we can eliminate that and then, when we do, we want the solution to be as bold and iconic as it can. It’s also got to be intuitive, so people get it immediately…make it clear and make it bold.”

Innovation also comes in the form of manufacturing. A good example is Nike’s Flyknit shoes. Knitted, as the name suggests, rather than traditionally assembled, the shoes offers benefits to users – they are light and strong – and production efficiencies. For every two shoes that are produced in a more traditional manner there’s one of waste, explains Holmes. “So a third of our materials are basically getting thrown away”. One of the first attempts at more efficent manufacturing involved taking the waste and turning it into shoes, “which is kind of a half-arse way to do things”.

“It was looking at the problem but not in the right way.”

Direct manufacturing, which means being able to send a programme to a machine and have it knit exactly what you want with no left over waste, has “made a massive change”.

As a designer that is near the apex of the professional, it is always interesting to hear about the chracteristics of the best designers. For Holmes, it’s curiosity, “an attitude; you’ve just got to be a problem solver, an entrepreneur, you’re looking for that mindset, that person that would probably go and do it out by themselves.”

“They’d find a way to do it by themselves, but when they join our team and we give them the resources they need they just catch on fire and start thriving on the collaboration.”

-Michael Barret

Matt Holmes

2014

Mark Cleverley
Designers Institute Black Pin

The Black Pin for Outstanding Achievement recognises a someone who has made a lasting and valuable contribution to the design profession.

Calling Mark Cleverley’s contribution to New Zealand design ‘lasting’ is almost an understatement. From graphic design, to object making, pottery design, textiles, teaching, and architecture, there’s hardly a type of design that Mark hasn’t touched over his six decade legacy.

To describe the extent of Mark’s multi-faceted career in full would take hours. But in brief, Mark started his illustrious career at age 18 in Hamilton as an architectural draughtsman at the NZ Co-operative Dairy, then moved to Christchurch to work at Warren and Mahoney. He won a scholarship to the Elam School of Fine Arts, and was one of the first students in the new graphic design programme. From there, he freelanced in graphic design – and even designed the Ballantyne’s façade and engravings. He ventured to the big smoke for a brief stint in advertising, then dived into the 3D world of packaging.

During this time, he made his first foray into stamp design. And he certainly stamped his mark. He introduced modernist, simplified designs to New Zealand Post – a move that proved incredibly popular.

Arguably, his most prominent work was as a creative director at Crown Lynn. He was always one step ahead of worldwide trends, creating new designs and printing techniques, taking reference from indigenous patterns, fighting traditional ideas. But his most influential role was teaching in Christchurch and Wellington – his students rave about his passion for typography and design history, his clever and challenging briefs, and above all his engagement and enthusiasm in their own projects.

Mark has been an important player in the international design industry. In 1972, he was made a full member of the prestigious UK based Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (SIAD), and was also nominated as the NZ representative at the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) Interdesign conference in Canada in 1974.

During the sixties and seventies, he was involved in founding professional design organisations – the ancestors of the Designer’s Institute – to create a supportive network to promote and connect designers around New Zealand. He even helped establish an early version of the Best Design Awards.

Mark Cleverley

2013

Kent Parker
PDINZ John Britten Black Pin

Kent Parker, 2013's John Britten Black Pin recipient, has a well-lived life in design. But cast your eye across his Black Pin alumni and you might notice his comparative youth – this is a career with legs left yet.

The young Kent Parker can be found in the Hawkes Bay. He was exposed to the process of ‘making’ early. His father was handy and Parker had “no choice” but to watch projects go on. Apparently they go on still: “He’s 80 and building houses. He can’t stop. It’s in the blood a little bit. I was exposed to it young.”

Hawkes Bay was soon swapped for Wellington. Victoria Uni’s School of Architecture called first but two-years later industrial design was discovered and a move to Wellington Polytech was completed. Parker had found his calling.

At design school, Parker’s tutors included (Black Pin recipient) Mark Pennington, “a big influence”, as were many other staff members. Design school was close-knit and, while studying, Parker found another close-knit team: Richard Taylor – a fellow John Britten recipient – and Tania Rodger. At Weta, Parker was exposed to a philosophy that would percolate throughout his career. “Richard is a passionate man. He had a huge influence on my belief that you can do whatever you want. He has that attitude of being able to take on anything and make it happen.”

After design school, Parker headed to Dunedin and a job with Fisher & Paykel. Employed from his graduation presentation, he wasn’t particularly enamoured with the big company environment but got a product range through the system in his year there. Europe was next, and employment with a Swiss-German designer, Luigi Colani.

Colani lived in a restored French chateau with the stables converted into a design studio. Parker lived on-site, working across everything from concept trucks to ironing boards. Colani, eccentric as well as eclectic, had few rules. “He asked me to go to Germany for a couple of days on a project and I ended up living there for two months. I only took clothing in a bag for the two days,” he laughs. But the Swiss designer reiterated the lesson of Weta. “Anything was possible. It made me realise that if you want to do something then get off your butt and do it.”

Parker returned to Wellington and worked on Lord of the Rings for a year, but it was a “young man’s game” and he wanted to do something that lasted longer.
Cue Formway, where he certainly found longer projects. Four years is the average period from concept to completion at the company. Parker started as a designer, before leading projects and, eventually, with long-term collaborator Paul Wilkinson, running the company.

Product design can be a risky business. Hum, a desking system, “was, and is, a very good product”, but the licensing and distribution channel weren’t as good as they could have been. “When a product doesn’t fly like you think it will it can have a huge effect on your business… You’ve got to get the right partner or all sorts of things can happen.”

Formway’s “right partner” was Knoll. How did a Lower Hutt design studio form a tight relationship with a renowned international player? Chutzpah? Self-belief? “All of those companies are open to good ideas. Don’t be afraid to talk to anyone about what you’ve got if you think it’s worth something – they’ll be interested.”

The development of ‘Generation’, the Formway/Knoll collaboration that sold 120,000 units in 2013, gives good insight into Formway’s ethos of engineering and observation, sustainable design-thinking and delivering on a real need that helps people achieve real benefits.

The company had found itself at an “awkward scale” – too small to deliver a global product, but needing to do a global product to beat the global players in its own market. It decided to develop the best product it could, fully aware that it wouldn’t be able to tool it and without the distribution channels to get into a global market. It had, however, identified a number of companies that could, and Knoll was one of them. Andrew Keogh, Knoll’s CEO, was impressed enough with his taster to jump on a plane. The rest is history.

Formway today, under Parker and Wilkinson, is focused solely on seating. It has just released a reclining chair for Natuzzi, and Parker, I suspect, is becoming interested in products with longevity; classic things his children might appreciate. Does he see himself doing anything else? “I’ve dreamt a number of times about throwing in the commercial side and buying an old milk factory in Taranaki. Just making furniture and selling it.” A dream on hold. And what of his Black Pin – where does that reside? “It’s in a box on my desk – I think. New Zealanders aren’t very good at receiving things like that. We all expect that it should go to someone else.”

Parker is wrong of course. His career has successfully bridged product design, management and strategy. He has advanced New Zealand design at home and abroad. This John Britten Black Pin, in a box, on his desk, recognises his leadership, vision and creativity.

Kent Parker

2013

Cathy Veninga
FDINZ Designers Institute Black Pin

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.”

Cathy Veninga

2013

Grenville Main
FDINZ Designers Institute Black Pin

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.”

Grenville Main

2012

Ian Athfield
John Britten Black Pin

Ath is one of New Zealands best, and best known, architects and since 1968 along his partners and team, he has built a most distinctive architectural practice. The work of Athfield Architects encompasses a wide range of famous, infamous and little-known projects, from the Buck House against its vineyard rows to expanse of Wellingtons Civic Square and waterfront, from libraries and university buildings throughout the country to the collaboratively designed New Zealand War Memorial in London, which won a Best Purple Pin.

Ian Athfield

2012

Sven Baker
Designers Institute Black Pin

Sven has worked with Designworks for more than quarter of a century. His significant contribution has helped to develop a design practice with prolific outputs across Designworks' New Zealand and Australian offices. Sven's leadership has seen his team work with New Zealand's best companies; helping to establish strong identities for Air New Zealand, Auckland International Airport, Silverfern Farms, Gallagher Group, Tait Electronics and Kiwibank. Sven’s design work has left a indelible mark on New Zealand's visual landscape and has been recognised internationally. Sven's skill is demonstrated through the brands he has had an impact on, helping them to communicate important stories, while enriching our lives with creative visual solutions.

Sven Baker

2011

Mark Elmore
John Britten Black Pin

Mark Elmore is Head of Industrial Design at Fisher & Paykel and under his design leadership in the 28 years he has been with the company, Fisher & Paykel has been transformed into a modern, technology savvy, design led company. The first design led product to make a global splash for Fisher & Paykel was the double dishdrawer while other innovative products designed under Mark’s watch include the Izona Cooksurface, and also the new OB90 oven.

Mark Elmore

2011

Fraser Gardyne
Designers Institute Black Pin

Fraser Gardyne has been a principal of graphic design company, GardyneHOLT since 2006. In 1988 Fraser was on the steering committee for the inaugural Best Design Awards. He was vice president of the Designers Institute in 2003, President from November 2004 to August 2006, and is a Fellow of the Institute Fraser has been the graphics convenor of the Best Design Awards since 2003, a challenging category as it is by far the largest of the four disciplines.

Fraser Gardyne

2010

Dean Poole
John Britten Black Pin

Dean is an honours graduate in sculpture from Elam and co-founder and creative director of Alt Group. Since 2005, Alt Group has been recognized in over 200 national and international awards, including a Cannes Gold Lion, ADC Gold Cube, Webby Award, and the Red Dot Grand Prix in Germany last year. Dean is a frequent keynote speaker at local and international conference, including Semi Permanent, AGIdeas and AGDA National Conferences.

Dean Poole

2010

Tim Hooson
Designers Institute Black Pin

Tim is an architect and director of interiors at Jasmax. He is a loyal supporter of the Designers Institute who has previously served on the Institute Council. Tim has been the lead interior architect on some of New Zealand’s most admired commercial buildings, such as the NZI Centre in Fanshawe Street, the Vodafone Building in the Viaduct, and the BNZ Centrecourt in Wellington and his own home Icestation won a Gold at the 2007 Best Awards.

Tim Hooson

Our Partners