Peter Haythornthwaite – i ndustrial and creative design deity, Designers Institute of New Zealand fellow, owner of an ONZM for services to design, and current exhibitor of his l i fe’s work at Objectspace Gallery i n Auckland – knows things, l oves things
Designer Peter Haythornthwaite
5 things you wish you knew before you started a career in design
My tertiary education at Elam and the University of Illinois was broad ranging and facilitated my career pathway. But clearly education cannot fully prepare a graduate for a yet to be defined profession – that comes through experience, relationships and learning.
1 Design integration
Through my reading and research at university I came to understand that design is a continuum. No one discipline is the hero. More so than ever, in our changing world, it will be prerequisite that all aspects of design dovetail together in an integrated and holistic manner. Products, services, brands, communications and behaviours will fail if they stand alone; integrated design enables them to strategically and harmoniously work across all touch points.
2 Success rarely happens by chance
Being good at the business side of design made sense. However, finances, staff securement, contracts, briefing, project planning, business structure and so forth were largely overlooked in college. It was when I became a full-time consultant that I came to really understand that good management is fundamental to good design practice. Fortunately I found these skills could be assimilated by seeking good advice and learning from one’s successes and mistakes.
3 Entrepreneurship and sound judgment
Entrepreneurship is ‘in’ a person. It's an innate ability to identify opportunities and see ways to effectively fulfill them. Fortunately entrepreneurship can also be nurtured to become a competence. In the early 90s I advocated for universities to set up design-enterprise programmes. However, the recommendation was not taken up, perhaps because the entrepreneurial spirit is best acquired by iterative doing, not just teaching. Design enterprise must be underpinned by continuous improvement and good design judgment.
We leave college with hope and a belief that there is always a better way, whatever the task. The reality is that other people in the project mix don't always hold the same perspective; they do not necessarily share our behavioural and moral beliefs. By student designers being repetitively engaged in roleplaying the hard aspects of businesses, learning to listen and translate better, and to engage others in a cause, they would be better prepared for the commercial endeavours.
5 From their perspective
Going out with an impressive portfolio does not necessarily mean it will enable a client or an employer to understand your real value. I soon realised that to be more effective in sharing my proposition/story I needed to better understand their viewpoint. It meant listening and observing better so as to be more able to interpret their current state and what they were really saying. While well-resolved solutions were one part of my role, more sustainably important was the need to help clients understand that design was cultural and about continuous advancement. It meant guiding them to consider the unmet needs of end users, integrating design thinking throughout their business so they could be world-class and win in their chosen markets.
5 things that sum up New Zealand's modern design identity
I don't see a New Zealand design identity. Swiss design of the 50s - 70s, the simplicity of Bauhaus design, and the strong graphic nature of Japanese design created national design identities. In reality, defining uniqueness is created by individuals not by the masses, unless a community is engaged in a common vernacular such as Mata Ortiz ceramics. What we do see in New Zealand are examples of highly original and thoughtful design by world-class individuals and teams, across all disciplines. Our place, our pioneering heritage, our evolving culture shape a creative lens. Maybe, aggregated, one day this will give rise to a New Zealand design.
There are however a number of common characteristics which can be identified in certain New Zealand designers and their work – of course they are also inherent in creative people worldwide.
An energy and ability to position companies and offerings in a singular manner – going against the
grain of common idioms. For example, phd3’s Bella Akroyd has helped capture the hearts, minds and tastes of milk product buyers across New Zealand and many parts of the world through a disparate, nonconformist approach. Such commercial energy is not created by mimicking what others have done.
The ability to shift from one area of design to another with ease, transferring a way of thinking and doing into a new space of endeavour. Cheshire Architects are exemplary for an ability to shift from objects to planning, from churches to workspaces and from houses to retail. Their multidisciplined work for the Auckland City Works Depot project is a marker of design fluency. 8 Original The ability to see and do things differently, in a ‘new and better way’. Inhouse Design, for example, consistently surprises and challenges with their publication, brand and packaging design. Project requirements, sifted by ingenious minds, lead to unique insights which in turn determine clever, refined and commercially viable outcomes. No two answers are the same.
An innate sense of time and place. An ability to grasp the global, social, cultural and technological changes that are occurring, or likely to occur, on a national and international scale; and to translate what is meaningful to determine what is needed.
Watching and engaging so as to better understand what people think, feel and desire. The word ‘empathy’ is overused but it is germane to better design. Equally, so is a comprehensive consciousness of global issues that must be addressed by better future thinking and design.
5 things you predict for 2038 11 The rise of spirituality
Psychologists tell us that living for ‘me now’ leads to emptiness, a lack of a sense of well-being. People will yearn to find greater meaning to life and purpose. Where will they turn? To their spiritual needs. The mushrooming of technology, burgeoning scientific discoveries, transformational medical ingenuity and so forth may help with physical, mental and social improvements but that does not necessarily lead to a personal serenity and happiness. By 2038 people will be more focused on permanent, less transient, spiritual values.
12 From many to one
People will long for authenticity, genuineness, not what is in vogue. There will be an increased focus on personalised design. Design craftsmanship will be greatly valued. Understanding, and knowing the maker and deliverer will be as important as the object itself. The omnipresence of technology will lead to, for example, an increase in services, transport, accommodation, housewares, furniture that will be tailored to meet our personal needs and desires.
13 The making of China
China has become the home of online sales and trading. Apps like WeChat are becoming dominant ways of communicating and transacting. Manufacturers are shifting from being suppliers to brands to becoming brands in their own right. People are rapidly moving from buying replica products to choosing by authenticity. Design judgment is rising.
These changes are unstoppable. Already China may have tactically won the economic competition. By 2038, unless we are strategically very, very smart, the world will be beholden to the collective ingenuity of China.
14 The intensification of creativity
There is no way that mankind will allow AI to dominate decision making and actions to the point that life will be run, in a sense, autonomously.
Human ingenuity and creativity will intensify to enable AI to be more effectively employed for the everyday and repetitive. Generative design enables designers and engineers, scientists and medical specialists to set the creative parameters and make the hard design resolution decisions while computing power generates myriad options to solve the problems. The same thing will happen in music and virtual reality. No doubt, as Elon Musk and others believe, we will likely have direct brain to computer interfaces.
15 XYZ of cities
Unfortunately more cities will have definitive X and Y boundaries with a greater Z axis (height). Creeping coverage of land with the loss of amenities and engagement with nature will be stopped. Accommodation will need to return to family and social engagement and, if we can we can make it affordable, the joy of ownership. As is already well underway, transport logically will become more shared and on-demand.
5 things you wish with New Zealand would do to support the design sector
Any support for design must be co-ordinated and united. Handouts without a clear sense of purpose, vision, strategy and accountability will lead, I believe, to failed outcomes. What we need is a series of woven-together initiatives. Appropriate channels for delivery could be through an semiindependent arm of the Designers Institute of New Zealand (possibly supported by other organisations) and our key universities.
16 Better by Design but better
Starting in the early 2000s Better by Design focused on enabling SMEs to be more internationally competitive by design. The programme, through various initiatives, enjoyed significant success with a good number of companies adapting design thinking and doing as a business norm, and aspiring to be world-class. For some, there were marked increases in growth, turnover and profitability. However, since 2013 the programme, I believe, has drifted and is now
in danger of being a better by business initiative. A renewed Better by Design initiative transferred to become Design Integration programmes should be, both full-time and part-time, established in our key universities.
17 Energise students’ thinking
In Scandinavian countries there is an inbuilt understanding of the value of design to commerce and society. People naturally talk about the famous architects and designers of their country – it’s part of their cultural heritage. They see design as fundamental to their national culture and success. What if we were to comprehensively implement design education summer-schools for primary through senior school-aged students? What better way than this to build in design thinking and understanding, and foster aspirations for New Zealand’s future success.
18 Share Designfulness*
Understanding who companies really are and why they are successful has been a career-long focus for me. I dissect them to determine their reason for being, their strategies and where design sits culturally, strategically and competence wise within the organisation. What if talks were given four times a year, from the top to the bottom of New Zealand, by ‘designful’ New Zealand companies and international exemplars such as Aesop, Gira and Vipp. The intent being to confirm the cultural and competitive power of design. Follow-up design culture and innovation ‘clinics’ could be run by selected universities and through the design museum. (*Marty Neumeier)
19 A future-focused design museum
Rather than being incorporated into existing institutions, the museum would have a singular focus. Naturally it would be housed in a building of outstanding design yet it would be a living, outreaching ‘institution dedicated to the acquisition, conservation, study, exhibition, and educational’ communication of physical and digital design artefacts that record the past and forecast design’s future role. School visits and travelling ‘shows’ would be comprised of experiential and experimental events as well as physical engagement.
20 Articulate our design in business story
When I came back to New Zealand in 1971 I had the opportunity to visit one of Japan’s Floating Trade Fairs. The purpose-built ship exhibited products and equipment demonstrating Japan’s commercial and creative ingenuity. It was highly inspirational, ripping the dark curtain of the WW2 past, it encouraged New Zealand to buy Japanesedesigned and made. Be it digital or physical, New Zealand has much to gain by sharing its creative potential with the world. We should be sharing our innovative nation story, demonstrating how design serves to facilitate the competitive advantage of our scientific, technological, agricultural, digital, tourist industries, et al.
5 New Zealand- designed things that you love 21 Jamie McLellan’s Spar Light
Jamie has an ability to reduce objects to their minimal essentials. A power cord is often employed to hang a light fitting. But here the cord is integral to the floor mounted canterlievered light structure. No cord, no structure. Red defines it as the source of energy. An elegant reductionist structure that brings ‘A Smile in the Mind’* (*McAlhome & Stuart).
22 Antipodes water bottle
In a sense it’s ‘nothing’, but it's everything in terms of expressing and carrying pure mineral water. With no embellishments, and minimal graphics, the bottle declares that what’s inside is very good. It’s honest. There’s no pretence, no gilding. What it looks like is what it is. Design that’s good to hold, no shouting, but there for our fulfilment.
23 Mark Cleverley’s stamps
In 1970 the New Zealand Post Office held a competition to design a new set of stamps. Mark’s winning designs represented a coming of age of design in this field. Rather than depict scenes and information realistically, Mark abridged his designs to graphic shapes, planes, layers and strong colour. The results were striking stamps that removed extraneous information and that were fresh, clear and contemporary. Memorable. Finally we had stamps that did us proud, internationally, and represented an innovative nation. They’re timeless.
24 Paul Mason’s design craft
Paul is the consummate master craftsman/designer. His attention to detail is faultless. Whatever medium he uses he controls it. We have a number of Paul’s objects, all have their special place because of their materiality – intrinsic value, craftsmanship, visual and tangible qualities. One of his bowls constantly pleases me – how could he make something so perfect, using different woods and shell to be so durable, so fine to gaze upon, just so beautiful? Thank goodness he did.
25 Peter Tasker’s purposeful design
Almost every time my wife Carol and I go across to Australia we buy, for family and friends, Tasker’s brush and pan sets. Why? Because this product is the epitome of purposeful functionality. It’s pared back to a robust minimum, comfortable to hold and hungry to pick up the dust and scraps. I often reflect that the manufacturer really doesn't know how good the product is – all of Tasker’s brush designs could have a life in Australia (there’s nothing as functional, well-considered or so proven) and other parts of the world. And it’s pretty darn affordable.