A short while ago, Sam Allan from Onfire Design initiated ‘Battle of the Birken’ — a bowls competition between Birkenhead-based studios Onfire Design, Marx Design, Inhouse Design, PHD3 and Forever After. Sam says, “I organised the event to get together the local design community — it’s ok to have friendly rivalry in business, and is a great way to make new friends and share stories.” 40 creatives fought it out for the crown, and Inhouse took the victory.
This friendly rivalry got us at Design Assembly thinking about whether it is important or not to build a collaborative design community where designers and studios interact, hang out and spend time with each other. As Arun Prabhakaran, vice president at the Urban Affairs Coalition commented, “We finally realised we are actually in the relationship business.” Prabhakaran sentiment is one also widely shared within global design industries, evidenced by the countless op-eds after op-eds arguing for collaborative work environments. But how does this work in our little ol’ island nation? We reached out to designers across Aotearoa to ask if it is important to build a collaborative design environment, if they think a sense of community exists already within the design field, and what the pros and cons of a collaborative environment are. Here’s what they said:
Nicola Devine, Creative Director, Tanker
I think it is very important to build a collaborative design community. It is one of the principles of my business to invite and be open to visits from, and collaborations with, other designers and creative professionals. Having worked as a sole trader, freelancer and in small studios, I also understand the importance of being able to communicate and interact with peers on both a professional and social level. Designers are my tribe! I have also witnessed first-hand the positive impact that networks have on designers and studio access to opportunities and talent within the industry. I encourage designers to be involved in developing a community that provides the best possible options for all of us.
Nick Riley, Creative Director, material. –
Absolutely yes! – a collaborative design community is extremely important because creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Openly sharing thoughts, ideas and insights amongst peers helps foster growth and understanding.
I think a competitive spirit will always naturally exist between creative friends – and that is a good thing. When I see friends or other agencies producing beautiful, intelligent work I feel proud that the bar has been raised a few notches higher, which in the end is better for all of us.
One of the biggest benefits of close contact between studios and agencies is the sharing of knowledge. Creativity thrives on collaboration, and communication. If this mindset so heavily influences the way we work, then surely that should extend to the social construct of our industry.
Chris Flack, Design Director, Strategy Creative
Great ideas and design generally don’t happen in isolation. It involves people and community. We recently had a two-hour evening session with a group of students in our studio. The students got to ask lots of questions and to understand us and how we operate. This would have never happened 15 years ago. The only time I got to step inside another design studios was for a job interview. This just shows one benefit of the shift towards a more open design community.
Another benefit of a strong and collaborative design community is pro bono and community-led projects. These generally have a very strong emotional attachment like the Gap Filler projects in Christchurch. A very creative solution that turned an unwanted problem on its head. These projects need an active community to function and owe a lot of their success to a creative community that will just get on and make things happen.
I think that sense of design community exists in Christchurch, you just have to look a little harder to find it. Recently it has been appearing in a more organised way with the likes of Design Assembly putting on pub quizzes and movie nights and DINZ running their very successful Open Studios — which has really helped to get the design community in Christchurch out and about.
Emma Kaniuk, Partner & Designer, Akin
I think it is healthy to build a collaborative (and competitive — I don’t think this is necessarily mutually exclusive) design community where designers and studios interact, hang out, and spend time with each other — that’s how individuals and industries grow and move forward. At Akin (Tana Mitchell and myself), every time we work with someone new, we learn new tricks or see things from unexpected angles. Collaboration can be a really challenging part of the design process, though! It requires trust and keeping an open mind up to possibilities, perhaps ones you hadn’t intended. We love working with others and do so as often as we can, be that with in-house design teams, strategists, thinkers, doers, writers, makers — people who think like us, and people who side-swipe us with the most exciting outsider ideas. Working with larger clients means there’s more often than not other creative teams in the mix.
We feel strongly connected to the design community within Auckland, and to a lesser extent the rest of the world. There are many wonderful people who host community events locally: Simon Velvin (Semi Permanent), Luke Wood (Ilam), Louise Kellerman, Jade Tang-Taylor (Creative Mornings), Catherine Griffiths (TypeShed, Typ gr ph c) and Emma Rogan (100 days) to name a few. And many more less formal Friday afternoon drinks that bring smaller groups together, plus, the bigger studio parties where everyone is invited! Beers unite, right? Tana and I try to do Tuesday dumplings + beers as often as we can, a chance to meet new or catch up with old design buddies. We’re also connected to neighbouring communities: art, music, architecture… and we love hanging out with lawyers and accountants too! It’s important to us to expand the design conversation outside of the design industry. If only there was more time in the day…
‘Battle of the Birken’ hosted by Onfire Design. Images courtesy of Sam Allan.