Hot New Things — Emma Marriott, Whitecliffe

3 years ago by

Welcome to Hot New Things 2018 – an opportunity to profile a selection of the top design graduates coming out of our tertiary institutions. This week, we speak with Emma Marriott from Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design.

Emma Marriott
Bachelor of Fine Arts, Graphic Design Major

You completed your full time studies at the end of 2017. Can you tell us what your final year’s project was about and what you focussed on?

The huia is one of the greatest losses of New Zealand wildlife – a beautiful bird with a rich history, ending tragically with its extinction. My graduation project took the form of a publication that examined the effect that the arrival of humans in New Zealand had on the huia species.

Human settlement brought with it a variety of approaches to the environment, and for different cultures the huia was valued for different reasons. For Maori, the tail feathers were a symbol of chiefly status, whereas European settlement brought an immense scientific interest in such a unique species of bird, leading to the collection of hundreds of specimens for museums. The Royal Tour of 1901 had a similar damaging effect; a huia feather was placed in Duke of Cornwall’s hat, triggering a fashion trend and hugely increasing the demand for huia feathers.

To tell this narrative, my project drew upon the different visual languages of each group, showing the value of the huia from their perspective. Compiling the different viewpoints together into one publication demonstrated how it was the combination of interests on the same bird that lead to its extinction – a typical example of the complex relationship between man and the environment.

How has what you’ve recently been working on influenced your design process, and what momentum does it bring to your practice?

An important aspect of my project was drawing from the content to establish visual languages for each group of people. I’m a strong believer that design should be lead by the subject matter, rather than having a preconceived aesthetic or being lead too much by stylistic trends. This approach will always be an important part of my design process.

What were some of your most exciting discoveries?

The huia really was a fascinating and beautiful bird, and the more I learnt about it, the more engaged in my project I became. Who knew that one bird could be so interesting! I also really enjoyed experimenting with different media, techniques and methods that would best represent each group of people.

And also some of the challenges along the way?

One of the most interesting challenges was trying to keep the different visual styles distinct, but also making them feel like they belonged together in the same publication. It was also challenging to keep a balance between referencing historical design, but doing so in a way that made it feel fresh and relevant to contemporary design. I learnt a lot from this process!

What did you love doing most?

One of things I love most about design, is that we have the opportunity to dip into other fields and disciplines, and bring to life narratives that otherwise might remain buried in a dusty book somewhere. It was fantastic to be able to put all the things I’m interested in; design, wildlife, the environment and culture, into one publication, and tell an important part of New Zealand history that people might not be aware of.

Where do you go to find inspiration (websites, resources, designers, etc)?

Researching the content itself is for me one of the best sources of inspiration. The work always seems to end more interesting if it is driven by the subject matter, constructing or borrowing systems or approaches from other disciplines. But I am also very much inspired and motivated by seeing good, innovative work from other designers and studios, whether that be in books or online. Its always helpful to see how other people have dealt with a similar subject, or to learn from what strategies others have used to overcome similar challenges.

Why did you choose to study at your design school, and what do you feel you can take away now that you’ve completed your course?

I feel very fortunate to have been able to study at Whitecliffe. Its a small institute with a friendly atmosphere which immediately appealed to me: the students aren’t just numbers, rather the staff are genuinely dedicated to helping you develop your own creative practice.

The small class sizes mean you get to know everyone really well, not only in the graphic design department but also your peers in fashion, photography and fine art. Having good relationships as classmates meant we could support, encourage and learn from each other. Most of the problems that I encountered for my final project, I was able to resolve just through having chats with my friends.

Whitecliffe is also lucky to some truly great lecturers in the design department! They are supportive of whatever aspect of design you want to pursue, while still challenging you to push yourself creatively and progress as a designer.

Where to next for you? What does 2018 hold?

2018 is pretty open for me at the moment! I’m starting off with a few freelance jobs, but it would be awesome to end up in a studio environment. I realise that I still have a lot to learn, and would love to work alongside experienced designers.

To find out more about Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design and the courses they offer visit:


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