Hot New Things — Abhi Topiwala, Unitec

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 Abhi Topiwala from Unitec.

Abhi Topiwala
Bachelor of Creative Enterprise

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?

My main project output for the final year of my undergrad studies was creating an identity for the bi-product of Unitec’s Experiential Recruitment campaign for 2017/2018. For more background on the campaign and a summary from the perspective of the Institute, take a look here

This product was a craft soda beverage and we had to create it from idea to fruition. A handful of final year BCE students worked together to create the flavours of the beverages and I worked closely in collaboration with Jessie Bell  – a final year student also on the project with me. We worked together to first create the flavours of the drink which then informed our creation of the look and feel.

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

It was a brilliant project to be a part of as it really challenged the pace at which I could work. The time I had made a huge impact to broadly understanding how I can scale tasks in ways that fit the deadline. In this case I had a semester to work on this project and it turns out that for something like branding, it’s not much time at all.

I was very much working alongside the contracted agency rather working under them and this meant dealing with crazy-huge logistics. At times it was a communication nightmare, but in talking to people in the industry, ironically it can be like this a lot of the time.

When things weren’t as organised as we would’ve liked it to be, it meant adapting to change and working toward what was topmost priority at present.

To answer your question concisely, my muscle of balancing working to external demands vs working on what is most important for the best solution was exercised. This has helped me become more efficient in the tasks that I now carry out in present and future projects.

What were some of your most exciting discoveries?

I delved deeply into branding and learnt that branding is very much research driven than it is sexy visuals. Creating strong visual communication can only be done through informed research. When looking at design inspiration online, the rate at which it’s all available to us is quite overwhelming and I constantly need to remind myself that although I’m seeing 10 greatly executed projects next to each other on one screen, does not mean that they took the same amount of time to complete.

Each project is different and should never be compared to the previous one.

In the case of Inu – which means ‘to drink’ in Māori – it was quite refreshing to spend half a semester on researching what the problem was, who we were targeting and how this could be a Unitec product without it simply being a label with the Unitec logo on it. We looked into Unitec’s brand values, explored names to find the perfect fit and worked hard to ensure the solution that we created was authentic and answered all aspects of the brief (a brief that was informed by analysing all the parts that came before it).

I wanted to use this project as a chance to create something that really challenged what authenticity and honest design is, and looking at our creations, I’m proud to say we did that.

And also some of the challenges along the way?

As I mentioned briefly before, it was very difficult to manage expectations coming from all around us – Unitec marketing, the agency, the contractor of the agency, Unitec staff and a few other people too. Initially we weren’t sure what to do but in the end (as stupid as it sounds) we realised we needed to listen to the client and only the client. Anyone else and it was scrambled brains for dinner.

What did you love doing most?

Once Jessie showed me this art work for the Inu, it really got things moving and all aspects of the brand were falling into place. I could really feel all the prior design thinking pay off. The illustration she drew spoke on the journey and voice of a student. What appears to be topographic lines / the age of a tree, actually wasn’t intended at all but the fact that it speaks on all these ideas was undeniably perfect. It resonated with the Unitec values too.

As the one putting the labels together, dealing with the layout and typography, I always kept in mind how I could amplify the illustration to make sure it spoke to the audience and resonated with that person. This was my favourite part hands down.

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

Its quite easy to go online and find things to look at. So to paraphrase William Bardebes “easiness is relative”. He’s convinced me that books are almighty and arguably more content rich than something you could find on the internet. In light of this I’ve directed my sources of inspiration to reading and bike rides.

I haven’t been much of a reader growing up but find the right books that are resourceful and sets off a spark of interest in me and I’m away! On my shelf I currently have:

  • Hegarty on Creativity: There are no rules
  • The 99u Series by Jocelyn K Glei
  • Branding: In Five and a Half Steps
  • Marian Bantjes: Pretty Pictures
  • Graphic Design Thinking : Beyond Brainstorming

I have a few more but that can get you started!

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 haven’t said this to anyone publicly yet but I suppose now is a good time to. I didn’t get the credits I needed in high school to get my UE and I was SO bummed. You can imagine the self doubt I had, thinking I wasn’t “good enough” or “smart enough” haha. I applied at the all places I could and all of them said no but Unitec suggested I take the Certificate in Design and Visual arts and offered me a place in that course.  I had no other option at the time but looking back, it’s the best thing that’s happened because now I’m in a place where I can decide how I want to progress myself creatively. I’ve always been one to draw and in the family I come from, I’m the only one that’s been culturally comfortable to be creative and it brings me joy to think that I am in an area where I can have fun and make a difference in the world we live in – both big and small.

Where to next for you? What does 2018 hold?

So many things! Just before the year wrapped up I put together a TVC for Comedy Central for their Another Frickin’ Festival (which panned out in Feb this year). This helped my portfolio stand out greatly and helped me get a job as a Junior Motion Designer for News & Current Affairs at TVNZ!

I’ve had the privilege of working on a range of projects not just around traditional graphic design, but UX/UI, motion design, arts & the community, and heaps more! I feel my strongest works are my animated works and I plan to keep myself busy with passion projects around motion graphics. Film scores are of great interest to me and the relationship  between audio and visual intrigues me so much that I’ve taken up making my own scores and sounds. Quite an experimental area but lots of room for play! Bring on 2018! Hear the sounds I’m making on my soundcloud below. As well as all the rest of it! | |


To find out more about Unitec and the courses they offer visit:


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