A Brush with Design: 10 Designers Dish on Their First Design Encounter — Kaan Hiini

2 years ago by

In the lead up to DA’s 10th birthday celebrations in March 2019, A Brush With Design asks 10 designers who have been involved with DA at various times to nostalgically recount their first memory of encountering design. In this seventh iteration we spoke non “come to Jesus” moments with Kaan Hiini.

Memory is a strange thing. You can never truly be certain how much of what you recall is accurate. There are many stories from my childhood that I can picture clearly (or their narrative, at least) but when pushed I can’t honestly say these fragments of my own personal history are direct recollections or fantasies, embedded, shaped and given life through the constant retellings of parents and siblings. It’s with this mistrust of my own mind that I admit it’s hard to pinpoint my first clear and fully aware encounter with design.

When I think about it objectively, there had to have been countless incidental interactions with design. My interests from a young age certainly gave every indication that I would end up in this line of work. But I’ve never had a “come to Jesus” moment when it comes to design, when everything slowed down and my truth became clear, and that truth was that I was destined to shift things around until they looked visually appealing. And thank Christ for that, because who wants to be that person.

While flicking through the rolodex of my design touchpoints to try to track down some kind of stand out encounter, I’ve swiped past school journals, kowhaiwhai, kiwiana and logos like the NZ Commonwealth Games logo of the 70’s and the NZ Made Kiwi. But what stands out clearest for me as I look back through the unreliable mists of my memory are books. I loved books with a fiery passion, spending most of my early life browsing bookstore shelves, and pouring through novels while nestled behind couches where nobody could find me.

Peter Gossage’s Māori Legends were an early favourite. His version of Maui slowing the sun was canon for me, and his battle of wits with the goddess of death still delights. For much of my young life the visual style inspired much imitation and inspiration, from the bold graphic stylisation, bright colours and integration of Māori motifs. It didn’t occur to me at the time how unique these stories were to this place, or how important this representation was, but I love that we have this very specific story and influence.

Later on, I had more of an obvious awakening to the basic principles of design through some activity books obtained through the Scholastic Lucky Book Club (or Arrow, which was for the big kids). The purpose of these books were to provide some guidance on how to whip up the best school “projects” or reports and covered everything from hand drawn lettering to illustration. They included tips on how to make them eye-catching (liberal application of glitter glue), some kitsch A.F. presentation ideas (lets just say my reports and assignments were in hanging mobile form for a year or two) and pages and pages of novelty typefaces that I spent grueling hours dutifully tracing into place by hand (letrasets were an unnecessary expense for my family). There were also detailed calligraphy books which I held onto till I finished university and never figured out how to use.

It’s slightly surreal to describe these books now, when computers have made them into such nonsensical artifacts, forever lost to me and possibly to many of us. Yet, in that weird in-between time, before the desktop computer and word art was within reach, I learnt to make by hand, to cut, glue, lay up, embellish and craft information in ways that made it easy to understand. This was when I learnt to identify the value of an appropriate typeface and effective information architecture.

It’s taken this prompt for me to identify this point as my first foray into the practice of visual communication, and as I reflect on it I recognise it as being incredibly close to what design was in the 90s, before the digital revolution fully took hold. And while my formal engagement with the principles of design properly began in my fifth form graphics class, my first stumbling steps down this career path can be blamed on Scholastic’s Lucky and Arrow Book Clubs and their basic guides to making shit look slightly better.


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