Written by Kate McGuinness
Diversity in Aotearoa design. Where do we begin? DA’s Spring Conversation series seemed like a good place to kick off the discussion.
In Wellington, a receptive crowd nestled in for an evening of sushi, craft beer, and some fresh perspectives on, ‘Diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand Design—what does it mean and why does it matter?’
The engaging lineup of panelists included:
Johnson Witehira, artist, designer and academic with a focus on Maori and identity and co-Founder at IDIA: Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa;
Angela Meyer, Director at Double Denim;
Janelle Rodrigues, founding partner and the Creative Director at Creature’ and
Nick Kapica, Design Lead at Wellington City Council.
Each speaker, having carved his or her own diverse niche in the design world, came armed with personal stories, opinions and a healthy dose of wit. Panel convenor Emma Ng posed a series of questions, including: Are we too afraid of discomfort in the workplace? How important is it to take a stand? How can we come together collectively to improve diversity in the industry?
Panelists presented their views on why diversity is profitable for business, how it opens doors, and as Witehira describes, “makes us better human beings”. He adds, “It’s a way of dealing with inequality and leads to better outcomes.”
The question is– why isn’t industry moving faster to achieve this? Unfortunately, the speed at which we’ll see progress is dependent on a number of external factors. Panelists were quick to share personal anecdotes of backlash they’d put up with over the years, in situations where diversity, or self-expression was unwelcome. The topic of allowing more flexible, family-friendly schedules also arose, with Rodrigues explaining that accommodating part-timers was still difficult for small businesses, “A little business is a fragile ecosystem, but we want to be flexible.” The conversation then moved onto the controversy surrounding the 2018 Best Awards, with mixed responses from panellists, each putting forth their own suggestions on how we might make the event a more equal playing field.
A resounding theme of the evening was the designer’s ‘moral compass’; each speaker expressing their own strategies for choosing when and how to take a stand. Rodrigues describes the challenge of finding your own voice, “Sometimes that’s hard when there’s so much noise in the room…. Sometimes you know you’re going to be the unfavourable one.” Witehira adds, “Take a stand, all the time. You know what’s wrong. You know it feels wrong.”
When Ng inquired, Do you feel a sense of responsibility now that you’re more advanced in your career?, panelists responded by expressing their personal approaches to encouraging more diversity; some seeing themselves as role models and educators, and some working to become more flexible employers, “there’s been a shift. As an employer, I am looking for different designers that can somehow work together,” says Kapica. The ultimate goal is to create a better future for New Zealand designers – a vision shared by all four panellists.
The lively discussion was capped off by an opportunity for audience members to ask their own questions and most of the crowd stayed on for some informal discussion.
Key takeaway for the evening – ’Diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand Design’ is a conversation we need to stretch beyond a 90 minute forum. Ng suggests, “the design industry could lead the way on how we organise the workplace.” We’ve still got a lot of work to do, and as Angela Meyer so aptly states, “Let’s just do it.”