5 Minutes with… DA Founder Louise Kellerman

1 year ago by

To understand where we are going, we must know where we have come from. This year Design Assembly celebrates ten years of supporting our community. We’re taking this milestone as an opportunity to look back at the last ten years, investigate where visual design is currently and to question what the future holds for New Zealand’s visual design industry and culture.

To kick this off – we are starting with our founder Louise Kellerman in the latest installment of ‘5 minutes with…’

Hi Lou,

Congratulations on all you’ve achieved with DA over the last ten years.

A lot of founders talk about their organisation starting with an itch they needed to scratch. Is this true of your journey with DA was there a personal itch that became the catalyst for our community?

It all started back in 2008, with a desire to see some get-togethers geared specifically towards graphic designers in Auckland. I got a bunch of my design friends together casually for a graphic design meet up at Lee Ter Wal design studio where I was working and it snowballed from there into the first DA speaker evening held at AUT in August 2008.

We set-up the website at the same time to promote the speaker evening and to give people a place to comment on the content at the events.

I still have the original email invite out to my design friends, funny reading that now to see where it has come to now, 10 years later!

You have achieved a lot since 2008 – what has been the most significant highlight in running DA?

It’s so hard to pick out one highlight – I think its the overall feeling and feedback from the community that DA is providing them with their tribe, their professional community that shares the same typography and colour obsessions.

The dance-off is a highlight of the year and the DA pub quiz, its an institution now! And it gives me shivers up my spine every time, embodying the spirit of Design Assembly – it’s about people coming together, sharing common experiences, letting their guards down and just having a laugh with (designer) friends.

Another highlight has been just recently with the launch of DA Women In Design evenings in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. We have seen overwhelming support of this event format and meeting the needs and wants of this sub-group of the overall community.

All I ever wanted for Design Assembly was to become the community that myself as a 21-year-old female design graduate craved. In the peer-to-peer relationships that are supportive, encouraging and uplifting through to the mentoring relationships that form between all of the different people that come together and hopefully lead to working relationships and lasting friendships.

I get a buzz out of connecting people in this way and enjoy watching them go forward to do awesome things together.

How has your vision for DA evolved since the organisation began?

The idea was seeded at a time that I had been working as a designer for around ten years and was questioning if I wanted to continue to progress from designer to designer director. I still had and have a love for design but this was an opportunity to have a crack at a big idea and realise my true passion for connection – connecting ideas and connecting people.

It sparked something in me that at its core overlapped my skills, my passion and presented an opportunity. People were calling out for connection and so Design Assembly was born.

Over time it evolved from being an Auckland based to serving the community nationally, the website has taken on a life of its own and the events are a regular feature throughout the year in Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, Wellington and Christchurch.

The vision for Design Assembly has kept evolving – To be the home of NZ visual design. But still in its roots remain three pillars – to share ideas, information and inspiration.

You recently undertook some co-design workshops and studio interviews with our community to help reshape DA. What did you learn from New Zealand’s visual designers during that exercise and how will it inform Design Assembly going forward?

We want to hear from each other and share the common challenges of being a designer, growing our practices and figuring out how to make a living. Living with a holistic lens – how can we support everyone on their individual pathways, celebrate the diversity of New Zealand visual design and encourage young and emerging designers to tell their story and be able to see themselves in the DA community.

What is the most critical issues facing visual designers in NZ today and how does DA support designers with these challenges?

a. The value of diversity and inclusion within our studios. DA’s values are:

  • INCLUSIVITY Everyone is welcome at every age and stage.
  • DIVERSITY We want to inspire every visual designer on their individual journey.
  • SAFETY Design Assembly provides a safe and positive environment to share knowledge, experiences and challenges.
  • CELEBRATION Showcasing, sharing and celebrating NZ visual design in all its diversity.
  • COMMUNITY Design Assembly provides unique opportunities for visual designers to connect with and support each other


b. Women in leadership roles within our studios and community

  • DA provides opportunities for women in design to be profiled, share their stories and come together


c. The impact of design and our design decisions on the planet and our responsibility to consider this.

  • Design Assembly provides opportunities to share knowledge, experiences and challenges around this specific issue and work together to create a plan of action that we can commit to as a profession.


What do you hope for our design community in the future?

  • We value everyone and each other
  • Diverse and inclusive design teams becoming the norm.
  • Female and Male designers are supported on their individual career & life journey’s


We are strongest when we work with the people at the back and move forward with them, supporting them from behind and cheering them on – in this way, we all reach the finish line – together.

We need to get better at working together and supporting all the different views and approaches to living in this world. We will be stronger, healthier and richer living in this way. It’s time to look at the world through many lenses.

This month DA will launch a new campaign outlining the benefits to people becoming a DA friend. Can you tell us a little about how our friends enable us to grow as an organisation and why this initiative is so critical to DA’s future?

The support of designers and design studios genuinely helps to keep DA going and growing. DA operates as a social enterprise and the people behind it do so much of it for the love of the community.

If we can get the design masses behind DA as DA Friends, we will realise the dream of being a sustainable community and go on to do all the crazy big ideas that we have waiting in the wings – the power is in your hands to co-create the Design Assembly community you want to be a part of!

I want Design Assembly to be here in 20 years, 30 years and beyond – serving the community, its needs and wants and moving and bending to where the future takes us.

Keen to go deeper? In the spirit of looking backwards here is a fantastic interview with Lou on DA’s establishment from November 2008.


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