This series profiles the best and brightest designers in Aotearoa’s in-house design studios, this week we spoke with Katharina Di Lena at The Wairoa District Council. Katharina’s work (and her admirable hobbies) serve her community and is scaffolded by the New Zealand landscape and culture.
Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you’re at now?
Ever since I was about 16 years old I have been interested in a career as a graphic designer but never thought I could do it or that I was talented enough. Because of that I didn’t actively pursue a career as graphic designer and started studying towards a Bachelor’s degree in media and communications consulting. In my last semester I had to do an internship as part of a comms team, which I did in the sunny Hawke’s Bay. During my internship I had the chance to get a foot into the door as a graphic designer at the Wairoa District Council. They didn’t have a graphic designer back then and I was able to build up the visual communications team. I am still working there full time now.
Did you grow up in the Hawkes bay (and if not what lead you there)?
I’m originally from Austria and grew up close to Vienna. I came to New Zealand in early 2015 for an internship that was supposed to last 4 months. Now, 4.5 years later I’m still here, working as a full time graphic designer and couldn’t think of a better place to live and work.
What is the creative scene like locally?
Wairoa is a pretty small rural town but there are lots of creative people around here. The locals are so talented, be it in music, arts, weaving – it is a very supportive and nurturing environment and I’m lucky to be part of this community. If I hadn’t come to Wairoa I probably wouldn’t have ended up living my dream and working as a Graphic Designer. It feels like anything is possible here.
What does a typical day at Wairoa District Council look like for you?
There isn’t really a typical day per se for me at the Wairoa District Council. We are a very small team so I’m not just doing graphic design but also communications, social media and website management. This is great because I never have two days that are exactly the same – it’s keeping things interesting.
One day I might work on a design for street flags, on another day I might design a website and on yet another day I might be doing more communications type work, planning and implementing a communications campaign across different types of media.
I love doing a wide range of different tasks as it gives me exposure to so many different design disciplines and is a great way of gaining experience. I get to work on projects that I probably wouldn’t get exposed to if I was working somewhere different. For example I got to do some design work for the over-haul of our community engagement caravan and our tourism information building which I absolutely loved.
I also get to work with local community groups and businesses to develop their branding and advertising collateral, which again is giving me exposure to a whole different set of expectations and goals.
I definitely never get bored with this wide range tasks.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on a new design for the Gaiety Theatre website, which is our local cinema. I’m also working on street flags, photos for a magazine, the design of a giftbox, some communications campaigns and some other website projects – I’m definitely not getting bored. 😀
Do you have a campaign or project you’re particularly proud of?
I’m especially proud of the design for our Wairoa District Council website. We re-designed the template and functionality of our website over the last year. It was a huge project and a big team effort to get the functionality just right in order to provide the best user experience possible, but looking at it now I’m quite proud of our achievements.
I’m also very passionate about the work that I’ve done for our tourism information centre which included the design of their website, tourism maps and the production of content, photography and the design of tourism brochures.
How much of your work is internal (supporting the Councillors and your colleagues) vs external (public) focused?
I’d say the majority of my work is externally focused with a lot of work going into designing for digital but also print and various other mixed media projects. Most of the internal work is done by my team member.
A few years ago Council adopted a new Visual Identity which includes textures, colours and fonts. This is great to have to ensure consistency in our visual communications, but there are constant little adjustments necessary to keep the identity up to date and to make sure it is still an effective tool for achieving our goals.
How does the New Zealand culture shape your ideas on design?
The majority of the local community is Māori and everything is very much influenced and shaped by the Māori culture and traditions. Most of the designs that I work on contain traditional Māori elements as I really want my designs to work for this community. There is so much you can learn from traditional art, no matter what country you are in. I find it impressive how traditional art can give you an immediate understanding of the people, landscapes, plants, sea life etc. I feel honoured to work in this environment that is so strongly influenced by culture and traditions and I hope my work can do it justice.
Outside of work hours what creative projects or hobbies are you involved with?
I like doing a bit of DIY. At the moment I’m working on building a blanket box out of old pallets, let’s see how that turns out 😀
I’m very active and love the outdoors. There’s nothing better than enjoying the outdoors to clear your head and make room for new ideas.
I’m also part of the urban volunteer fire brigade which takes up a bit of my time, but it’s very rewarding and an awesome team environment.
Do you have any other advice for designers who aspire to follow a similar path as yours?
Don’t ever doubt yourself, no one is born perfect and I believe that you can achieve anything if you just set your mind to it and work hard. Embrace your point of difference and don’t let anyone tell you that you are not talented enough or that you can’t do it! Have a go at whatever it is you feel passionate about and see how you go. You’ll learn so much along the way that you can later be proud of.