Women in Design — Kathryn Cunningham, Designworks Business Director

1 year ago by

Can you tell us about your career milestones and creative journey so far?

I’m very lucky to work in such a diverse role within New Zealand’s best design agency so the creative journey and the milestones are constant and ever-changing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been at Designworks six years and still feel like I have everything to learn so the journey definitely continues.

What were your first years industry like, and when did you begin to feel more confident in your work?

I fell into design from a career built-in event management. I was petrified at first, with no understanding of the language people in the studio and client used – I’m still not sure I understand some things (acronyms are my nemesis).

I was lucky enough to work from the start with Designworks and Air New Zealand on the 2014 identity refresh and they were all patient with me while I came up to speed. Once we got through that my confidence started growing.

I still have a lot to learn but our executive creative director has always told me to find my own path in a way that’s true to me to achieve next steps and goals, so I remember that when I need a boost.

What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?

Not to sound like an a** but there’s so many! I’m still blown away by the work that comes out of Designworks and get a sense of pride in every piece of work we do big or small.

I’m really proud to have worked with Air New Zealand over the last six years – which has meant getting to be part of some of the most amazing projects but also personally to work with a client over so many years and be part of the journey of the brand and its people.

The below link shows some of the work we’ve been part of on that journey:


Tiaki – Care for New Zealand is a more recent project I’m very proud to be a part of that has been a beautiful mesh of a number of stakeholders coming together for the better good.

The project was lucky enough to win a purple pin at the recent Best Awards in the Public Good category and it’s been exciting to see the Tiaki Care for New Zealand platform starting to influence and make change. https://tiakinewzealand.com

I also have a few I can’t talk about but would love to if I could! And I have an on again off again relationship with the Designworks Client Christmas Gift – we are definitely our own toughest client.


What does your typical work day look like as Business Director at DesignWorks? 

There’s no such thing as a typical day! Which is just how I like it. But there will be a healthy mix of caffeine, internal meetings, client meetings/presentations, something financial, something just for fun, some healthy conversation, some beautiful work and quite possibly a visit to the biscuit jar.

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

Probably packing up ten years of event management to move into the brand experience area. There were lots of synergies in terms of the role but it was still really scary. Luckily it was the best decision and I’ve never looked back – and I’m forever grateful to my friend who suggested I go for it.

What is unique to the female design experience that no one talks about but should?

I think all people in this industry not just females, are incredibly lucky with the exposure and input we get to have across multiple touchpoints of the world.

The breadth and spread of not only the disciplines we work in, but also the different clients we get to work with and the role they are playing in the world is vast. Not everyone is that lucky in their career.

We can also tell stories and affect societal change in a really profound way and that’s something people often don’t talk about when they’re in the detail of deadlines and deliverables.

What does career/creative success look like to you?

Some great client service champions snapping at mine and industry colleague’s heels would be the ultimate success to me. It would show the role we play is a credible and impactful career – and also a bit of competition isn’t a bad thing!

Also having a strong talent pool wanting to be part of Designworks in any part of the business – to help influence the culture and bring diverse thinking to the future of our business and also the industry as a whole.

To steal a great quote I heard at an event last week – “we are all equal, but also all unique”

How do you find balance between work and life?

The morning is usually chaos as I try and get two small children out of the house – so there’s a lot of caffeine in the morning and chocolate in the afternoon. Sometimes wine. (Balance).

I have great flexibility at Designworks and it means I can manage the balance as I need to – and that in turn creates the best from me at work and at home so I don’t feel like I’m compromising, but thriving.

Everyone has a life outside of work, children or not, so it’s important to find that sweet spot that works for you, understanding that sometimes it’s just really busy and you’ve got to do what needs to be done. Then the balance aligns again.

Also coffee and wine (balance)


Is their a female in New Zealand’s Design field you admire that you would like to see profiled in this series? We would love to hear from you – email nicole@designassembly.org.nz

*(DA’s defines female as anyone who identifies herself as such).


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