In Kōrero with… Kātoitoi cofounders, Louise Kellerman and Nicole Arnett Phillips
Growing an archive – by and for the community
Lou and Nicole, can you tell us about your backgrounds and how you came to work together?
Although Nicole and I both studied a Bachelor of Graphic Design at AUT, I really met Nicole through TypographHer. I thought it would be good for her to run some typography workshops here in New Zealand so I brought her over from Australia.
When Nicole moved back to New Zealand, I was actually looking for a new content and marketing person and Nicole raised her hand. With Nicole’s background in design and writing, it seemed like a good fit.
Nicole: My background is in visual design. I have worked in New Zealand, the US, UK and Australia in the urban design, publishing, and fashion industries. I love the design disciplines; but halfway into my career, I was burnt out. Design for clients was my only creative outlet and I recognised that wasn’t going to be a sustainable option for me longterm.
In 2013 I created TypographHer as a way to experiment, research and produce outside of commercial constraints. I became more and more interested in the research and writing surrounding design practice and refocussed my career towards communications.
I had already been collaborating with Lou; teaching, running workshops, and producing content for DA. So, in late 2018 when she needed someone to assist with the writing and marketing it was a great opportunity to build on that existing collaboration and growing friendship. I began freelancing for DA 10-16 hours per week.
How did your collaboration evolve to you cofounding the archive?
Nicole: I think our strengths and weaknesses complement one another. I admire Lou’s business acumen, ideation and emotional intelligence. I’m grateful to be in partnership with her on this.
What sparked the idea for an Aotearoa design archive?
One of the resounding messages that came out of the research and conversations had, were that people wanted more discourse and contextualisation of work beyond an inspirational showcase. Our audience wanted more insights from the designers, something robust and at a higher level than what was being produced elsewhere.
Whilst DA has been doing a great job of profiling NZ design work since 2008, the organisation only has a limited amount of funding that can be invested in the research and writing component. The industry was asking for it and we had a desire to do it. So we started to look at what was happening overseas, to the research-led, robust design archive projects happening and realised that our industry is at a scale and our practice is at a maturity to need and support a project like this.
Why hasn’t an archive existed until now?
How did Kātoitoi evolve? Describe the journey from concept to fruition.
Johnson McKay and Karl Wixon worked to come up with the name Kātoitoi – an amazing gift – as it’s also a bird. From there, Johnson, Nicole and Elliot Stansfield from Studio South finalised the wordmark. The Studio South team rolled it out into a campaign, and Paul and Leo at New Territory produced the backend for the site.
I hadn’t worked on a website project in a long time but the team were 120% committed to it in terms of their enthusiasm and belief. Everyone went above and beyond in terms of their workload. We can’t help ourselves but move beyond our funded budget and this blew out the timeframes. Nicole designed the criteria for review and worked with the review team to aggregate what they had found. The final collection was distilled to 100 pieces.
Nicole: It’s important to note that all of these things were happening concurrently. It was complex orchestrating all of the different players, feeding and informing the project at the same time.
What you see on the website is only 10% of the work because have futureproofed the database. We have all the submissions data. There is some really rich insight with demographic, regional and production information, which can be a source for research going forward. As we move out of the pilot stage, if funding allows, the infrastructure has been done for the archive to grow.
What are the benefits of working with such a diverse team?
Nicole: We could not have achieved Kātoitoi through only Louise and my perspectives; we are only a small part of the community. Through diverse age, ability, culture, and gender representation – this is what makes the archive reflective and hopefully useful to people outside of our own demographic. New Zealand’s community needs a broader range of perspectives shaping the project. This is what makes our archive unique.
How does the process of archiving work?
Lou: Because this is a pilot, we are putting a stake in the ground for people to respond to. Potentially, the next step of Kātoitoi’s journey is to work with trained archivists and curators. Nicole has conducted a great deal of research and invested time in setting up an initial framework and I am sure that will be iterated in a collective, co-design, community manner.
Nicole: Yes! We have a database of archivists and curators in New Zealand on our wishlist and if we have enough momentum, trajectory and budget, in the future these are people we’d love to contribute to the archive, but still, the community lead democratic approach is critical to our kaupapa.
How did you establish a criteria for the review panel?
In selecting panellists, our guiding principle was diversity. Just as multiple voices were important in shaping the project, so were multiple voices shaping the collection and feeding into the review responses. We chose people with a broad range of professional skills, from regions throughout New Zealand (Northland to Otago); we have a mixed-ability, age, gender and culturally diverse panel. It was about getting diversity so that we had representation across what the New Zealand design community looks like.
In terms of submission categories, what led the team to include kaupapa alongside output?
The Wananga section is a unique aspect of this archive. Tell us about it.
How did you decide on the submission cost?
What insights can we gain from looking at the archive as a whole?
Nicole: As a resource, it will only become more telling year on year as you start to draw comparisons between one body of work and another, and by mapping shifts as they evolve over time. In terms of this capsule, there were 215 pieces submitted and we have archived 100 pieces. Within those 100 pieces, I think that there is an interesting conversation about the reach and impact of Aotearoa design. We are ambitious and want to make ripples. Whether that is cultural, political, or societal– design has the power to affect change. There are themes around generosity and kindness; the ‘making better’ and doing things for the collective. Perhaps a reflection of COVID and Jacinda asking us all to be kind?! It’s definitely an underlying theme coming through. There’s also trends towards environmental stewardship running throughout the body of work. Even within this 2020 capsule, there are insights and learnings to be had.
How is Kātoitoi different from international design archives?
Nicole: It’s our people, community and culture that makes this difference.
What’s ahead for Kātoitoi?
As cofounders, we see this project as being in service to our community. We want Aotearoa design to own and shape Kātoitoi. We would love to see a physical archive and exhibitions at Toi places, to host discussions about artefacts from different time periods, produce publications, and all of those things are what the community is asking for but that takes time and money, so we need to work out how viable that will be.
Our next step, once we finish the pilot, (and pause to breathe!) is to have an external person carry out a strategic review, seek feedback from our community and stakeholders, which will help inform the trajectory of the project.
Thanks to Creative New Zealand who funded the 2020 Kātoitoi pilot. This interview sits within a series of commissioned essays, interviews, podcasts and artworks to be published over 12 weeks supported by CNZ.