5 mins with Hika Taewa, Senior Designer at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa

11 months ago by

Design Assembly loves to profile the breadth and depth of design practice in Aotearoa. For July we’re celebrating Māori design, designers, and illustrators. 


Ko Tongariro te maunga
Ko Taupō-nui-a-Tia te moana
Ko Ngāti Tūwharetoa te iwi
Ko Te Arawa te waka
Ko Tokaanu te marae
Ko Ngāti Kurauia te hapū
Ko Te Heuheu te tangata
He uri hoki ahau nō Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe, me Ngāpuhi.
Ko Hikarāhui Taewa tōku ingoa.
What or who were your early creative influences?

Growing up, creativity flowed through my whānau. One side of the whānau delved into the realm of music, whether it was playing instruments, being part of bands, or kapahaka. And the other half embraced the artistic side of expression, and some even dabbled in both. As the youngest of seven kids, it was natural for me to be drawn towards the artistic pursuits and learn and observe from my older artistic brothers.

Among them, one brother has become a skilled carver, while the other honed his skills into graphic design as well, and more recently carving. Additionally, during my school years at Te Aute college, I was lucky to be surrounded by mātanga Toi and mentors, close friends who shared a passion for the arts, and an environment where art and Toi Māori was encouraged.

Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you’re at now?

It was probably a little bit different to most. Even though I had a deep passion for the arts growing up, I still regarded it more as a hobby rather than a viable career path. And because I was pretty good in the other core subjects at school, I felt compelled to explore a different avenue and opted to do a Business degree. Also, the thought of ‘drawing pretty pictures’ for a living wasn’t too appealing to me at the time.

Anyhow, it wasn’t until a big turning point in my final year when I attended my brother’s graduation and year-end design exhibition at Wanganui School of Design. In that moment I was inspired by all the students’ mahi and realised the potential of delving into the world of graphic design. And it was clear that this field would allow me to throw both my analytical and creative abilities into one.

As a result, I ended up completing my business degree at Waikato University, followed by three intense years studying Computer Graphic Design. It was during this time that I realised a lack of resources and exposure to high-quality Māori graphic design within the industry was apparent. I then recognised a genuine need for ‘Māori-centric’ design, and saw the value that our beautiful patterns, motifs, narratives, and kōrero can have within this space. So I then made it my mission to dedicate myself to continual growth and advancement in this field of mahi.

And since then, for the past  14 years, I’ve been able to add my 5 cents into the NZ and Māori creative industry, working on projects for people and organisations who require authentic Māori design and animation. And I’m lucky I’ve been able to work on a variety of projects like; small and large scale re-brands, marketing campaigns, national events like Matariki and Te Matatini, animation projects, educational resources, Illustration, and even some App work.

Do you have a project that is memorable because it challenged you, if so what lessons did you learn from that work?

It wasn’t a huge scale project, but two years ago I set out to create a Typeface. I got the idea from another designer mate of ours, Nikki Kennedy (owner of Taputapu Toi) who did her Masters in Māori Typography and presented it to our team. And after the learning I gained from her korero and her thesis, it inspired me to create one of my own. Typography hasn’t always been a big strength of mine, so I saw this as a big, but exciting challenge for me to take on. And with the blessing of my boss, away I went, to create a new brand typeface exclusively for our organisation and our brand materials. I wanted to create a typeface that had to have a strong Māori essence to it, therefore, ‘look’ and ‘feel’ Māori, but at the same time, easily readable and legible too. Another thing I wanted to incorporate was the use of Māori orthographic ligatures ‘Wh’ and ‘Ng’ into the typeface to not only give these consonant sounds their own distinct identity and mana, but as a bonus, to also help inform the reader that these ligatures imply a different sound.

So in the end, we created the typeface ‘Aho’.

How do you mix things up and foster innovation in your work?

That’s what I love about working in an industry that’s constantly evolving. What particularly excites me is that my mahi is deeply rooted in te ao Māori, and embracing a Māori worldview. And in this unique context, there isn’t a wealth of resources or established norms in ‘Māori design’. So, in a way, I feel like this has presented us with the opportunity to be somewhat leaders and trailblazers in this field. And with that, I feel comes a responsibility to establish and uphold a high standard for authentic Māori Design, and continue to grow and be innovative in that space.

More recently, our team has been head down in the AI space, using tools like Midjourney, ChatGPT, and the updated AI Adobe tools to continue to innovate, help with our design process, and alleviate a lot of tasks and labour that would normally take up time. AI has definitely been an interesting space to work in, and we’re still figuring out the process to navigate in this space that is still authentic with our design practice, and consistent with our tikanga and values. So watch this space!

Animation of the story of: Ngā mata o te ariki, o Tāwhirimātea: The eyes of the god, Tāwhirimātea
Finally, where can we see more of your work and connect with you?

Email: hika.taewa@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://nz.linkedin.com/in/hika-taewa-17a8644b


New around here? Consider joining the fam as a DA Friend for 2023.

We have membership types for all size designers – from the student through to large studios. Your DA membership helps to support the Aotearoa design community and gives you discounts to our workshops and events along with profiling opportunities throughout the year.

Meet our Friends . . . Diadem

Design Assembly loves to profile the breadth and depth of design practice in Aotearoa. For July we’re celebrating Māori design, designers, and illustrators.  Ko Tongariro te maunga Ko Taupō-nui-a-Tia te […]

11 months ago by

Under the Hood with Steve Hansen & Gareth Rice, Special Group

Design Assembly loves to profile the breadth and depth of design practice in Aotearoa. For July we’re celebrating Māori design, designers, and illustrators.  Ko Tongariro te maunga Ko Taupō-nui-a-Tia te […]

11 months ago by

Under the Hood, Design & AI... with Ben Forman

Design Assembly loves to profile the breadth and depth of design practice in Aotearoa. For July we’re celebrating Māori design, designers, and illustrators.  Ko Tongariro te maunga Ko Taupō-nui-a-Tia te […]

11 months ago by

Under the hood with ...Emma East, Design Director at Q Brand Builders

Design Assembly loves to profile the breadth and depth of design practice in Aotearoa. For July we’re celebrating Māori design, designers, and illustrators.  Ko Tongariro te maunga Ko Taupō-nui-a-Tia te […]

11 months ago by