Under the hood with …Nikki Kennedy, Founder of Taputapu

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. 

In this article series we learn more about our Under the Hood event speakers.

Nikki Kennedy will be one of two featured speakers at the July 2023 Online Under The Hood – Māori design & designers

This event is taking place on 19 July and is open for all folks to attend. All registered attendees will receive a link to watch the webinar on demand if they can not make the the live event. Registration is required, DA friends get free tickets to this event.


He mokopuna ahau nō Te Tairawhiti mai i ngā maunga Hikurangi, Makeo me Maunga Haumi. Ko Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga a Mahaki me Te Whakatōhea ngā iwi. Ko Nikki Kennedy ahau.

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

Creativity has flowed through my veins since a young age, manifesting in my curiosity towards various artistic expressions such as painting, music, and piano. During my teenage years, I thrived in subjects like music, fabric, and art. It was in 2006, my final year at Lytton High in Gisborne, that I encountered graphic design for the first time. Witnessing art being created on a computer opened my eyes to a new world, and I vividly remember my friends thriving in it as well. This design class served as the catalyst for my journey into the realm of design.

After high school, I embarked on a path of working with rangatahi while continuing to pursue graphic design for projects such as posters, magazines, and calendars. One day, as I devoted countless hours to creating an end-of-year highlights magazine, I found immense joy in the process. It no longer felt like work to me. In that moment, I realized that if I could engage in design all day, every day, it would be a fulfilling existence where work and passion merge seamlessly. Little did I know that this thought planted the seed for my future, even though I lacked a concrete plan at the time. It was a transformative moment that set me on a course I had yet to envision.

Approximately 12 years later, following my time at The University of Waikato, I emerged with a Bachelor of Media and Creative Technologies, along with a Masters in graphic design. I also established my own creative business called Taputapu. Fast forward to the present, and I find myself running a small creative enterprise, specializing in Māori design, where I have the privilege of designing all day, every day.

What project will you be presenting at Under the Hood?

I will present our Matariki 2023 artwork installation for Sylvia Park that shares the story about Matariki and the nine stars in that cluster. This was a team effort along with my graphic designer Rosa Flood.

What was the most challenging part of the project and what lessons did you draw from it?

The challenging part for me was the tikanga around unveiling or blessing an installation. I haven’t done anything like this at this scale, so for me I was unsure what the tikanga would be. I knew that karakia or karanga would be involved and unfortunately Sylvia Park hadn’t organised anything so it was left up to me and or nothing was going to happen. I was given some advice from an artist friend who then  gave me some suggestions of what to do and I felt ok leading out on that.

Was there an ‘Aha!’ moment in the project when things clicked and fell into place?

The breakthrough moment for me came when I made a profound connection between our concept and a shared experience I had with my friends the previous year. It was a magical morning when we all gathered to view Matariki in the sky. Drawing inspiration from that powerful moment, we decided to centre our design around this extraordinary event. As soon as this idea formed in my mind, everything fell into place.

Now that the project has finished, what are you working on?

Now that the project has finished we will be installing the artwork on Monday 3rd of July and then the public can enjoy our artwork at Sylvia Park. We are working on a variety of brand packages for our clients, that’s our bread and butter mahi. I’m also heading overseas to share about our Matariki artwork at a Thailand Matariki Gala event which is really exciting to be part of. I will be joining other Māori creatives, carvers and fashion designers to talk about how Matariki influences our design mahi and processes etc.

What insights to your methodological approach or philosophy can you share with us?

Tikanga Māori serves as the guiding principle in my approach as a graphic designer and a small business owner. It encompasses the fundamental values of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, and aroha. These values, at their core, revolve around genuinely caring for people, both our staff and clients. Authenticity holds immense significance for us. As Māori designers, we are committed to ensuring that our designs are entirely authentic, avoiding any form of design appropriation or producing work that can be labeled as “tacky.” Upholding these principles allows us to honor our heritage and create meaningful, culturally appropriate designs.

Outside of work hours what creative projects and/or hobbies are you involved with?

Off the screen, I find avenues to express my creativity through fashion and op shopping. Exploring different styles and discovering unique pieces in thrift stores allows me to showcase my individuality. Additionally, I have play around on my cricut machine and a pottery wheel, which provide me with a creative space to bring my ideas to life. Through these tools I craft products that people can incorporate into their homes, adding a touch of creativity and personalization to their living spaces. It brings me joy to create items that serve both aesthetic and practical purposes, enriching the lives of others through my creative endeavours.

And finally, where to next for you? What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?

Moving forward, my plan is to dedicate effort towards developing our other brand, Taputapu Toa, which focuses on Māori homeware products. I aspire to bring both brands, Taputapu Toi and Taputapu Toa, to a consistent and profitable level, ensuring a diversified income stream. Over time, I have learned the importance of not putting all my eggs in one basket when it comes to business ventures. Therefore, I am actively expanding my design skills to cater to this diversification.

In addition to homeware products, I am also excited about releasing a children’s book that features my nephew and his adventures with his beloved mokonui (dinosaurs). I hope to bring these imaginative stories to life and share them with young readers. I am striving to transform my product ideas into tangible realities, aiming for their release in time for the Christmas season.

Follow along with Taputapu:

website: https://www.taputapu.co.nz/

Insta: https://www.instagram.com/taputapu_ltd/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TaputapuLtd

Find out more about the Under The Hood – Māori design & designers event here.

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