Under the hood with Te Kani Price | Design & Te Ao Māori

1 week ago by

For June & July we are focusing on Design & Te Ao Māori on the Design Assembly website – featuring interviews with Māori designers, project features spotlighting their work & design processes, to thought leadership articles that inspire and challenge the Aotearoa NZ Design community. Ahead of our Under the Hood Design & Te Ao Māori online event happening on 17 July, we briefly chatted with one of our featured speakers Te Kani Price, Creative Director at Huia.


Kia ora!

Ko Te Kani taku ingoa

Ko Mākeo te maunga

Ko Waiaua te awa

Ko Ōmarumutu te marae

Ko Tūtāmure te whare tīpuna

Ko Hine-i-kauia te wharekai

Ko Te Whakatōhea te iwi

Can you share a little about the path you took to get to where you’re at now as the creative director at HUIA.

I originally studied at Shillington in Melbourne and spent a few years over there freelancing and cutting my teeth as a junior designer. Two things happened during those years: I began to see the power and ability of creativity and storytelling able to serve my own people and I got homesick for the ahua of Aotearoa.

I was lucky to have an opportunity at HUIA come up in my inbox at the right time, and I have been there coming up 10 years now. Being a small team and kaupapa-Māori driven, my experiences exploded from there culturally, professionally, you name it. In the commercial book publishing world, I will work on between 30 and 40 book covers, marketing campaigns and internal layouts, and beyond that the work that we get involved with now covers digital design, branding, and video and audio content. As long as there’s a te ao Māori perspective, we’re interested.

These projects sharpened my creative eye and helped flesh out my role as a designer in a variety of Kaupapa, and for the last five years, my work has been pointed at developing designers and illustrators coming through. Every day, being involved in both the serious and silly keeps the fire and ambition there for me to create worlds far beyond our backyard.

What project will you be presenting at Under the Hood?

I’ll be presenting a pair of illustrated books. The first, Hineraukatauri by Elizabeth Gray and Illustrated by Rehua Wilson, is a te reo Māori only story created in conjunction with Haumanu Collective, illustrating the narrative of Hineraukatauri being gifted the individual components of music as they find their voice. The second, Dazzlehands, written by Sacha Cotter and illustrated by Josh Morgan follows the same musical thread in a completely different direction – a disco-obsessed pig slowly but surely influences all his colleagues on the farm to let their freak flag fly.

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

Both of the projects presented a challenge in that their narratives weren’t completely linear or all encompassing. Oftentimes, this is the case. The language of Hineraukatauri was poetic and relied on the illustrations to fill in the gaps between the lines; the narrative is set against the backdrop of light entering into the world at the same time. Dazzlehands came with a very simple premise and required motive, subplot and an overall ‘vibe’ to be woven in to the fabric of the product, again relying on the illustrations to present a different story than what was written.

Learning to balance the pace of minimalism and maximalism in the stories in a way that complemented the wairua of the story was a difficult task. It required a building of pattern and story alongside the pūrakau to allow readers to be immersed in the tale.

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

Trusting in the parameters you’ve built into the project and allowing the threads of the stories grip you sets the scene for you. It’s liberating and feels like getting out of your own way. Following that, you’re able to throw caution to the wind and dive head first into the rabbit hole; the words come alive and the characters take on new dimensions, and the design and storytelling became far more intuitive.

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

2025 is shaping up to be a monster! I’m working on the follow-up to Dazzlehands, a story about how a father and son confront their emotions. I’m also working on a few mental health resources for teachers underpinned by pūrākau in various regions, which is keeping me on my toes. And of course, preparing for Te Matatini in 2025!

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

Designing with manaakitanga has been my primary pursuit. Service to the story, the audience – the design of products and content should feel inviting, nourish the audience and forge strong relationships between them and the narrative. In your design, you set up the whare, set the table as it were, and you treat the projects with equal parts reverence and confidence.

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

Completely non-creative outside of the Monday to Friday, I’m afraid! Spending time in the taiao or the kitchen is my happy place.

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

Sky’s the limit. As te ao Māori changes, so too does our workload. With different conversations and mātauranga being front and centre at the moment, there’s so much variety and scale for Māori voices and lenses not only nationally but on the global stage. I want to have a tutu in wherever that path goes.

Check us out on huia.co.nz  


About Te Kani:

Te Kani Price | (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Whakatōhea) is a Creative Director at HUIA Publishers. Delivering daring design concepts the bring an authentically Aotearoa perspective with manaakitanga at its root. Te Kani has spent the last decade creating glittery covers, and creating content in Māori and English for Te Whatu Ora, The Ministry of Education and Te Matatini.

Register to attend the live Under the Hood Design & Te Ao Māori webinar on 17 July.

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