Preserving a cultural moment in time Back to Discussion
K2 2kx3k RGB

19 May 2021

Published by
Kate McGuinness

Seen through design artefacts and the kōrero around them, Kātoitoi preserves the collective feelings of Aotearoa in the year 2020 and brings other people into that space to experience it.

Designers have an innate ability to capture feeling, and this archive will forever preserve our collective feelings in 2020.

Kātoitoi sits as a repository of our society’s shared memory and the pieces within it encapsulate something that statistics and factual events cannot, how it felt to exist in Aotearoa at a particular moment in time.

Kātoitoi gathers kōrero around the submitted work and provides a space for discourse. This is a place for fruitful wānanga and exchange.

We are a diverse nation with different lived experiences and perspectives. How we consume design media, our behaviours and attitudes are unique, yet, in 2020, there was an urgent need to forge connections and embrace a sense of shared humanity.

Whilst Kātoitoi’s artefacts come with their own personal stories, the collective paints a broader picture about our design community and the society we live in. This 2020 selection encapsulates some of the resonant cultural messages and themes in our design approach.

Design that promotes cross-cultural understanding

Similar to other creative expressions, design can operate as a universal language, breaking down cultural barriers through shared understanding of expressions. Design can also go one step further as a tool in impacting how individuals relate to different cultures, encouraging deeper understanding and respect for the beliefs and traditions of others. Here in Aotearoa, we are seeing a more conscious movement towards bicultural and multicultural design processes, and though we still have some way to go, archive submissions reveal bold steps forward.

As our population engages with the increased visibility of te reo Māori, a bigger power is at play - questioning the dominant narrative that we’ve lived with for so long and taking the steps to decolonise our thinking. In reflecting on my own limited education of Te Ao Māori, I believe myself, along with other Pākehā can actively continue along the learning journey of what it means to live in a bi-cultural society, particularly as designers. The relationship between visual language and te reo within design provides us with opportunities for personal and wider social understanding. The design industry has the potential to set a new benchmark, and strong leadership from our designers enables the flow of cross-cultural knowledge to touch our broader community.

Maungawhau 05

A sensitive and collaborative approach to a design brief is seen in Isthmus Group’s Maungawhau Tihia physical walking experience ‘on the ancestral volcanic crater of Maungawhau’ - a wāhi tapu space. The designers explain, “Maungawhau / Mount Eden carries ‘historical, cultural, and spiritual significance to the Mana Whenua iwi/hapū of Tāmaki Makaurau. Inhabited since 1200AD, the iconic pā site (defensive settlement) needed to accommodate the growing pressures of tourism whilst repairing eroded tracks, geological features and restoring the culture and mana of the maunga.” The walkway’s physical design allows users into a narrative that they may not have encountered before. “It was an opportunity to be minimal with materiality and reduce the footprint of its structure as much as possible.” The response achieves this by “subtly blending built form into the volcanic crater rim a physical connection to our inherent relationship with tangata and whenua.” There is a sense of respect for the landscape and its rich history, culminating in a design that acknowledges mātauranga Māori and its natural link to the landscape.

Narratives of history can influence the way that you see and appreciate the world. Studio Fly’s Ngā Mata A Te Ariki A Tāwhirimātea is a self-driven project designed to engage audiences through creative storytelling about Matariki, the Māori new year. The digital campaign enables a deeper understanding of mātauranga Māori and tikanga Māori (Māori cultural knowledge and customs) and teaches users how to ‘gain renewal, reflection and reconnection’. Shared kōrero through different mediums and channels reached diverse groups.

Design that encourages a sense of belonging

With the onset of a global pandemic, the physical limitations of social distancing seem to have been a catalyst for more raw, honest, and human design. The archive captures a sense of vulnerability through work intended to forge a deep connection between audience and the message. The social and emotional impacts caused by the global health crisis opened many of us up to new ways of seeing. In sharing a common anxiety, we saw and treated one another in more empathic ways, something that we have perhaps struggled with before.

Toby Manhire and Siouxsie Wiles’ COVID-19 communications for The Spinoff proved a dynamic force. Their humorous and approachable treatment of serious information helped to alleviate anxieties during a scary time. There was fear amongst our population, but also comfort in having a shared experience. This illustrated project helped us feel connected across a physically distanced expanse.

08 Diary

Likewise, Rush’s NZ COVID tracer App worked to encourage a sense of social connectedness, and responsibility to our community. It worked to positively influence the way we interacted with one another.

2020 Lockdown Zine014

Design that helps us to make sense of our world

Sometimes we can’t find the words to articulate how we are feeling in the way a design experience can. When design resonates, there is the power to generate empathy, encourage dialogue, reflection and explore new relationships and ideas. 2020 gave us pause to consider how we relate to other people.

Otago Polytechnic’s year One Communication Design programme looked at how design can bring people together at a difficult time to connect and share their stories. The playful student project, Lockdown Zines, deals with everyday experiences of isolation. Students could navigate their way through confusing and challenging feelings and creatively articulate their lived experience.

Sam Fraser Covid 19 3
Sam Fraser Covid 19 6

In a different vein, Sam Fraser’s Covid-19 publication responds to the significance of numbers through pandemic reporting. It is a personal, reflective project that attempts to make sense of the abundance of numbers that dominated our lives during lockdown and challenges the reader to consider how these numbers impacted their daily life too.

AR Heni 02

Design that listens

The archive shies away from traditional concepts of elite design and instead, gathers a diverse cross-section of participants, outputs and kaupapa. It’s a democratic approach to collecting narratives and considers how to make diverse experiences visible.

In a project that involves listening to different stories and sharing these experiences with a broader audience, McCarthy’s poster campaign ‘More than Alright?’ sheds a light on the diversity of Aotearoa’s rainbow community. Rich photography tells a personal story and encourages us to respect the many different identities within our community.

Kātoitoi HPA Perinatal 1

Authentic dialogue involves the ability to respect another’s point of view. To live beyond the confines of our comfort zone and open ourselves to something else. Mai te whai-ao ki te ao mārama, by the Innovation Unit provides a resource that brings “... mother’s stories to life in a human-centred, engaging, and accessible way, the insights would be used by others in the perinatal sector to consider how they too might better support māmā and whānau through this time.”

AM 05

Another project that invites diverse voices is the Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi, designed by McCarthy. This national campaign called for artists and the wider public to share their definition of what ‘Art Is…’. The open-ended question called the public to be heard and consider what Te Tumu Toi means for Aotearoa

Kupu digital hero

Design that understands the power of collaboration

Whilst we were ‘bubbling up’, design wasn’t. On some level, we are always collaborating. When we recognise how intentional collaboration leads to better outcomes, we see some very powerful design examples.

Kōrero that reads alongside submissions provides a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the participation and purpose within each the design process. It shows how a range of voices can change the entire direction of a project. Collaboration feels like a form of exploration where new partnerships create different dynamics and lead to fresh output. The archive includes examples of collaboration with cultural experts; more crucial than simply design by consultation.

Colenso BBDO’s Kupu app offers a Te Reo lens to interpret our environment. Launched at the start of 2020 Māori Language Week Kupu “combines Google’s Cloud Vision and Translate API’s, along with Te Aka Māori dictionary data, to give the Māori translation for photos you take on your phone.” The scope of the project was big and a collaborative group worked hard to create an immersive visual and auditory experience for learners. Creators expressed that, “working with our cultural partners Te Ipukarea, the visual design language not only has relevance to Māori but enhances the overall experience.”

When design questions who gets to bring their personal experience and wisdom to the table this leads to more thoughtful and impactful work.

Kātoitoi Page 06

On a grassroots level, Stone Soup is a publication that is shared, co-created, crowd-funded and community-oriented. The project seeks to shed light on stories often misrepresented or absent from the mainstream. The latest copy, Volume 11, looks towards the future with voices expressing the world they want to create. The producers: designers, writers and creatives all provide their time and talents as koha, enabling the magazine to be gifted at no cost to the audience. The model encourages readers to pay that forward into the world or loop back around and support the magazine financially.

The kaupapa of Stone Soup is generosity, sharing, whanaungatanga. It’s a refreshing example of what strong collaboration can achieve.

Mate Act Now Campaign katoitoi V12

Design that unites with global movements

Global movements infiltrate our digital and physical worlds and communication has the power to steer us into productive discourse around racial inequity, environmentalism, and social divide.

Historically, designers and communicators have been gatekeepers of sorts, filtering messages through a specific lens. Digital platforms have opened the gates to the democratisation of design, with individuals and small groups of local creatives having more agency to share their thoughts on global and domestic issues. Design is a conduit for channeling information and concepts through creative expression, and designers recognise that our attitudes are not fixed, but quite malleable. Kātoitoi showcases graphic activism that speaks with integrity and it’s resonating with audiences here and overseas.

Mate Act Now: The Protest illustrates how designers are coming together to address climate change and attempts to carve out a way forward through effective digital communication. Their website platform states, “Design by itself can't affect change but people can — they just need to be empowered and have the intention to act.” During the pandemic, crowds couldn’t take to the streets to protest, so the team behind the initiative called for designers to use their digital voices to spread the cause. The campaign reached a global audience of over seven million people, raised funds for the Australian Bushfire Relief fund and planted trees for the Eden Reforestation Project.

VOR interactive button red pink mouth

Commissioned by The NZ Human Rights Commission, Clemenger BBDO’s Voice of Racism uses audio to expose the subtle but incessant racism experienced by people living in New Zealand. ‘The campaign was designed to help those who don’t experience it to understand and ‘feel’ the impact...’ The audio plays hundreds of real, racially charged comments so the listener is exposed to the constant hostility so many experience. The designed digital experience is being used as a powerful learning tool in the fields of education, businesses, sport, media and government.

The artefacts of the Kātoitoi archive present a unique story of what communication looked like in Aotearoa in 2020, and sheds light on creative stories that audiences might not hear otherwise.

This archive tells a story of a moment in time but also a culture moving forward. Kātoitoi’s collection signals a new direction for us as designers and New Zealanders. As we search for connections to anchor ourselves and our collective identity, we are part of the evolving cultural journey so intrinsic to design.

This essay by Kate McGuinness and illustration by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White is part of a commissioned series of essays, interviews and artworks commissioned by Creative New Zealand for our 2020 pilot of the Aotearoa Design Archive.

Creative NZ