Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Groove Book Report:New Zealand By Design: A History of New Zealand Product Design by Michael Smythe (Godwit Press - $65.00)

Right. Let's get this out there. This is not a cheesy book about Kiwiana. That period of cringe has gone. New Zealanders are magical innovators and the creation of manufactured objects and solutions that enhance our environment streches well beyond any No.8 mentality. Accornding to author Michael Smythe, that while the concept of design embraces all the elements of form and function truly great design almost exists un-noticed. In this comprehensive volume he surveys many of the products that have documented the ordinary in our in our society from pre-European times until now. Begining with ingenious Maori tools, traps, lures and weaponry he moves through to pioneer-era inventions, the industrial and agricultural inventions, and entreprenuers like Hayes Machinery and the housewife's friends - Shacklock and Fisher & Paykel (his former employer), to our modern era with products as varied as electric fences, Crown Lynn china and NavMan GPS.

There are so many cool, brainy and quite frankly gutsy approaches to the design and manufacture of local products. Smythe, in a recent interview, summed it up by suggesting when a Kiwi is asked to make a product on par with an international label that inventive lil' bird thinks harder and broader. Kiwis are just not content to reproduce facsimilies of existing products they RE-INVENT, with bells on, to suit their own dreams and aspirations. Smythes book is abundant with examples such as Shacklock's response to overseas examples of coal ranges. These units not only burnt poorly and were not suited to NZ's coal supplies but were cumbersome to install. Shacklock chose to re-design, building a coal range that ran on local coal AND had it's own flu system allowing it to be installed any where without the need to fit to an existing fireplace. Years later Shacklock was saved by the great f&p who, out of a doomed Dunedin factory, invented the energy and water saving dish draw units we all have for our dirty dishes. And there are thousands more examples.

Smythe's mandate was 'designed by New Zealanders', regardless of where the final product is actually made. Examples are abound - sophisticated products such as the Yike bike and Formway furniture, products which hold their own in international company. Oh, and there's even a wee story about the Trekka and the personal rocket thingy, as well as wool pressers, bathroom sinks, petrol cans, bicycles, stoves, washing machines, electric kettles, TVs and radios, crockpots, rocking chairs, industrial dredges, dishwashers, forestry tools, spinning wheels, office chairs, outdoor seating ,rubbish bins, children's toys, heaters, electric fences, stock drenching guns, gumboots, buses and guitar pedals.

As I said out in the outset this is an exhaustive, and by no means definitive conversation. There are many messages here, yet the one that sticks out, despite it's corny overtones is this: A Kiwi saw; was frustrated with the current product. Took it apart. Made it better. Gave it more than it ever had before. And in time that product became the standard to which all Kiwis measure other imitations. By Kiwi Designed products. Buy Michael's book!

Check out Michael's ongoing discusion about design history at: http://designarc.org.nz/

See a sample on the Random House Web Site: http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/data/media/documents/sample%20pages/NZ_By_Design_SP.pdf

Read more about Michael: http://www.blogger.com/profile/01355715663605253230

Further reading: http://www.betterbydesign.org.nz/default.aspx

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