Too much Kiwiana?by Nigel Smith on 23/09/2013
Why would I want a picture of a Tui on my tea bags? Does a graffiti of NZ flaura and fauna really make a concrete parking building any less ugly? Does a kowhai flower on the front of coffee packaging make it ‘ours’?
It seems to me that a lazy reliance on kiwiana motifs in design is on the increase.
As designers do we really want to be part of an industry that says, “If you’ve run out of ideas, just stick a cheeky kea on the front and say, ‘G’day bro, No.8 fence wire,’ and every good kiwi will come and buy it?
I’ve been guilty of it too. When the client has a tiny budget, wants it yesterday, and the product has virtually no point of difference over its international counterpart, it’s easy to pull out the good old kiwi/koru concepts. In fact, in one recent brief for a product to be sold internationally when I asked what the USP of the product was I was told, “It’s kiwi.” That’s not a USP, that’s a country of origin!
The thing that worries me is that some people seem to see using clichéd symbols of kiwiana for commercial purposes as some sort of way to show national pride. We laugh at the Brits with their pictures of the Queen on a packet of biscuits, or worse still the Americans with their stars and stripes on… well, just about any American product. Do we really want our design industry to go down that route?
I get that as New Zealanders we should promote New Zealand made products and achievements. We’ve done a lot of work with Buy New Zealand Made and are proud to use kiwi imagery to celebrate innovative local businesses. The campaign is called Buy New Zealand Made therefore kiwi related imagery is relevent.
My objection is in the way we accept kiwiana imagery used on irrelevant products. I struggle to see why we have a tui in the Southern Alps on the box of Twinings New Zealand Breakfast tea? The tea was grown in Asia, and Twinings is an English company. Apparently it’s been blended to ‘our tastes’. Really? It tastes exactly like English Breakfast tea to me. But, because it has a native bird on the pack, I feel compelled to choose it over the non-NZ brands. Similarly Robert Harris has Espresso Roma packs with a Fantail on the front — something of a mixed message there, surely?
Of course, Kiwiana has its place — in tourist shops, or when promoting something uniquely kiwi overseas. The America’s Cup venue in San Francisco was awash with kiwi imagery, and quite rightly so. It was an opportunity to sell the charm and innovation of our country in a land that’s largely ignorant that we even exist. Therefore the clichés of sheep, the colour black, and kiwi birds were used to represent our points of difference over the other nations competing. I loved the Waiheke Island Yacht Club’s branding at the Americas Cup — celebrating our identity with wit and style out in the world.
So go ahead, celebrate our identity, tell the world we’re great, just think about whether a product really is uniquely Kiwi before you pull out the Kiwiana.
Nigel Smith leads Transformer, a small but perfectly formed Auckland studio, producing design-led, expertly crafted, strategic brand solutions. He has over 20 years design experience, starting in London working on brand identities, CDs, exhibition graphics, brochures and magazines. He then came to NZ in ’99 and worked for various Auckland design companies before starting Transformer in 2002. Transformer have always had an eclectic mix of clients and projects encompassing real estate, healthcare, professional services, retail, music, non-profit and more. Nigel says he loves the variety of design work in NZ:
“One day we’re doing a brand ID for a Buddhist Monastery, the next it’s a website for the Hilton in Surfers Paradise!”
Nigel is a professional member of DINZ. He’s old enough to remember designing pre-Mac but still has a youthful enthusiasm whenever a new brief comes through the door. He’s an artist (which means he sometimes arrives at client briefings with oil paint on his car and his person). He’s also a pom so don’t get him started on football or the weather.