Designers indulge in mutual back-patting as Best Awards dished out

  • October 8, 2012
  • StopPress Team
Designers indulge in mutual back-patting as Best Awards dished out

Alt Group's rebrand of the Auckland Art Gallery, Sons & Co's website featuring disembodied limbs and Designworks' slick packaging for Silver Fern Farms were among the major winners at the 2012 Best Design Awards, the Oscars of the New Zealand design world.

Organised by the Designers Institute of New Zealand and held at a glittering event attended by more than 700 designers at Auckland’s Viaduct Centre on Friday night, the Best Design Awards recognise and celebrate the country’s best product, spatial, graphic and interactive designs of the year.

This year an impressive 760 entries were received for the awards, with more than 300 making it through to the final cut.  Two new awards were also introduced: the Ngā Aho Award, and the Best Effect Award.

Read on to find out who the supreme Purple Pin recipients were...


optiflow junior fisher and paykel healthcare best awardJudges awarded two Purple Pins, for the Les Mills Smartbar, and for the Optiflow Junior.

Designed by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, the Optiflow Junior is a breathing therapy which delivers humidified air through the nose to babies suffering from breathing difficulties.  Until recently only adult cannulae or breathing tubes, using 40 year old technology, were available to treat babies. The Optiflow Junior was researched in 50 hospitals in four countries, and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare is currently launching the product in the United States.

The product judges, who included Dominic Russo, Victorian President of the Designers Institute of Australia, said that Optiflow Junior was an “exceptional piece of design work that demonstrates the power of a high-level human-centred approach to design underpinned by significant ‘upfront’research, design insights and technical development work".

Most importantly, they said, it demonstrates leadership in the field, and revolutionises the care of seriously ill infants.

Barbell design also had not changed for decades. Fastening plates onto conventional bars is slow and cumbersome for average gym goers, and standard plates when used on their own are difficult to hold and control. So Les Mills and their design team, headed by David Lovegrove of 4ormfunction in Christchurch, developed a cutting edge ergonomic design that speeds up changing plates. As the judges pointed out, Body Pump classes have just got faster with the Les Mills Smartbar.

les mills smartbar best awardsThe SmartBar has a head (the designers call it “the gator”) with retractable teeth at each end that holds up to three weight plates. To change plates, the user just pulls the release lever and slides them off, making transitions fast and seamless. 

The judges said the Smartbar, which has a global patent pending, was an “exceptional, international quality piece of product design work”.

“Les Mills has continued to evolve, demonstrate leadership, but most importantly has continued to develop international competitiveness through creativity, innovation and design. This is a real New Zealand success story.”


The winner was the Imperial Buildings and Imperial Lane project, a refurbishment of a neglected Auckland downtown space.

imperial lane best awards

Built between 1886 and 1911, the Imperial Buildings are a rich mix of heritage spaces and building. The designers, Tim Hay and Jeff Fearon, of architectural firm Fearon Hay, were commissioned to restore and upgrade the down at heel buildings.

The backbone of the project included a new laneway for Auckland: Imperial Lane, which links Fort and Queen Streets. The lane, which is used by hospitality tenants, is paved in the same basalt used in surrounding streets and is open to the public, until crafted steel gates close at night.

The judges, who included Joanne Cys, immediate past president of the Design Institute of Australia, said that Fearon Hay’s designs for these formerly neglected spaces were “warm, convivial and authentic.”

The judges said that the project “sets a leadership example of how we should shape our cities ... The Imperial Buildings (and Lane) is a game changer and a tremendous gift to the city of Auckland.”


auckland art gallery best awards 2012Auckland design studio, Alt Group, took this out for its identity project for Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, based on the idea of demystifying art through language.

Alt Group, led by design director, Dean Poole, cleverly used text to communicate the gallery’s collections in different ways to different audiences. The design project created a language, which involved the creation of a simple text layout - the instantly recognisable black-and-red phrases, spliced through with ‘art’ or its Maori translation ‘toi’ - to tell distilled messages and stories.   

With this identity applied across the entire organisation, from print to digital to physical collateral, the graphics judges said the gallery’s graphic design successfully goes far beyond just a logo.

The judges, who included Paul van Barneveld, president of the Australian Graphic Design Association said: “The Auckland Art Gallery identity was a pure and intelligent response to a brief that could have otherwise been quite ordinary. The visual link back to the Maori culture was beautifully resolved without being obvious. The use of language throughout the brand application was very clever in its execution and is something that can grow with the gallery.”


sons and co silo theatre best awardsChristchurch design company, Sons & Co, nabbed the Purple Pin for the website design for Auckland theatre company, Silo Theatre.

Judges said Sons & Co.’s reinterpretation of the Silo Theatre website was engaging, on par with international typographic standards, and reflected the art company’s cutting edge identity.

“The playfulness of the brand is perfectly embodied in the site's interactive nature.  Its formal visual design gives way to a whimsical approach to movement and content staging.”

In line with a complete identity overhaul, the re-design forgoes the expected theatre clichés in favour of a consistent and contemporary company brand throughout the year – the recognisable peep-show involving floating limbs protruding from a pastel pink background. The site has featured on many international design and culture blogs including the United Kingdom’s It's Nice That.

Ngā Aho Award

best awards nga ahoThis award, in partnership with Maori design organisation, Ngā  Aho, was won by  Ngā Purapura, designed by Wellington architects, Tennent + Brown.

Te Wananga-O Raukawa, in Otaki, is a tertiary institution that focuses on improving physical wellbeing for Maori. The institution required a new building which included two sports courts, a cardio gym, nutrition training kitchen, classrooms and offices. Tennent+Brown used the holistic model of Maori health Te Whare ta Wha (four sides of a house) to design the form of the building. This model addresses the need for physical (tinana), mental (hinengaro), spiritual (wairua) and social (whanau) aspects of life to all be in balance. Tennent+Brown’s design represents this model with a folded roof which creates various spaces against the neutral form of the sports hall.

Best Effect 

best effect best awardThe Best Effect Award, for effectiveness of design which contributes to a company’s bottom line, was won by Designworks for Silver Fern Farms.  

The aim of this four year project was to rebrand and transform South Island meat processor South Island PPCS into marketing oriented, export driven company, Silver Fern Farms. Research showed that consumers would pay more per kilo for a highly branded product, with distinctive uncluttered packaging, and with a choice of retail packs sized for smaller families and couples. Boldly labelled “Proudly New Zealand made” Silver Fern Farms range of premium lamb cuts was launched in September, 2011 into some 220 Tesco stores across the United Kingdom.

The judges said: “Silver Fern Farms is one of New Zealand’s largest exporters in one of our most critical sectors. They have used design to get closer to their end customers and increase the relevance of their product to capture more of the value in the farm to plate value chain.”

Special awards

Two other special  Black Pins were also presented during the evening. The first, the John Britten Award, given to an individual who has contributed the most nationally and internationally to further New Zealand design, was presented to Wellington architect, Ian Athfield. Athfield is known for his distinctive public buildings in Wellington, such as the Telecom building and Civic Square in Wellington, the library with its sculpted nikau palms, and Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University. But his life’s work has undoubtedly been his own house, Athfield House, which spills down the hill in Khandallah like a 21st century crusader castle.

The other Black Pin, the Designers Institute’s special award for Outstanding Achievement, went to Designworks CEO Sven Baker for his contribution to the Designers Institute and to the New Zealand design industry in general. Baker leads a team of more than 100 in three Designworks offices in Wellington, Auckland and Sydney and has led the company into working for some of New Zealand’s top companies, including Air New Zealand, Kiwibank, Silver Fern Farms and Auckland Airport.

Other winners – Gold Pins


Fearon Hay Architects for the Imperial Buildings

Koko Creative for Silo Market

Fearon Hay Architects for Imperial Lane

Fearon Hay Architects for Fabric Warehouse

Salmond Reed Architects for St Thomas' Chapel

Studio Pacific Architecture for MOTAT Aviation Display Hall

Tonkin Zulaikha Greer in association with Paul Rolfe Architects for Cloudy Bay Shack

Switch for Platinum Sports Co.

Jessica Mentis for Domestic | Monument


Avanti Design Technology for Avanti Corsa DR

4ormfunction for Les Mills Smartbar

Treology for Umber Chair

Fisher & Payhel Healthcare for Optiflow Junior

Goodnature for Automatic Humane Rat and Stoat Trao

Gallagher Group for Multi-Strand Gate Kit

Alastair Warren for Breathe.Easy Asthma Management

Nick Graham for BackYak


Strategy Design and Advertising for AFS Company Profile

Luke Wood for Head Full of Snakes

Inhouse for HOME magazine

Klim Type Foundry for The Founders Grotesk Family

Alt Group for The Social Kitchen

Alt Group for Auckland Art Gallery

Alt Group for Auckland University Press

Alt Group for Silo Theatre

Special Group for OOB Organic Ice Cream

Fracture for Living Earth

Strategy Design and Advertising for Thinking Book #3

Tamsin Fraser for Il/legible Type


Cactuslab for Letterboxd

Resn for neverstopneversettle

Resn for The Camry Effect

Springload for Klim Type Foundry

Sons & Co for Silo Theatre

Marcus Brown for Who Is Thomas Revell?

Assembly for V Motion Project

Ngā Aho

Tennent + Brown Architects for  Ngā Purapura

Click Suite for HIKO: Legends carved in light

Best Effect

DNA for Powershop

Designworks Auckland for Silver Fern Farms

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