Story: Industrial design

Industrial design in New Zealand has progressed from import replacement to innovation aimed at global markets. New Zealand-designed products such as the YikeBike – a lightweight electric bicycle – and David Trubridge’s elegant kitset lightshades drew international acclaim in the 2000s. While more New Zealand companies were moving product design and production offshore, investment in design grew.

Story by Michael Smythe
Main image: Greg Ryan riding his invention, the YikeBike

Story Summary

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Industrial design is the design of products made by industry. In the 19th century many objects produced in the factories of Europe and North America were designed to appear hand-made. From the 1920s there was a growing focus on making objects simple, efficient and functional. Industrial design emerged as a profession.

Training

After the Second World War ‘design for living’ became part of New Zealand’s secondary school art curriculum. When the polytechnic system began in 1962 the Wellington School of Design was the first to offer a three-year professional design programme. Industrial design was also taught at Elam School of Fine Arts from 1962.

1930s to 1980s

In 1938 the government brought in controls on imports, to make New Zealand more self-sufficient in manufactured goods. Some manufacturers copied overseas products, some made them under licence and some designed and made their own original products.

Successful companies included:

  • Fisher & Paykel, which changed from importing household appliances to making them under licence then developing their own
  • Crown Lynn, which produced tableware, some of it designed by European immigrant designers
  • Fun Ho!, which made cast aluminium toys
  • Paxarms, which devised tranquilliser darts that sedated animals without frightening them
  • Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, which built a world-leading business from a humidifier for hospital patients
  • Felton Industries, whose Feltonmix shower mixer solved the problem of unequal hot and cold water pressure
  • Bendon, which designed the seamless bra.

As import controls were progressively removed local manufacturers had to compete with products from overseas. The need to survive through exporting became stronger.

1980s onwards

Some businesses closed down, but others became internationally competitive.

  • Fisher & Paykel designed innovative appliances such as the DishDrawer dishwasher.
  • arti-fak-t office products were exported to museums and design stores.
  • Gallagher Industries became a leader in the field of electric fencing.
  • Methven’s SatinJet shower saved water while being pleasant to use.
  • Furnware’s Bodyfurn classroom chair improved school students’ comfort and concentration.

In the 2000s more companies shifted production overseas, while others were taken over by overseas firms. An increased focus on environmental sustainability influenced product design.

How to cite this page:

Michael Smythe, 'Industrial design', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/industrial-design (accessed 19 July 2018)

Story by Michael Smythe, published 22 Oct 2014