Redesigning Aotearoa

1 Apr 2021

We hope that identity design for New Zealand organisations evolve past colonial crests to an expression that is uniquely Aotearoa.

We have made a commitment to create purposeful branding. We have had the privilege of creating brands for organisations and initiatives that are striving to create a more thriving Aotearoa. Our approach is to embed cultural principles and perspectives into our work to enrich the identity of all New Zealanders with the essence of Aotearoa and what is uniquely from the land. Great cultural design is about the layers of narrative that can be expressed to give meaning and context.


A tohu is a symbol, or brand. We craft tohu that represents the purpose and principles that guide the organisation to achieve impact. We strive to create tohu that are simple, clear statements of intent. Our process begins with defining a name that has a clear connection to a purpose. The name itself is like an entry point into a conversation with the brand.


Each brand has a kōrero or narrative that layers. The Māori world view is full of connections that weave people, environment, history and future together. These narratives continue a person’s journey into te ao Māori. In our work we have expressed the vibrancy and intricacy of weaving, principles of traditional waka navigation, or the quest for higher states of wellbeing. Within each of these kōrero we connect to a bigger body of mātauranga Māori.

Like all compelling narratives there are protagonists and antagonists, trial and triumph. There are lessons learned and maxims reinforced. The brand for Hira uses a simple step pattern to form an H. That step pattern is called poutama and is a mnemonic for the narrative of Tāne, who ventured up to the highest of 12 heavens to acquire the knowledge that would help people thrive. While a simple shape, to those connected to this kōrero, they see layers of meaning come to life. Branding for Kātoitoi the Aotearoa Design Archive is named after a small native bird that has a small a distinctive voice. This becomes the muse for a platform the celebrates the power of New Zealand's design voice.


Without a written language, Māori design has developed as a way of communicating through artistic mediums. The stitches of a woven cloak reveal woven binds between people, land and culture. Carved motifs on the figures of our ancestors express principles of hospitality, leadership, unity and courage. These patterns are principles that transcend cultures. As a nation we are embracing these symbols as a way of connecting us with values that we all believe in.


We hope that identity design for New Zealand organisations evolves past colonial crests to an expression that is uniquely Aotearoa. We have our own stories to tell. Our nations identity will be culturally richer when the indigenous culture of this land is meaningfully embedded in how we define ourselves.

But this does not discredit the contribution of all the cultures that call Aotearoa home.

European culture is always present, in that, we use English letter forms, cultural expressions and design principles so fluidly and pervasively that they are often invisible. But they play an impactful role in how our design language is realised and expressed. Pasifika, Asian and other cultures each have a role to play in shaping how we paint the future of Aotearoa. One does not need to diminish the other.

To all our clients and collaborators who have helped us create this work e mihi kau ana mātou ki a koutou. Thanks. We’re grateful to be telling stories with meaning.

Nā Johnson McKay
Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Porou