With an impact that stretches far beyond design aesthetics, Designworks and Air New Zealand’s Te Tohu is the deserving recipient of the Ngā Aho Award Purple Pin. What started as a simple project, designing a pin to identify speakers of Te Reo Māori, has become invested with a greater purpose.
Purple Pin Case Study — Ngā Aho
Air New Zealand Te Tohu
It is common practice internationally for airlines to produce pins that identify the languages cabin crew are fluent in. Initially developed as a means of identifying Te Reo speaking Air New Zealand cabin crew, the Tohu Reo is now available to be worn by all fluent Te Reo speakers. It is a significant project where the design output was not just an object, but a mechanism for cultural change.
The design process was one of collaboration, shared learning and challenge, with the Tohu Reo born out of a common recognition of the importance of Te Reo Māori
Designworks’ brief was to create an emblem, or tohu, that Air New Zealand staff with fluency in Te Reo Māori could wear with pride, and as an invitation for fluent customers to engage in korero. The core design challenge lay in creating a distinct and bold icon that could be identified on a range of scales, while still retaining instantly recognisable Māori qualities and a rich depth of meaning, heritage and mana.
The design process was one of collaboration, shared learning and challenge, with the Tohu Reo born out of a common recognition of the importance of Te Reo Māori; and created through a unique partnership between Air New Zealand, Designworks, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) and Ngā Kete Tuku Iho (New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute).
Designworks undertook initial design explorations with Ngā Kete Tuku Iho before returning to the design studio and refining the final form. This form was then recreated through traditional methods to create the finer details and finessed touches that would give Te Tohu its authenticity.
The design for Te Tohu bridges the gap between the past and the future. Designworks worked closely with master carvers at the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute, beginning with a traditional carver’s approach before applying a modern design lens. By simplifying and amplifying, stripping away the layers, they found one striking and true feature to build the work upon – the waha, or mouth.
The design project created a beautiful small object with a credible process and big agenda behind it.
The origins of Te Reo Māori are oral and the waha sits at the heart of how the language was used and shared. Prior to the written word, the closest thing to a visual representation of the language were mouth forms featured within traditional carvings. Their purpose was to help tell the story of who the subject was – their gender, occupation, purpose or even stature within the community and as such was a prominent feature of the portrait. The mouth also has wider significance within Māori culture as an icon for sharing knowledge, emotions, and aroha.
The design project created a beautiful small object with a credible process and big agenda behind it. As the project gained momentum, the creation of the Tohu Reo became part of a greater design, a plan to encourage the use of Te Reo by speakers outside of Air New Zealand and authenticate indigenous knowledge and identity. While championed by the airline, their intention is that the Tohu will be used in the wider tourism industry, by local Councils, and by other entities with an interest in revitalising and promoting the use of Te Reo Māori.
Easterbrook Words & Ideas