Industrial designer Danny Coster receives the 2016 John Britten Black Pin for outstanding leadership, vision, creativity and achievement in the field of design. Coster spent 20 years on the Apple Design team and is now Vice President of Design and Creative Strategy at GoPro, yet his links to New Zealand remain strong. 

Coster’s career began with a job in his father’s hardware store in Mount Eden, Auckland. While mixing paint and cutting timber, he also helped customers find creative ways to solve their DIY problems. At home, he was surrounded by his mother’s paintings of landscapes, still lifes and abstract subjects. His childhood was defined by design and craft, and he often found himself in the art department at high school while his mates were on the sports field. 

Coster left school at age 17 for an internship in Tony Winter’s retail design studio in New Lynn. This led him to pursue an industrial design diploma at Wellington Polytechnic. “I always liked complex problems,” explains Coster. “And it was the multifaceted aspects of the profession that drew me in.” 

At Wellington Polytechnic, Coster learnt how to translate ideas into process. Academic projects led to a real-world contract in which he and his schoolmate John Woolett were tasked with redesigning the entire range of Hutchwilco life jackets. This experience was his launching pad to a job at KWA Design Group in Sydney. 

“I had to develop my own point of view,” says Coster. “It was a time to work out how I could add value to the conversation. Humility was my foundation, and it allowed me to contribute in a way that served me well in the years to come.”

After four years in Australia, Coster set his sights on America. Apple offered him a position in 1996—about a year before Steve Jobs returned to transform the company into one of the most innovative and successful consumer brands on the planet. In his time at Apple, Coster worked on the design team led by Jony Ive and contributed to the design direction for a wide range of iconic Apple products. 

“Apple was the ultimate environment for elevating design,” says Coster. “They were so supportive of what could be quite fragile ideas that, if they had not been given the space and time, might never have come to life. It was a blessing to be with a wonderful company with such good friends and inspiring leadership.”

Coster is discerning about the future of technology and its impact on people’s lives. “Design can foster an intimacy that has been lost through technology,” he says. “Today, we can be in touch with anyone, anywhere, at any time, but it’s fleeting. If design could bring more compassion to how we share, and help us be more present with one another, well, that would be a big deal.”

—Andrea Stevens