Designers Speak (Up) gives visibility to the “unsung diversity” of Aotearoa design

9 May 2019

Amongst the overwhelming amount of industries that possess a gender imbalance, graphic design is no exception. In Aotearoa, New Zealand, a country whose design scene is less well-known to us in the West, the male-oriented profession is just as one-sided. But the graphic designer and typographer Catherine Griffiths has decided to do something about it. Last year, she created three posters that definitively renounce the patriarchy of Aotearoa New Zealand’s design scene, drawing attention to the past recipients of the prestigious Black Pin awards from 1997-2017, 40 of whom have been male in comparison to the mere three women that have claimed the prize in over 20 years.

“How has this happened? Where are the women?” asks Catherine. With skewed amounts of men on the juries and convenors, Catherine urged the Design Institute of New Zealand (who awards Black Pins) to take a long hard look at these statistics through her project Power in the Poster: 1997-2017, 43 Black Pins, 40 men, 3 women.

After receiving unanimous support on social media for the work, Catherine, along with many other passionate voices in Aotearoa, New Zealand, has launched a series of projects under the name Designers Speak (Up), in favour of creating a balanced and inclusive design scene for all. In their most recent venture Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa, the collective placed an open call to members of the Directory of Women Designers and the public to record the current landscape of women in design, including anyone that identifies as female or non-binary.

The Directory is another initative by Designers Speak (Up) for Aotearoa New Zealanders, prompted by artist Imogen Taylor who had expressed frustration at not being able to source women designers for her feminist zine, Femisphere. With the hopes of providing visibility to the unsung diversity in Aotearoa design, participants were invited to design a poster surrounding any social, cultural or political issue of their choice. The results of this call-out are now exhibiting at Hamilton’s Ramp Gallery, celebrating the work of designers and non-designers alike.


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Catherine Griffiths, Singular, Plural, Possessive

In Carol Green’s poster Transport Choice is a Feminist Issue, Carol addresses a recent survey in New Zealand which revealed that 71% of women have experienced some kind of harassment on public transport. Depicting an in-depth scene of various modes of transport, Carol’s poster asserts how transport choice really is a feminist issue, citing how women caring for children are more likely to travel by car, but this dependence can also lead to social isolation.

Alternatively, in a poster designed by Catherine herself, the designer creates Singular, Plural, Possessive, which presents the correct use of the Māori kapu (word) “hui” meaning gathering, meeting . In te reo Māori, the Eastern Polynesian language spoken by New Zealand’s indigenous people, the letter “s” does not exist. Yet commonly and incorrectly, the letter “s” is attached to Māori nouns in an English language way. The poster marks how 2019 is the international year of indigenous languages and boldly presents the variations of the word “hui” in Catherine’s signature graphic style.

With an incredible cache of posters also exhibiting at Ramp, each with a well-researched and insightful bit of text to go alongside it, Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa is an ever-growing and deeply moving collection of works. Continuing to accept submissions, the expanding community hopes to raise further awareness around historic and real-time issues and concerns through the language of design.


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Carol Green, Transport Choice is a Feminist Issue


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Eden Kleiman, The ball’s in his court


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Claudia Henty, Internal Dialogue


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Ella Sutherland, Bad Posture


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Nell May, Attention! I’m Red


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Pon Huey Min, Unlawful


Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa: Rebecca Steedman, In Support of Women Who Make a Fuss Progress

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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