Increasing globalisation in the early 21st century has required New Zealand businesses to reconsider product positioning in competitive markets, the location of manufacturing plants and levels of investment. While many companies shifted production closer to markets (or to countries with lower labour costs) and increased their overseas shareholding, many still valued New Zealand’s isolation and comparative lack of conservatism as an ideal place to create fresh, clear design thinking.
Products of the 2000s
Fisher & Paykel
Fisher & Paykel’s product development programme has continued. The CookSurface integrated ceramic cleanable surfaces with gas cooking speed and control. The CoolDrawer refrigerator had five settings and saved energy because cold air did not fall out when it was opened.
Plumbing manufacturer Methven’s Satinjet shower technology saved water while replicating a soothing rain-like sensation. Offering guests a pleasant experience while reducing costs, it became very popular in the international hospitality sector.
Gallagher extended its global leadership in the electric fence field through improved design and brand-building. The idea for the SmartFence temporary fence came from the Gallagher team in Switzerland, where outdoor grazing is seasonal.
Furnware launched the Murray Pilcher-designed Bodyfurn classroom chair in 2005. Its ergonomic design has been shown to improve comfort and concentration.
The SwiftPoint mouse for laptops was among the Popular Science magazine ‘Best of What’s New 2010’ award winners. Software developer Grant Odgers had teamed up with industrial designer David Lovegrove to overcome the frustration of laptop users who dislike the touchpad. The SwiftPoint ergonomics evolved through user-driven research. It is held by the thumb and two fingers and operates on the surface beside the touchpad.
Phil & Teds
Phil & Teds’ baby buggy innovations included a swivelling front wheel and in-line seating for siblings. With manufacturing outsourced to China, sales exceeded $110 million by 2007.
The Blunt umbrella features a perimeter without points. Design engineer Greg Brebner, who is 1.9 metres tall, noticed the need as he dodged umbrellas on congested London pavements.
Globalisation and the need for overseas investment led to some companies disappearing from New Zealand, usually to be closer to markets.
Christchurch technology firm Pulse Data had developed BrailleNote products to help the visually impaired. In 2005 Pulse Data merged with the Canadian firm VisuAide to create the HumanWare Group, with assurances its head office and research-and-development (R&D) facilities would remain in Christchurch. However, following a 2007 buyout of small shareholders by an Australian investor, the whole operation was consolidated in Montreal.
The global financial crisis of 2008 put New Zealand’s best-known design-driven firm, Fisher & Paykel Appliances, under pressure. The sale of 20% to the Chinese whiteware giant Haier eased the cashflow problem and assisted penetration of new Asian markets. After Haier achieved full ownership in 2012 they expanded the R&D resources in Auckland and Dunedin.
Environmental sustainability became a significant design driver in the early 21st century. Fisher & Paykel, Formway and Furnware are among those who consider sustainable design to be essential to leadership in their fields.
Greg Ryan’s electric ‘mini-farthing’ YikeBike concept evolved as a unicycle with a small wheel for stability. It weighs as little as 11.2 kilograms and folds quickly into a pack not much bigger than the main wheel. It was named one of Time magazine’s 50 best inventions of 2009. Ryan playfully suggested that as well as reducing car use, electric-powered bikes have a lower carbon footprint than pedal-powered bikes because users do not eat – or shower – as much.
David Trubridge has forged an international reputation as a designer of lightshades. Since 2011 much of his lighting range has been available in kitset form, significantly reducing the transport costs and carbon footprint. Customers enjoy the bonus of participating in the making process.