Designers Institute of New Zealand CEO Cathy Veninga organises the annual Best Design Awards to be announced at the Viaduct Event Centre this Friday night.

1 You've been with the Design Institute for nearly 20 years since joining the board in 1998. What are you most proud of?

We've built the largest design awards in Australasia with a record 1178 entries in nine categories this year which is thrilling because it means New Zealand's studios are humming but more importantly our clients are understanding the value of bringing design into the company to improve bottom lines.

2 How do the judges choose a winning design?

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Clear ideas and craft. The Australian designers who come over to judge openly admire the work being done in this country. They see things with an outside lens which is a useful perspective. An example of a design they've loved is The Cloak by Fearon Hay, a beautifully simple bus shelter with richly textural references to our natural and cultural environment.

3 Is there such a thing as 'New Zealand design'?

It's such a large question. I don't think we need to define what New Zealand design is because we're already living it and we need to embrace that more. On the one hand we do and on the other there's that real Kiwi rhetoric that pulls ourselves down. One advantage New Zealanders have is that we're sensitive to the fact we aren't living in Europe or in places with large populations so that makes us more interested in looking outwards.

4 Is New Zealand doing enough to grow its design industry?

New Zealand could create its own "Design Mecca". We already work internationally. Product designers 4DESIGN live the lifestyle in Queenstown while only working with international clients; Flux Animations Studios work with Disney; and Resn works with global agencies that represent the likes of Adidas. But there's a lack of understanding about the value of design. We've just had a Value of Design report done which showed design brings $10.1 billion to New Zealand's economy, or 4.2 per cent of GDP. That's more than agriculture at $8.1b.

5 Why is the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) category a tough one?

Supermarket brands have a much faster turnaround than boutique packaging so you don't have the same leisure of time to create something that stands out on the shelves and communicates to consumers. Our design community is really pushing the boundaries in this category. It's the storytelling and emotion. I mean look at Serious Popcorn. How can you not love that package and want to open and eat it?

6 What was your favourite 2016 winner?

I'm Miss Switzerland - I can't have favourites. One fabulous design story was Goodnature's automated possum traps. The owners were furniture designers with a passion for conservation who designed CO2 canister -powered traps that self-reset so they don't have to be cleared by forest rangers. They've been hugely successful in reducing the cost of pest eradication, they're humane and toxin-free.

Cathy Veninga, CEO Designers Institue of New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
Cathy Veninga, CEO Designers Institue of New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

7 Entries to your Public Good award have doubled. What have been some highlights in this category?

Game of Awesome is a simple card game that inspires kids to write their own stories. It's based on research with teachers in schools and has bogeys and farts and all those things that give kids the giggles. The pack is aesthetically beautiful as well. Another was a ping pong table installed at Britomart as part of Auckland Council's interactive art series POP which used social engagement to discourage antisocial behaviour.

8 What's an area of our lives where we might not be aware that design is in action?

User experience design is about how we engage with the customer. The Government has made a big push into user experience. For example Inland Revenue, knowing most people hate filling out forms, created a new GST form that was intuitive to use and more people got their GST in on time as a result. Auckland City Hospital set up a joint design lab with AUT researching how to make all aspects of hospital life more focused on their patients' experience. Fisher and Paykel Healthcare worked with clinicians and parents to design a breathing mask for premature babies that's easy for nurses to use and shows enough of the tiny baby's face that parents can fall in love with it.

9 What's the Best Effect award for?

It's about bringing design higher up the food chain to CEO level so it's at the forefront of business strategy. Methven and Fisher and Paykel Appliances are good examples of design-led companies. Jamie Whiting turned Barkers Menswear around by looking at every touchpoint of the business through a design lens from the brand to the website to the stores. Sales at their new Wellington store increased by 60 per cent when they focused on making the shopping experience pleasurable. NZ Trade and Enterprise is helping companies take a customer-centred approach with its Better by Design service.

10 What was your childhood in Auckland like?

Very family focused. Every weekend we'd do our chores and then "follow Dad's nose" on little tiki tours exploring the beaches and countryside, always deviating to the best ice cream shop on the way home. Art was my favourite subject at Aorere College which was a new school with a young and forward thinking principal. I became an art adviser for the education department. We'd show schools how to develop purposeful art programmes. Through my boss Murray Gilbert I became involved in this amazing arts community. His friends Ralph Hotere, Pat Hanley and Stanley Palmer would visit. Every Monday and Tuesday was a round of the art galleries.

11 Did New Zealand have much of a design industry at that time?

Yes interior design was a flourishing industry by the time I arrived in it. Peter Bromhead and John Hughes and his partner from Martin Hughes Associates had established it as a profession with fee charges.

12 What's the difference between art and design?

Artists take more risks personally whereas designers have the compromise of working with a client. You do the best you can to push them towards where you think strategically they need to be moving. People tend to think of design purely in graphic terms but its way deeper than that. We hold a seminar day for secondary schools to help students understand the options like product design, interactive, moving image and spatial design. Increasingly we're seeing designers collaborate between disciplines.

Best Design Awards Friday 6 October