From a record-breaking pool of 1178 initial entries for this year's Best Design Awards, Te Puia, in collaboration with Air New Zealand, DNA, and Designworks, has scooped the supreme award.

The Best Design Awards are organised by the Designers Institute of New Zealand and recognise the strongest work produced in nine categories - spatial, product, graphic, moving image, interactive, best effect, public good, Nga Aho Award, which showcases multi-cultural design collaboration, and the freshly introduced user experience category.

Designers Institute chief executive Cathy Veninga said the standard this year was higher than ever.

"Every year it gets stronger and we have more new studios entering.

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"It's become so widely respected that although we don't promote the awards internationally, this year we had interest from as far afield as Turkey and Cyprus and we had strong entries from China and Japan, one of which won a Gold award."

Air New Zealand Te Tohu, created by Designworks at Te Puia, was born out of a common recognition of the importance of te reo Maori.

The emblem can be worn by staff with fluency in te reo Maori to let customers know they can converse in te reo.

The emblem began as a means of identifying te reo-speaking cabin crew, but transformed into something meaningful to all New Zealanders.

Air New Zealand, The Maori Language Commission and Te Puia are not expected everyday partners.

But for this project they came together, working with Designworks, to bring to life Air New Zealand's Maori Culture Strategy.

The design team chose a traditional carver's approach with an edge of modern design, shaping the waha (mouth), which touches on the oral origins of te reo Maori while still leaving the form open to individual interpretation.

Individuals may see the waha, a heart, or four people binding together having a hui (conversation).

The end result was described by judges as "a beautiful small object with a credible process and big agenda behind it".

The judges commended Air New Zealand for bringing te reo Maori to life in flight and saw potential for such an icon to gain currency beyond Air New Zealand in recognising and celebrating te reo Maori speakers.