Design that unites and inspires

ANNA BROWN - Associate Professor, School of Design

From creating beautiful books to finding better ways to plan government services, Anna Brown uses design as a way to connect and involve.

“Books are my passion,” says Anna Brown, associate professor in the School of Design in Massey’s College of Creative Arts. “Both the content within, and their physical, tactile form.”

Trained as a designer, Brown has worked for many years in the field of book design and typography, originally in her own business, before coming to Massey as a lecturer in 2009.

She has worked with many New Zealand photographers and artists, on projects ranging from traditional books to gallery-based experimental book installations, and with leading publishers and art galleries in New Zealand, including Victoria University Press, Te Papa Press and Random House. She also works with publishers in Australia, New York and the United Kingdom.

Co-authors in a narrative

After joining Massey, Brown completed her Master of Design with an innovative project based around the idea of a deconstructed book. Readers could post the pages on a large three-dimensional wall, adding their own comments and additions as they went.

“This work was called The endless book, exploring our relationship with social media, where users’ posts are added to, and each of us becomes co-authors in a narrative,” Brown says. “I was both the book designer and author, and by putting it in a public space I allowed readers to become co-authors, too, thus challenging the traditional concept of a book. Like social media, the pages were designed to fall away from the wall and to be replaced with new stories. This research project allowed me to investigate the concept of an expanded book in the digital age.”

In 2013, Brown was commissioned by Creative New Zealand to design the book and vernissage catalogue for the New Zealand Pavilion at the 55th Biennale di Venezia international art exhibition. New Zealand artist Bill Culbert’s installation at the Biennale had to be installed in Venice, then photographed, before the book was designed.

For the reader, viewing the works in situ was vital, given that they are sculptural pieces and that their context (in this case an historic church) was part of the experience. The book created a walk-through of the exhibition, beginning outside Venice, showing views of arrival on a boat, then entering the exhibition, journeying through it, and exiting.

“I went to the exhibition only after the book was published,” Brown says. “I felt that I knew it, but in a different manner. This is the interesting thing about reinterpreting the time and space of an exhibition and envisaging it for an audience that might never experience it in the physical form.”

From 2011 to 2015 Brown was the Director of Massey’s Open Lab, a design studio within the College of Creative Arts. She helped build this enterprise, enabling innovative partnership opportunities for students to engage in commercial design projects and research-led commissions.

“Open Lab brings together experienced design professionals, academics, graduates and students to collaborate together to deliver emergent design thinking. It works in parallel to the classroom, allowing our students to grow as designers in a safe environment with staff mentoring them.”

Our long-term aspiration is to improve lives by improving the design and delivery of public services.


Improving lives

Building on the success of Open Lab, Brown has recently started a new initiative in the College of Creative Arts that aims to apply the principles and methodologies of design to improve local and central government services.

Called Toi Āria: Design for Public Good, it involves researchers and graduates working in partnership with the public sector to explore better practice for a more inclusive, effective public sector.

“Working with the people who use the services and processes that you’re trying to improve—a methodology called co-design—allows you to work with them and not for them,” she says.

“At its heart is a desire to implement user-centred design to transform services for public good. We are trying to think about how design can have a positive impact in people’s lives. Our long-term aspiration is to improve lives by improving the design and delivery of public services.”

The Toi Āria team has begun working with the Masterton District Council on a participatory urban rejuvenation project called Our Future Masterton. “Working with the people of Masterton, we will develop a 50-year, design-led strategy for the town that is responsive to their needs, desires and aspirations as people of that place.

“The design process is the constant in everything that I do, because by embarking on an iterative engagement to understand what a problem is and how you might respond with empathy, you need to listen to people,” Brown says. “It might have a slightly different way of happening with books than when working with government, but it is in essence the same. My hope is that design sparks joy, or is used in a credible way to make lives better.”

Project details

Funders Massey University Strategic Innovation Fund
Dates Ongoing since 2016