Best Design Awards: POP Marbles, Lightpath, and Game of Awesome among winners

Alt Group

POP Marble Run

The most innovative designs in New Zealand and Australia were named at a ceremony at Auckland's Viaduct Event Centre on Friday night. We spoke to three award-winners, chosen from more than 1000 entries.

POP MARBLE RUN

The POP Marble Run attracted more than 10,000 curious pedestrians during the two weeks it was installed in Auckland's Karanga Plaza. Users repositioned magnetic ramps along a 7-metre-long wall to create unique networks of sound and motion.

The roving installation has been named New Zealand's Best Graphic Design of 2016. Dean Murray was one of the designers behind the wall.

How did you arrive at the concept?

Almost without question, it's the simple ideas that people really engage with in the deepest way. The fish hook in that is it can't be so simple that they spend two minutes on it then walk away.

It's a bit like an old arcade game where you have a ball bearing which you flick up and it spins round. It's got a slightly addictive quality - you want to play with it and you want to experiment. We thought, what's another thing we can do? And that's where the sound aspect of it came in.

Part of the appeal of it is that it's a temporary installation. The first thing people ask when they see it is, "how long's it going to be here for?" And the day you're packing it up the first thing people ask is, "when's it coming back?"

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Alt Group designer Dean Murray. Photo: Lawrence Smith/Fairfax NZ

Were you a fan of marbles as a kid?

Everyone was, weren't they?

What is your professional background?

I went to Elim Art School and studied sculpture. The other guys I work with have all been through either art school or design school. I did art school, worked for a few years, and then went back to university and did a business degree.

I figured that somewhere in between those two extremes is this thing called "design". It incorporates a bit of both worlds - there's a commercial dimension but also this intensely creative dimension as well.

What is public art important?

A lot of people totally pooh-pooh art and culture full stop. One of the interesting things is, when you look at the sort of people who go to the art gallery, they're a very specific demographic. Then you look at people who play the POP marble wall - you've got people from all walks of life.

The ladies in Karanga Plaza who attend the kiosk commented it's the first time they've ever seen the fishermen who park their boats opposite the Plaza, walk off their boats and do anything other than jump in their cars and drive home.

These fishermen who couldn't care less saw something kind of interesting, they walked across the plaza which they never do, and engaged with this thing which they had no idea what it was, and had a good time. So they don't know that they've had an interaction with an artwork, or whatever you want to term it.

It tells you that it speaks to people that wouldn't normally seek out art.

The POP Marble Run's design team included Alt Group's Dean Poole, Dean Murray, Aaron Edwards, Adam Ben-Dror, and Clark Bardsley, with contributions from Design 360 and SJD.

GAME OF AWESOMEChrometoaster's Robert Whitaker, front, Aaron McKirdy, left, and Gavin Mouldey. Photo: Cameron Burnell/Fairfax NZ

The Game of Awesome encourages kids' creative writing skills by arranging cards bearing words and phrases in zany sequences. The game, which has been distributed for free to New Zealand schools, has been named the country's Best Public Good Design this year. Co-designer Robert Whitaker explains the method behind the madness.

How is the game played?

The students get a hand of cards - they're called "idea cards". They have a location or an object, or something on them. Some of them are funny, some of them are serious. Then there's a card drawn which has a concept on it - it might say "crisis" or something like that, and then they have to choose which card in their hand best matches, or makes an interesting combination, with that idea.

The concept cards are elements of a story. Each round, one of the students is a judge, and they judge which is the best combination. They keep playing rounds like that and all of the stuff in combination makes the story outline.

It might be that "riding a sheep to school" is one of the cards. Then they can start to fill in the blanks and build out a story from that. That 's where the teacher can get involved and use it for creative writing.

Designers Robert Whitaker, left, and Aaron McKirdy, with illustrator Gavin Mouldey. Photo: Cameron Burnell/Fairfax NZ

Are you a game player yourself?

I am. I have a pretty good background in education design, this was just a good opportunity to get my game interest in there as well.

The kinds of games I like to play have good internal logic, they make sense, and they allow for lots of strategic decisions. It still has to be really fun. Too often, educational games are more "educational" than "game".

The big challenge was making it so a 7-year-old could play it, and it still challenge a kid who's maybe 12, 13 years old as well.

You visited Wellington schools to get the pupils' input during the design phase. What did they say?

We visited a couple of primaries and a Year 9 class. The main thing was making sure we'd got the tone right, making sure we'd pitched it at where their sense of humour would be and what their interests were.

I wasn't sure how it was going to go - whether they would come out of their shells and tell us stuff or whether they'd think the whole thing was a waste of their time. We did a workshop and we got them to generate ideas; it flowed pretty seamlessly from that, to be honest.

We got a lot of very funny things, and some of them made it into the game, and some made it in in an edited and slightly censored version.

Like what?

There was quite a bit of toilet humour and that sort of thing that came through. When we talked to slightly older kids there were quite a lot of political jokes - they wanted the prime minister and stuff to be a bit of a punchline. We were cautious of that - it was still a government-produced resource. But it's pretty important it was a bit transgressive, that's part of it's charm - it's the kind of stuff you wouldn't hear a teacher say.

The Game of Awesome's design team included Chrometoaster creative director Dave Turnbull, illustrator Gavin Mouldey, designers Robert Whitaker and Aaron McKirdy, and writers Nic Gorman and Morgan Davie.

LIGHTPATH (TE ARA I WHITI)The Lightpath at dusk. Photo: Supplied

Auckland's Lightpath (Te Ara I Whiti) is a hot-pink, LED-lit bridge spanning the intersection of State Highways 1 and 16, accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. The lights are programmable; when the Orlando nightclub shootings occurred, the bridge was lit in rainbow colours. The Lightpath has been named New Zealand's Best Spatial Design. Architect Dean Mackenzie was in the team which got the project off the ground.

Tell me the story behind the Lightpath.

We designed the Canada St bridge, the black bridge on the southern end of the off-ramp. We were aware that the off-ramp was being developed at the same time. The council realised there was this huge opportunity to do something that could be quite dynamic and vivid and make a statement.

We looked at lots of different ideas. We thought it really should be considered on a city-wide scale, a bit like a large installation or piece of art.

We quickly realised that whatever we did had to be very simple and very bold. We looked at lots of different ideas for the deck. Then we started looking at different colours. The problem with doing something like green or blue or red - it looks like a bus lane or a typical bike lane - something you've seen before. And we wanted this really to stand out and give a lot of attention to cyclists, to enhance cycling's profile in Auckland. Pink, we thought, really stood out because it's a colour that people are afraid to use, but it's a beautiful colour and we thought it'd be something that would really be a point of difference.

The second thought we had was really trying to make a visual light sculpture out of the project as well. We knew there was a large anti-throw screen going on the bridge, with lots of posts. We thought, what if we treated the city side of the path a bit like a light spine? We put these LED lights on every single post - there's 300 of them - and created an interactive display that could be used by digital artists. It's all programmable.

The Lightpath from above. Photo: Supplied

How does it feel to see people using your team's' creation?

It's hugely satisfying and it's really exciting to see how much it's done for cycling in Auckland. It's been on ads for things unrelated to cycling.

Are you a cyclist yourself?

Yes.

Has this revolutionised your commute?

To be honest no, it's not particularly on my way. I catch public transport to work and cycle on the weekends.

What makes the Lightpath unique?

It's almost unparalleled in the world in terms of its urban context. The comparison is made with the High Line in New York which is an elevated highway that runs through lower Manhattan. There aren't many parts of the world where you can walk or cycle through a complex motorway junction. You're underneath bridges, you're above highways, you're beside highways. And at nighttime, it's pretty cool. I can't name anything in New Zealand that's really quite like that.

It's a very clever reuse of existing infrastructure. It's like a 700-metre-long piece of art.

The Lightpath's design team included Monk Mackenzie Architects' Dean Mackenzie and Hamish Monk in collaboration with LandLAB's Henry Crothers and artist Katz Maihi, and engineers Gansen Govender and Stephen Cummins of GHD Group.

 - Sunday Magazine

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