Heads of design at Citta Imogen Tunnicliffe and David Moreland were the People's Choice winners for the design category in Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. The two are an influential pair, with their design decisions regularly rippling through their category and helping to turn a company that started off as an importer into a major force in the export of New Zealand-designed textiles, homewares and furniture. Here, they discuss creativity, inspiration and the design process.
What does creativity mean to you?
Imogen: It’s the way you approach what you do everyday. Thinking laterally about something; opening your mind and allowing yourself to play and experiment with your ideas. Not being restrictive, but being totally open to anything throughout a process.
David: For me, creativity means an outlet, actually turning the ideas you have into something, hopefully something special.
What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?
Imogen: I’ve always been a collector, I’m just interested in bits and pieces, so I’m always looking. I think that goes hand in hand with an inquisitive nature.
David: I love music and going to see live music. I can play a few instruments, but wish more than anything that I had a voice, my work colleagues will vouch that while I love to try, it’s just not a happening thing.
What first drew you to your chosen field?
Imogen: The chance to draw and paint for a crust! Trained as a printmaker, I have always loved illustration, and textile design gave me the opportunity to do this, and get paid.
David: Not being able to refine what I wanted to focus my studies on in my second year of university meant that I sort of fell into the 3D department, where you could make what ever you wanted, I guess I’ve just kept going from there.
What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?
Imogen: Both my parents are travellers, and appreciators of the arts. They took us on some amazing trips throughout the east, Africa, and various other exotic places, and I think that has really informed my tastes and contributed to my appreciation of very diverse aesthetics when it comes to art, design, and anything really. We had a lot of art in our house, and so I was lucky to grow up surrounded by beautiful things.
David: I grew up in rural schools and farms around the Waikato, I think that environment led me to enjoy working with hand tools and materials, especially timber, maybe it made me start daydreaming because there was often nothing much to do!
Where do your best ideas come from?
Imogen: From letting myself run with an idea. Once I’ve had that initial spark, it’s simply having the time and opportunity to let myself go down the rabbit hole. That’s where the best stuff always is.
What does inspiration look like for you?
Imogen: Inspiration can really be anything, and anywhere; it can be the tiniest thing. Colours that occur in nature always astonish and inspire me. Also history is a never-ending source of inspiration.
David: There is always a spark of inspiration at the beginning of the design process, but the road from there to a fully resolved product can often be a long one. So sometimes the inspiration is the light at the end of the tunnel, when you actually approve the final sample and can move into full production, it’s only then that you’ve actually cracked it.
Is there an ethos/motto you abide by in your work?
Imogen: For me, if I create something I really love, that I’d want myself, you’ll usually find other people who identify with that passion, and feel passionate about wanting it too. Storytelling is really important to me as well. It doesn’t have to be too literal or obvious, but I like to create a design or artwork having learnt about something first, and then it gives you something to talk about.
David: An honesty to materials is always important. I’m not a fan of trends either, so I would like to think all my work has a timeless feel and aesthetic.
If there were a secret to success, what would it be?
Imogen: It really depends on what you consider success to be I guess. For me happiness is a big part of feeling successful. I also think being able to collaborate well with others can enable success. Knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are, and working with people who have strengths in other areas to fill those gaps, and balance things out.
David: ”What’s money? A man is a success if he get’s up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do” – Bob Dylan.
What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets?
Imogen: In my career, a big challenge for me early on was designing with a commercial head, and I had a few commercial disasters where I was too stubborn to realise it. But I don’t regret them, I regret the designs we should have produced, and were too afraid to.
David: I handmade all of the Framed range when I originally designed it, which was nice to begin with as I felt a real connection to the pieces, but I soon realised that I couldn’t keep up with the orders and repetition of the work was a challenge, so I decided to move away from the tools at that point.
Once I’ve had that initial spark, it’s simply having the time and opportunity to let myself go down the rabbit hole. That’s where the best stuff always is.
Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?
Imogen: I’m always thinking about work, but with two small children it is not an option to be at work for long hours. I’m not an overly obsessive person, although can be a bit of a perfectionist, especially when it comes to colour. I spend a lot of time choosing colour palettes, so if colours aren’t reproduced correctly, this is a real sticking point for me, much to our manufacturer’s frustration! The right or wrong hue of a colour can make or break something.
David: I’ve run my own company, worked full time and had a young family for over a decade now, so I suppose I work hard, but I love my work so it doesn’t feel like a bad thing. I have many obsessive parts to my personality! But would like to think they nicely balanced out by the easy going side of my nature for the most part.
What’s the secret to resilience?
Imogen: When we are under pressure at work, I think it is really important to keep having fun. Humour can really diffuse a situation, and enable you to put things into perspective.
David: Don’t take yourself too seriously.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Imogen: I guess an overall highlight would be having been big part of helping make Citta a well loved New Zealand brand over the last 13 years.
David: Working for both David Trubridge and Simon James was very cool. I will always look back on my time spent steam bending and making David’s rafts that were destined for other corners of the world very fondly, and Simon is quite simply one of the best we have, so I feel very lucky to have spent time and learnt so much from them both.
What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?
Imogen: Generally speaking, I think New Zealander’s are a brave bunch, and come up with brave ideas that push boundaries in many disciplines, not just ‘creative’ ones. Perhaps that is due to our pioneering spirit?! Or our need to prove ourselves on the world stage? Or just because we are interested in the world. We can be a little too modest sometimes, which can hinder us occasionally.
David: I think it’s always a bit of both, on the one hand I believe our culture, creativity and work ethic is very strong and unique, which I love. On the other hand we’re very isolated so like minded collaborators, partners and markets are a long way away, which can be challenging.
What would be the advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their creative passion into a full-time gig?
Imogen: Be patient. Be prepared to do anything to get into the industry you want to be in. Make sure there is a need/want in the market for what you want to do. Hold on to the passion for what you want to do, because if you lose it, it will be really hard to achieve your goal.
David: Make sure you keep a job, there are always more bills rolling through the mailbox, so working long hours is going to be a given.
What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
Imogen: Know what your weaknesses are, and don’t pretend otherwise. No one can be great at everything. Work with other people who compliment you, and have strengths where you don’t. Where possible, be brave, go with your first idea, and don’t stifle your creativity through fear of people liking it. Be different; no one is remembered for mediocrity.
David: Measure twice, cut once.
Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?
Imogen: Immediately, we are working towards the completion of our Spring/Summer 2018/19 collection. A long term goal is to work more collaboratively, and with other New Zealand artists, to create some really unique stuff. Personally, I’d like to build a studio at home where I can get stuck into some of my own creative projects.
David: I’ve got a few collaborations I’m working on with some great designers, so I’m really looking forward to those coming through. Other than that just, to do the best work I can while I have the opportunity to do it.
This story originally appeared on Idealog.