New Zealand by Design: a History of New Zealand Product Design, by Michael Smythe (Godwit, 2011), 511 pp., $65.
‘Design’ is a mercurial, not to say deceptive, term. Used as a verb to refer to a process, and used as a noun to the product of that process, it has become amongst the most ubiquitous and the most tortured of labels. Often now lumped together with buzzfuzz feel-good notions of expressiveness, and used interchangeably with the tags ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’, it is constantly and lazily colonised, while the shades of discrimination it originally implied have become hidden or lost. Design only really takes on meaning with the words that surround it, as in types of design — and even then the implied associations can serve to obscure a deeper understanding.