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Gifted graduates take divergent paths in design and contemporary art

  • Tikirau Hathaway

Award-nominee in design workforce while postgraduate study beckons for ambitious illustrator.

Two graduates of Unitec’s Design and Contemporary Art programme are taking two different routes towards their creative futures – proof that a world of opportunity awaits those who emerge from a practice-oriented school which focuses on “learning by doing” and giving students the high-demand skills needed for success in the creative industries. The school includes a purpose-built gallery for exhibitions and presentations consistent with a professional environment, and students engage collaboratively with diverse teams and cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand and global cultural contexts.

In 2020 Tikirau Hathaway parlayed his Bachelor of Creative Enterprise, focusing largely on graphic and digital design, into a fulltime role as a graphic designer with Haumi, an Auckland-based specialist concept, creative and development business which initiates, designs and delivers projects of national and international significance in New Zealand and throughout the world.

Even before he landed the role, Tikirau was a stand-out in his peer group, as a 2019 Best Awards nominee who garnered industry experience as a motion graphic design assistant for MediaWorks while still a student. The nominated project centred on New Zealand endemic traditional plants and herbs, Tikirau explains, for people to carry when out in the bush: “It was designed to be pocket-sized, with information about the uses, locations and names of different species of plants. It was predominantly surrounding ways that Maori have treated those plants back in the day.”

Tikirau chose Unitec after attending an open day. “I met a couple of lecturers and found them kind – they knew what they were talking about – and the area felt like it would be a good environment to learn in, especially with the Māori connection to Waitematā Harbour. I’d studied at Western Springs College down the road.”

Asked what he enjoyed most about Unitec, Tikirau has a ready answer. “The people I met, I made some really good friends there who helped me through a lot of things in school, work and life, and I’m sure I did the same for them. Everyone tells you that uni is the time you meet your people. There are some really good lecturers who helped elevate my skills to help me push through the boundaries that had been set for me from high school.

“We got to do a lot of hands-on stuff and experience a lot of different disciplines and dig into them. It wasn’t a beginner’s course in anything, you got to fully immerse yourself in fine arts, digital design, sculpture making, painting, photography, and experience them for what they were so you could get a clear understanding of the industry they would lead you to. The lecturers really understood their jobs, because that’s the whole thing – to prepare people for the industry side of the real world.”

Emma Smith, Senior Lecturer at the School of Creative Industries, says the focus of Unitec’s Bachelor of Design and Contemporary Art is on acquiring knowledge through practical means. “We make, we think, we craft. There are three majors; Design, Visual Arts and Digital Media and through these we teach: Graphic Design, Photography, UX/UI, Painting, Motion Graphics, Animation, Product and Packaging, Sculpture and Installation, Moving Image, and Illustration.

“Our focus is on excellence through practice. Our students learn tactile and digital skills in supportive creative studio environments, specialist technical workshops and computers labs. Contextual papers teach students how to think about Art and Design as conduits for positive change for industry and communities. Our students learn alongside experienced educators, industry professionals and technicians to be excellent at their practice, to be ethically and socially responsible, and professionally equipped to build a career in Art and Design.”

Scarlett Kean completed a Bachelor of Creative Enterprise late last year and is now starting a Master of Creative Practice.

Scarlett Kean

Scarlett says the Bachelor’s degree was “amazing” in that “it's very open. So you can try out everything. I started this degree wanting to do set design then I got to try all these amazing things with all the support of our incredibly experienced lecturers and technicians, and at the end of it, I'm an illustrator who works in ceramics, painting, printmaking and bookmaking.

“I love projects based on narratives and my first few years I mainly made books, but in my last semester, I wanted to see how a narrative would perform other than in a book. So I illustrated this narrative on a series of ceramic vessels about a pregnancy journey between this couple, and then you also see perspective of the unborn child. 

“When I look at myself at the beginning of the degree versus now, it's just incomparable. I was completely supported by my peers and also by the lecturers. I've never been in an environment that has been so compassionate and kind and also challenging, forcing you out of your comfort zone – especially during COVID, it was really challenging. That's why I've chosen to stay on and do my Masters. I can still feel there's a lot more growth to find, and Unitec is absolutely the best place for me to find it.”

Scarlett wants to go into publications, possibly children's books or graphic novels, other experimental publications. “Because my time at Unitec was so broad and I got to try so many things, I have a broad skill set, so I want to support myself in lots of different ways. I would love to experiment with bookmaking and make interesting, new types of books. But primarily I'm an illustrator so I'm starting to do markets, I've got an online store that I'm building and a website and I want to keep going with that.

“My advice to others in the design and contemporary arts programme is to try as many things as possible. I went in thinking, I'm going to get as many skills as I possibly can in my tool belt so that when I'm out of uni, any client that comes up to me with a problem, I can go, yeah, I can do that. And Unitec is the perfect place for that.”


You can find out more about Unitec’s design and contemporary art programmes and study pathways at the School of Creative Industries.