Cultural Icons

Conversations with iconic people

Episode70

Gifford Jackson - Part 2

“We [designers] made a difference”

Preview / 00:01:53

Full Episode / 01:37:15

In This Episode

In this, the second half of an interview between Michael Smythe (author of  New Zealand by Design) and Gifford Jackson, we explore the latter’s life in New York, and his eventual return to New Zealand.

We hear anecdotes of Jackson living in the Big Apple during some exciting times for the advertising and design industries. He talks of the many legendary design chiefs he worked for (including the Teague office), the myriad of incredible pieces he developed (including furniture, architectural, aviation interiors and whiteware design), and the colourful social environment in which he moved (jazz clubs, rooftop soirees, Fifth Avenue work meetings...).

During his time in New York Gifford began to develop a visual catalogue of “cliches in American design” which he proceeded to draw in an almost encyclopedic manner.  This thorough analysis of design trends (many of which he noticed before anyone else and gave them names that remain part of the industry’s parlance) were detailed visual essays on an era, its aesthetic leanings, and what they might say about the aspirations of those that made and used such products.

His eventual (1966) return to New Zealand coincided with a boom of sorts in the industrial design field. His early work for Fisher & Paykel and various other agricultural, residential, film-prop, medical, and maritime projects have defined many of the local typologies. Jackson speaks here about the state of New Zealand (small market, need to keep costs down) and how that has shaped the aspirations of industrial design. He delves into the processes that lead him to some of his most iconic work (i.e the Marisol Skiff - a sailing dinghy that for over 30 years has been seminal in traditional boat building circles) and unravels these methodical, and thoroughly devised objects.

Gifford Jackson is a 2013 recipient of the Order of New Zealand Merit for services to design, the first working industrial designer (as opposed to design educators or administrators) to have received such accolade.