toi Maori + designer + researcher

Johnson Witehira


Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au

Johnson Witehira recognised as an expert on contemporary Maori art and design. He has developed Maori-centred design thinking methodologies and programmes. His Doctorate research, Tarai Korero Toi - Articulating a Māori Design Language, looked at how Maori might engage with contemporary design practices while his Masters research, Maori art and Gestalt Theory: A History and Development of the Arts of Maori with a Gestalt-based Comparative Analysis, explored the elements and principles of Maori design through carving. This in-depth understanding of Maori visual art, when combined with Johnson’s knowledge and experience with non-Maori design practices, sees him uniquely placed to develop Maori and bi-cultural design elements for the Mill Road project. Beyond his technical skills, Johnson also brings critical experience to be projects around working with hapu and iwi on complex, large-scale projects. According to Johnson, the success of any project is dependent on having good relationships with hapu and iwi. At the same time it’s important to respect the time and resource given by Maori stakeholders who are often busy with more pressing local issues.

Johnson’s design has a strong aesthetic that comes from combining Maori form and pattern with ideas from graphic design and Western arts practice. As an innovator interpreting Maori design and tikanga to be relevant for modern day experiences, Johnson also consults to a number of public sector and enterprise organisations to bring authenticity and integrity to their customer touch-points.