Only Leonie | Dow Design, brand strategy, identity and packaging design agency

Only Leonie

Only Leonie image

December 15 2016

Meet Leonie – she's an absolute bloody legend.


Leonie Whyte – Senior Designer

You’ve got over 20 years experience as a designer which is a lot, in fact that’s more years than most people aged 25 and under have been alive! Tell us a bit about that. Why, where, how, when, highlights, lowlights, gossip, scandal, questions, queries?

Wow – sooo old! I started out in my home town of Hamilton and a year later moved to Auckland with my best friend. We didn’t know anyone but both managed to land great jobs and a huge house on Gillies Ave filled with friends and shady flatmates, and the rest is history. 

I continued with graphic design for the next 7 years to the point of getting burnt out so left the game to go hairdressing. Everyone thought I was mad but I needed a break without losing a creative outlet.

I was working with amazing and talented people, studying hard and enjoying my work but I realised another change was on the horizon when I started wanting to putting type in all my hair and fashion photoshoots. That was when I knew I had to go back to design. So I headed to the UK, ticked off my OE and did some freelance all in one go!. This led to a full time role in the middle of Chelsea where I worked on big brands with solid strategy... not to mention big budgets! This really refreshed me and helped me develop a new love for design. Soon after that it was back to Auckland to tie the knot. 

Auckland was tiny after the UK and I wasn’t pleased to be back so we moved to Wellington – big mistake! We were newly married, had bought our first house and hated it so we did our own personal ‘4-Point Test’ ‘Do we want to be here in 5 years?’ – No, ‘Can we imagine starting a business here?’ – Nope, ‘Can we imagine raising kids here?’ – Nah and lastly ‘Which city would we rather visit?’ – Wellington. The house was on the market the next day. The upside was that coming back to Auckland after 18 months in Wellington had totally turned my views around. It’s an awesome city and one where I finally thought we could put our roots down which lead to 10 years of freelance while starting a family. Helping start a new design agency. And finally Dow.

How long have you been at Dow and what led to you working here?

I’ve just clocked up my first year (woop woop) but have actually had an association with both Dow and Brother for the past 10 years. For me Dow had always set a benchmark – a really good reputation, design-led and produces great talent. So that and the work I’d done for them on contract had a big influence. I’d been involved in really fun, interesting projects – some of which are still in my portfolio today – so I knew it was the place for me.

You are also involved in a few other side projects. Tell us about those. Do you sell ceramic bowls?

Haha – I’d love to be selling my ceramic creations! My skills are very rudimentary. I do love it though and it’s so different to graphic design in terms of the physical output. We tend to work in such a controlled environment where we’re taught to explore every option before getting a result. It’s a bit different with ceramics. It’s gritty, dirty and makes my soft little computer hands bleed. I don’t really know what I’m going to make until I start something and then it’s just a case of seeing what happens. It’s completely against my normal sensibilities.

The other side project is the yearly Make Something project which myself and founder Bevan Tonks (Switch) organise. It's a yearly event that celebrates great New Zealand graphic designers and gives them a forum to exhibit a piece of work that is completely outside the constraints of their normal day to day working lives. We’ve just finished our 4th one so look out for the 5th Make Something in November of 2017.

You’re a busy successful designer as well as a busy successful mum. How do you manage it?

Sometimes not so well. Those are the days I finish work and make a beeline for the fridge!
Life is full on with 2 boys, 3 counting my husband – they’re all pretty adventurous so can be a handful! John and I jump on our motorbike for a roady when we can - otherwise we’re out on the jetski, riding bikes and just generally hanging out together. It’s nice living with your best friends!

What is your personal approach, or say, ethos to designing?

Go with your gut. When it comes to design I’ve always found that your first instincts are often right. It all comes down to one simple great idea – everything from there on in is careful crafting of words, images, type and colour in service to that original idea.