Over the coming weeks, The Chamber of Commerce is sitting down with each of the winners from the recent Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction Group, to find out what they did to stand out from the crowd. This week's Winners’ Insight is with Alexander Wastney, owner and creative director at Designwell, the winner of the 2021 Micro Business of the Year award.

Over the last five years,  you may have noticed an exhilarating energy blossoming throughout the city’s commercial district. A surge of funky, bold and bright businesses now call the CBD home, breathing new life into Hamilton’s heart, resilient against the hardships of the pandemic. Brave entrepreneurs possessing a passion for creation have transformed old and tired spaces into beautiful, modern interiors, bringing international style and sophistication to the Waikato. Leading the charge to revitalise our city centre are business and life partners Alexander and Kristin Wastney, the creative masterminds behind Designwell. 
“We started Designwell five years ago after relocating back to Hamilton from New York,” said Alexander. “We’re a multi-disciplined design studio, and we’re a bit different in that we have two main parts to our business, brand strategy and commercial interior design. We call it brand and space, and we offer the two as we see value in creating a consistent customer experience from your brand identity through to the space you inhabit.”
If you have eaten out in Hamilton in the last few years, you will have visited one of Designwell’s interior fitouts. Counting Mr Pickles, Banh Mi Caphe, Weave Eatery and Cream Eatery among their clients, the design firm is responsible for the ambience of Hamilton’s hottest hospitality joints. Creating a strong brand story between the online presence of a brand and what you experience when walking through its doors is where Designwell excels. 
“Often, when you start a brand, there is a disconnect between your brand and the space. It's our core strength at Designwell to make sure your brand story and personality is shaped strategically and beautifully in your space.
“Your brand experience is so much more than your logo and colours, or your online/social media experience. You may have interacted with a brand in that medium, but when you visit the brand in person, how does that translate into layout, materials, lighting, service, music, all the parts of a brand that people don’t often realise make a difference. It’s about designing a memorable experience, and every detail matters,” said Alexander. 

With so much choice as consumers, the importance for businesses to be able to tell a story through their brand has become even more vital to staying competitive. Gone are the days of competing solely based on the benefits and features of your product or service. Consumers nowadays are looking for more substance, asking themselves: ‘Do we share the same values? Do we resonate? Do we share the same goals?’ The competition in many industries has become so saturated that those who use design to communicate their ‘why’ have an easier time attracting and retaining customers.  

“A big part of what we’re about is understanding our clients' passion, story and reason they’re in business. An empathetic approach is key to achieving this. If you can communicate why you do what you do compellingly, you will attract customers who share your vision. For us, brand strategy is about unearthing our customers' story and then helping them clearly define who they’re for and what the personality of the brand should look, feel and sound like. These are the building blocks for every great brand experience, ” said Alexander.
It was Designwell’s first time entering the awards. After attending the 2020 Awards Gala Dinner and being inspired by the calibre of contestants, Alexander and Kristin took the opportunity to put their business forward and test themselves against the record-breaking field of competition. It was undoubtedly a success, with Designwell taking home the Micro Business of the Year Award. 
“Typically, we’ve only entered design awards and entering a business award was not something on our radar, but we are so glad we did. Having the judges come in and spend time with us was invaluable. Their insight was beneficial and also challenged us to keep thinking forward. Their feedback was encouraging and showed us that leaders in the Waikato see value in an innovative and creative approach to design in the corporate world.
“For us, the recognition from the business community that design has value has been motivating and inspiring for the team, especially after all the hard mahi they put in. To be honoured by our local community and given an opportunity to continue advocating for the importance of great design has been an incredible experience,” said Alexander. 
Designwell has a vision, one shared by many in Hamilton, to transform the Waikato through design and create spaces in the city that are vibrant and beautiful, encouraging diversity through being accessible to all in our community to enjoy. Designwell has been working closely with the Hamilton Central Business Association to create initiatives to attract people back to the heart of the city, combating the aftermath of Covid, which has seen CBDs the world over decay as workers and consumers prefer to stay in the suburbs. 
“The first reason we started Designwell was to impact the Waikato through design and create a cool place to live for ourselves and future generations. The second was to create a collaborative, multi-disciplined and encouraging culture of creativity. Most of our clients are within the CBD, and we are incredibly proud of our work to help transform and revive the city centre,” said Alexander.
But where does the inspiration for such groovy and exciting designs come from? For Designwell, it starts with the stories of their clients.
“Often, it’s the story behind our client's ‘why’ that leads to the inspiration for our designs. We also challenge ourselves to use New Zealand materials in different ways and work with local fabricators to create something unique and locally influenced.
“The investment in good design is important for the success of our region. Good design delights and inspires, creates longevity and helps attract customers and retain talent to the region as we compete with the other major centres.”
Transitioning from the hustle and bustle of New York to the steadier pace of Hamilton would be a difficult adjustment for many. For Alexander and Kristin, it has been reinvigorating and exciting to be back home, with a chance to influence the aesthetic of Hamilton for future generations. 
“All of our conversations with clients have been positive and upbeat, and that energy is infectious. There’s a momentum building in Hamilton that is tangible and exciting. We’ve seen all these great businesses emerge in the last five years, and supporting these businesses to present themselves in a compelling way is a privilege. Hamilton’s a great size to do business in, with a close-knit community that makes it a pleasure to do business in. It’s easy to find collaborative partners, and they are all great people. We feel very blessed to be home and to have opened our own business here in Kirikiriroa.”
Hamilton is indeed blessed to have the experience and vision of global designers making their mark on our city. With many exciting projects under progress and the guidance of passionate creatives like Alexander and Kristin, Hamilton looks set to  continue its path of modernisation and beautification for all of us to benefit. 


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