Anna Brown

Anna Brown

Director of Toi Āria: Design for Public Good

Associate Professor Anna Brown is a design academic, researcher and practitioner. Her design research is articulated through diverse partnerships and varied collaborations. Anna is the founder and director of Toi Āria: Design for Public Good, a research centre in the College of Creative Arts. She leads a small, adaptable team in applied research projects in partnership with government agencies and community providers. Their research uses participatory design in social policy and government.

Anna is also a practising designer with an international profile in book design. Her work investigates form, materials and typography and how the vehicle of the book can animate and amplify the content it contains. She has completed significant commissions to collaborate nationally and internationally with visual artists, curators, editors and musicians. 

  • Expertise

    Participatory design, public good, citizen engagement, design for deliberative democracy, typography, editorial design, creative leadership.

    View Anna Brown's expertise directory profile.

  • Research Highlights

    Toward Algorithmic Accountability in Public Services: A Qualitative Study of Affected Community Perspectives on Algorithmic Decision-Making in Child Welfare Services

    This participatory design project explores algorithmic decision-making systems and the impact of their adoption by government public service agencies. Researchers, policy experts, and civil rights groups have all voiced concerns that such systems are being deployed without adequate consideration of potential harms, disparate impacts, and public accountability practices. This project involved families in the child welfare system and employees of child welfare agencies. It explored the concerns of affected communities in the context of child welfare services.

     Contributors: Anna Brown; Alexandra Chouldechova, Carnegie Melon, USA; Emily Putnam-Hornstein, University of Southern California, USA; Andrew Tobin, Toi Āria, Massey University; Rhema Vaithianathan, AUT, New Zealand.


    Our Data, Our Way: What New Zealand people expect from guidelines for data use and sharing was commissioned by the Data Futures Partnership in 2017. Using a participatory design approach and rapid prototyping method over 26 weeks, Anna led the Toi Āria team in a nationwide programme of workshops engaging with over 400 people. The workshops were supported by an interactive web tool used by over 4,000 people. The engagement process gave New Zealanders a unique opportunity to have a say on how their data is used and shared. Both face-to-face and online applications used a bespoke methodology — the comfort board — with compelling and easy-to-understand data use scenarios. Our Data, Our Way informed 'A Path to Social Licence: Guidelines for Trusted Data Use' developed for the Government.

    Contributors: Anna Brown, Thomas Le Bas, Tim Parkin and Andrew Tobin, all from Toi Āria, Design for Public Good, Massey University.


    Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. M. Taylor, edited by Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, published by Massey University Press (2018)

     Mervyn Taylor — wood engraver, painter, illustrator, sculptor and designer — created twelve murals for major new government and civic buildings in New Zealand between 1956-1964. Rich with archival material, this book details the murals’ creation and visually locates Taylor as one of New Zealand’s most significant artists.

     The design references the Festival of Britain 1950 typeface and draws on the style of the mural details to capture the era and celebrate its art and culture.

     Anna won the 2019 Harper Collins Publishers Award for Best Cover at the Publishers Association of New Zealand Book Design Awards. The book was also shortlisted for the 2019 Ockam New Zealand Book Awards.


    whiteout, whitenoise was commissioned for the 2016 Obscura International Festival of Photography in Penang, Malaysia and later exhibited in Melbourne and Hobart. This artist’s book, in the form of an exhibition, is the result of a creative partnership between Anna and artist Anne Noble. As designer and typographer Anna determined the form of the book and its deconstruction for multiple gallery contexts including the concertina form, the three-dimensional spatial experience of the page, and how it responds to light, shadow and air currents.

  • Qualifications

    BA (Hons) English and History (Victoria University)
    BFA in Design (Canterbury University)
    MDes with Distinction (Massey University)

  • Professional Affiliations

    Board Chair, Massey University Press
    Convenor and Member of DesignCo, a New Zealand design consortium

  • Supervision

    Anna is currently supervising students in the areas of public good, participatory design and participatory art. She also supervises typographic book projects. Her current students are:

     MDes: Justine Pivac Solomon: ‘Innovation, failure and learning in public sector service design’, co-supervised with Anna Matheson at Victoria University’s Faculty of Health.

     MFA: Ruth Taylor: The Treasure Behind the Walls: Murals and the stories of loss, hope, and connection hidden in their creation’, co-supervised with Richard Reddaway, Massey University.

     PhD candidate: Stefanie McKnight: ‘The Intersection of Service Design & Policy Design — Customer-centred approaches to policy design’, co-supervised with Professors Claire Robinson and Brian Lucid, Massey University.