Jono Jones, Bluelab’s Head of Innovation Shares his London to Tauranga Tale
Jono Jones is a central player in Tauranga’s design thinking community.
Born in Staffordshire, UK, Jono arrived in Tauranga in 2011 for a three-month work exchange program with a local company, Locus Research. Lured by the surprisingly innovative design community and the unbelievable seaside lifestyle, Jono’s three months turned into seven years.
Jono has since moved on to his current role as Head of Innovation at Bluelab, where he uses customer-focused design-thinking to change how the world grows food. Over his years in New Zealand, he’s also married his British partner, Stacey, and loves raising his two young children in Tauranga.
We asked Jono to reflect on his London to Tauranga migration story.
Jono, can you give us a snapshot of your design career?
After studying Product Design at Brunel University in West London, I took a graduate position at a young start-up design firm in Glasgow called Lightweight Medical. We developed neonatal care products like transport incubators, noise defence systems and restraint systems for ambulances. This is where I found my passion for user-centred design and innovation.
We were later acquired by a fast-growing start-up, Onzo, which created energy monitoring devices for homes. The whole team moved to London and after two great years in the Big Smoke, my now-wife, Stacey, and I left with itchy feet for travel.
How did New Zealand end up on your radar?
Two Lightweight Medical team members had previously trained with a product development firm in Tauranga called Locus Research. Locus then sent members of their team to the UK in exchange. We always talked about the opportunity to do a stint in New Zealand and see more of this faraway land, so when we left for travelling, the connection was made.
What was your impression of Tauranga when you first arrived?
We got to New Zealand in mid-December 2010 and travelled around the South Island for two months before arriving in Mount one Sunday in February 2011. We sat on the dunes at Tay Street Beach eating ice-creams and waiting for my boss at Locus to show us the house we’d be staying at for the next three months. It was a bluebird day and we were watching a surf competition.
We drove 40 metres up Tay Street to our home for the summer. I told Stacey that evening that we should call our families and tell them we were never coming home.
What was it about the Bay that made you extend your ‘temporary’ status?
I was doing the work I was passionate about in a place that we loved. That’s the two halves of the famous work-life balance. We just kept staying a bit longer and continued to live like travellers but more by the weekend!
What was your role at Locus?
I was Research Director at Locus which meant I led cross-functional research programmes on product development projects. I worked with a wide selection of businesses to bring their ideas to life, from early-stage start-ups to mature NZ businesses. I learnt a lot at Locus, especially in the empathy skills area with customers and users but also businesses and clients.
Tell us about working for Bluelab?
I’m Head of Innovation at Bluelab. We develop greenhouse technology to get the most out of water-based plant growing systems. I get to work across all the teams to deliver impact and value. There is a strong cultural aspect on an innovation journey to encourage the team to think creatively and differently about the challenges we face. A significant part of my role is understanding our customers which, when you export 98% of sales, means getting on a plane a few times a year and getting into the field. Or the greenhouse in my case.
Does your work involve travel?
New Zealand Trade and Enterprise have a programme called Better By Design where they build design capability in New Zealand export businesses through training and experiences. Every year they take a group to the USA to meet businesses using design at the highest level. I was lucky to join the Study Tour the first year it went to New York. Over five days we visited a range of incredible businesses from young start-ups to Google. It was a game-changer for my outlook. I now travel quite regularly to the States and Europe for Bluelab.
What exactly is design thinking?
It’s a problem-solving methodology that positions humans at the centre of the challenge. It’s a process where you use empathy to understand a human problem then quickly develop, prototype and test ideas with people. It’s a shift from designing for people to designing with people.
Is there a design-thinking community in Tauranga?
Every month a Design-Thinking Meetup group gets together to talk, share and experience design thinking. Karl at local export business, Trimax, spear-headed the initiative after recognising a growing interest in the design-thinking field. It now pulls over 50 people a month from all walks of life. It’s a great way to learn more, sharpen those skills and meet like-minded design-thinkers.
What’s your take on Tauranga’s innovation and design culture?
It’s thriving and very collaborative. There’s a healthy blend of young and progressive businesses and traditional companies on cool transformation journeys. The culture has changed quite a lot towards businesses collaborating and sharing ideas and problems. It’s easy for export businesses to sell into niche offshore markets and think we have unique challenges, but you often realise that the challenges are much more common and openness can expose them.
Design and innovation culture is a constantly evolving process and Tauranga is very good at moving forward together. You can’t over-stress how much the practicality of a small city helps with this – I can get across town in 15 minutes for a meetup at 5.30 pm.
How has Tauranga changed since you arrived here in 2011?
Through my lens, seismically. The creative scene in 2011 was a few disconnected agencies. Now we have numerous shared studios, TED events, Start-Up Weekend, Meetups, Innovation Festivals, outdoor cinemas and heaps of creative agencies networking with local companies. We even have a City Council with an innovation lab using human-centred approaches to tackle city-wide challenges.
What is your connection with Priority One and what value do they add to our growing city?
Priority One does a great job at bringing the community together and catalysing initiatives.
In the design and innovation space, I collaborate with Priority One on several projects including Young Innovator Awards; Groundswell, Tauranga’s Festival of Innovation; and the Summer Marine Innovation Lab, which we run research projects through. The Design Thinking Meetup is supported by Priority One. We’re exploring collaborative, open innovation models through a horticultural regional research institute called PlantTech that could really change the game for Bay of Plenty businesses.
What was it like coming from London to Tauranga?
Individual personalities can shine through in smaller places. These individuals can create a real impact on a community and begin to grow cultures. A surprise was the international perspective that people in Tauranga brought. I met so many Kiwis that had spent time abroad either travelling or working and had brought that back, which creates a rich diversity of thought and experience.
If you had to move back to London tomorrow what would you miss about your life here?
Seeing the horizon. I’m not sure I saw it when I was in London. I run up the Mount a few times a week and every time, come rain or shine, the view blows me away. I find it important in my work to find those regular moments to reflect and look a long way out – you can’t beat the Mount for that.
How has your family changed since arriving here?
It’s grown! Stacey and I married on the beach in 2012 and have since had two glorious little Kiwis. We’ve moved our home to the further possible point from where we were born – for this to happen, a lot of factors are needed and I like to think of these falling into three categories: people, place and purpose. We’ve essentially been adopted into and loved by a new community. The Mount is a pretty special place to live and bring up kids.
Ready for a Change?
“Strong growth in Tauranga has led to significant skills shortages in our AGRI-TECH sector. Key companies want to connect with Kiwi expats, migrants and tech-professionals from within New Zealand with relevant expertise.” ~ Nigel Tutt, Priority One CEO