NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Australia in the age of the Design Big Bang

Since the emergence of design as a profession across the post-war Northern Hemisphere in the 1950s, the role of design in fuelling economic growth has become more pronounced across the globe. There are significant nuances between nations, communities and companies’ interpretations and use of design to tackle the problems they confront, including the degree of national commitment to design-led innovation, disciplinary orientations and the rich variety of philosophies and methods.

By Dr Philip Ely

Since the emergence of design as a profession across the post-war Northern Hemisphere in the 1950s, the role of design in fuelling economic growth has become more pronounced across the globe. There are significant nuances between nations, communities and companies’ interpretations and use of design to tackle the problems they confront, including the degree of national commitment to design-led innovation, disciplinary orientations and the rich variety of philosophies and methods. As scholars across the globe have recognised, design is no longer demarcated by its outputs alone; it is a protean discipline (and practice) that has finally shed itself of its aesthetic and (arche)tectonic origins to become one that has itself annexed art and architecture to exhibit cultural legitimacy (and supremacy) on its own terms[1].

The time of the Design Big Bang – a new period of proliferating toolboxes and methods, ontological and epistemological orientations, (re)presentations and dialogues. It is not without controversies and disagreements, and it is this that makes the Design universe so appealing to research, study and practice in.

The total design espoused by Gropius has given way to a pluralistic, transdisciplinary and critical (D/d)esign which is transforming our relationship to each other and the planet. As many design researchers have noted[2], with both a healthy scepticism and in a spirit of advocation, Design Thinking’s emergence as a paradigm in the late noughties has acted as a Trojan horse for design practitioners and researchers who have long argued for a human-centred design-led “way of doing” innovation. Arguably, design thinking process models[3] have played a catalytic role in an expansion of design into new areas of pragmatic and philosophical concern: social design; decolonising design; service design; speculative design; discursive design amongst others.

This, I argue, marks the time of the Design Big Bang – a new period of proliferating toolboxes and methods, ontological and epistemological orientations, (re)presentations and dialogues. It is not without controversies and disagreements, and it is this that makes the Design universe so appealing to research, study and practice in. A largely unnoticed reclassification of the ANZRC Fields of Research in June 2020 saw the recognition and creation of new design fields in an overhaul of the Design Group (now 3303) including 330302 Design anthropology, 330303 Design for disaster relief, 330312 Service design, and 330313 Social design amongst other important changes[4]. But what does this Design Big Bang mean to Australian society? Why is this global expansion of human (design) knowledge important for us right now? 

The hope, amongst international design researchers and designers is that Australian design can also make a meaningful contribution to global efforts towards better human rights, representation, environmental and equitable futures.

In May 2020, a US-led design movement – The Design Vanguard – published the COVID-19 Design Directory in response to the global pandemic, showcasing innovative designs for personal protective equipment, safety guidelines and campaigns, and designs for physical and social distancing. Design professionals from across the globe have been sharing their best practice in design for social, technical, governance and environmental systems. Here in Australia in August 2020, design researchers (including myself) from across the world joined the Design Research Society’s fully online conference to share insights and work collaboratively in workshops to forge new international partnerships that are now shaping both design research effectiveness and design for governance, health and sustainability. Then, in September 2020, the Australian Design Council was relaunched (in an announcement by Scott Morrison) under the dynamic leadership of Sam Buculo, aiming to support the growth of Australian industry[5].

The eyes of the world are on Australia, waiting with expectancy as we confront climate-afforded bushfires and floods, a mid/post-COVID precipitated wave of mental ill-health and geopolitical uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific region. The hope, amongst international design researchers and designers is that Australian design can also make a meaningful contribution to global efforts towards better human rights, representation, environmental and equitable futures.

My hope for the future is that the Federal Government grasps this opportunity to commit to Design in the way that it has with STEM. The complexity and sheer volume of the issues that we confront on a personal, local, national and international scale call for the creativity, collaborative, sense-making (and perhaps healthily contrarian) perspectives of a community of researchers who have been ignored too often. Now the Design Big Bang is here, what sensible policymaker wouldn’t want to enrol the capability of design researchers right here in Australia to improve all aspects of life on earth?

 

References

[1] Midal, A. (2019). Design by accident Berlin : Sternberg Press. p.399.

[2] Wrigley, C. (2018). Editorial: Deception by design. Journal of Design, Business & Society, 4(1), 3–5. Kolko, J. (2018). The Divisiveness of Design Thinking. Interactions, XXV(3), 29–34. Ely, P. (2020). Designing futures for an age of differentialism. Design and Culture, 10(3), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/17547075.2020.1810907

[3] The Design Council have recently revised their design innovation model to embrace the complexity of life on the planet: See Drew, C. (2021). Developing our new Systemic Design Framework. Retrieved from https://medium.com/design-council/developing-our-new-systemic-design-framework-e0f74fe118f7

[4] It might not be perfect and satisfy all, but it is a step towards a broader representation of the variety of methodologies and approaches in design

[5] Australian Design Council manifesto launch at: https://issuu.com/gooddesignaustralia/docs/3._adc_design_manifesto


Dr Philip Ely is a researcher, practitioner and educator in design. He has over 35 years’ experience in design and driven design-led innovation in the worlds of business and academia in Europe and Australia. He is the founder of the State of Design research network in Western Australia exploring the impact and value of design to social and economic wellbeing. In his current role, he leads postgraduate Design courses at Curtin University, supervises several Design PhD students and has published in the journals Design & Culture and the Design Management Journal.

More from this issue

More from this issue

Communication Design has expanded significantly as a practice since I graduated from Art School … it has transformed into a discipline encompassing its earlier aspects of publishing, print design, branding and packaging and extended through to experiential graphic design, interaction and interface design, user-experience, service and systems design.

Dominated by engineering constraints, the potential for human centered design to inform the design of extreme, isolated environments such as submarines, Antarctica and even off world habitation has been limited. Driven by economic pressures and profession cultures fields such as ship building rarely include human factors in their design.

The pandemic has presented design education with as many opportunities as it has challenges. With literally a day or two to prepare, most Australian tertiary education providers were hurled into a world of online learning at a scale way beyond what they ever really imagined or prepared for.

Current and future challenges around food security, climate change, migration, health, politics, and the environment, require positive, creative and ethical responses. COVID-19 has added layers of complexity to these global challenges given its precarious and diffuse nature. As the virus continues to cause disruption and harm, it serves to exemplify the need for advanced capabilities in open communication, advanced collaboration, and critical and creative thinking - core competencies of design.

“We are moving to an integrated learning model.” These exciting words have permeated discussions in the Higher Education (HE) sector most of 2020 and 2021. The incredible work of transforming teaching to accommodate COVID restrictions has disrupted many traditional teaching methods and forced educators to envisage new ways of delivering and assessing creative content.

As courses move online with the current COVID-19 lockdown in Warrane/Sydney, I reflect on the significance of material-making in design education and how the COVID pandemic has impacted on student learning experiences with mandated restrictions to specialised workshops on university campuses.

In this article we discuss models of design practice, based on three student projects from different program levels, the Bachelor of Design, the Master of Design (coursework) and the Doctor of Philosophy in Design, in the School of Art & Design at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

In late 2019, a panel of design educators came together at the ACUADS conference to launch the Communication Design Educators Network and discuss what we saw then as big questions: Is tradition serving or stunting us? And, are the most valuable skills future design practitioners need today being taught?

Rapid change in the field of design has become a defining challenge in our role as educators. Graduates from design programs are expected to be simultaneously conceptual, material and entrepreneurial thinkers with the ability to work across disciplines.

A number of contributions to this edition of NiTRO reflect on the state of design education: from signature pedagogies such as dialogue, critique and the studio translated for online contexts, and relational shifts between teachers and students; to design’s role away from an emphasis on creative solutions and outputs to matters of process and ways of doing.

The first time we met was 22 years ago at an information session on the remote delivery of courses convened in Melbourne, for the university where I then worked. She enrolled, so the second time we met was the first weekend of that remote delivery, a Master of Arts class in journalism held in Melbourne. She was a young lawyer, head hunted by a top firm in Australia.