NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Design Education Now

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.

By Veronika Kelly, Katherine Moline and Laurene Vaughan

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. Although the cultural flattening perpetuated by modernism was disrupted in the latter parts of the twentieth century, it appears to have taken a pandemic to mobilise a kind of cultural porosity; an opening up and visibility of individual values, since the “linguistic and cultural norms of the receiving Higher Education setting” to which international students on campus are often expected to conform[1] have been suspended. In some ways, the terrain is not new – calls for changes to design education have regularly been made by scholars – perhaps because the nature of design(ing) is concerned with the prospective; that is, with making better. What is apparent in the papers here is the care which these authors show in their considerations: for the future of the design disciplines; for students as emerging designers, researchers, and social actors; and for what design education can do, and should do, in a higher education climate of increasing uncertainty and complexity in Australia and globally.

As COVID threw the real into stark relief and interrupted supply chains and the inequity of work[2] meant, The Club of Rome’s forecast of systematic crises in 1972, titled The Limits to Growth, came into focus. The bushfires, flooding and the emergence of a global pandemic within the first three months of 2020 triggered a whole new level of knowledge exchange as students and academics wrangled unfamiliar technologies within days of unprecedented lockdowns around Australia. The gaps and fissures between rapid response and heuristic design processes called on all members of university communities to compromise as we pivoted from one crisis to another and developed informal support structures. The vulnerability of technologies and internet connections while balancing synchronous and asynchronous teaching platforms and negotiating what it meant to be (co)located in different cities around the world was challenging and tough. Comparing notes about the sudden raw impacts of massive disruptions to what we’d taken for granted – assumptions based on abundance – when faced with scarcity and looking out for vulnerable households, near and far, changed design education. A higher order of inclusivity while juggling widely divergent needs and expectations of students prioritised designing for uncertainty and entrepreneurship for the common good. It also meant a collective questioning and challenging of how we might define normal post pandemic. Whether it is as confronting as dissolving PLA plastic waste through injections into human bodies or learning to further adapt to increased isolation from the designers of submarines or more optimistically seeing the crises as an opportunity to sharpen our focus on design as a generosity of spirit remains to be seen. What is sure is that we all miss informal learning together.

The challenges of these times demand much from design, and from design educators. The following articles evidence the complexity of the demands and the diversity and yet shared ways that design educators are working to address the demands. What we see here is not unique to Australia, these issues are evident globally. Often framed as issues for design for the future, in reality, as we can see, these are the challenges for design education now.

In this edition:

Gene Bawden (Monash) discusses the opportunities and challenges for design educators and students in this critical time for reflecting on culture, identity and place in virtual learning.

Philip Ely (Curtin) tracks design’s history as a profession to the expansion of design research and practice for economic growth across industry sectors.

Trent Jansen and Guy Keulemans (UNSW) discuss three projects they frame as conceptual approaches to design and explain how they draw as well on local knowledge and traditions, critical craft histories and speculative provocations.

Beck Davis (ANU) presents a case for the impact that research codes with their narrow focus on discrete disciplinary areas, has on design research’s capacity to contribute to real and pressing issues that can only be addressed through interdisciplinary investigations. 

Stephen Goddard and Carly Vickers (UNSW) explore how rapid change in design education that is based in a paradigm of thinking through making has led to graduate readiness for a diverse range of roles in government, media, entrepreneurial start-ups and design studios.

Meghan Kelly (Deakin) reflects on the implications of our move to digital learning environments has on the vital role of student informal learning.

Peter Schumacher (UNISA) presents a case study of his investigation into the development a research strategy that embraces the complexity of Human Centered Complex/Human Environment Design.

Zoe Veness (UNSW) assesses the changes to design education imbricated in material-making  when learning moves online and discusses the innovations developed by students when distanced from campus.

Raghavendra Reddy Gudur (Canberra), Neal Haslem (RMIT), Meghan Kelly (Deakin), Veronika Kelly (UniSA), Katrina Sandbach (WSU) and Myra Thiessen (Monash) reflect on the most valuable skills designers need today and whether tradition is serving or stunting design education.

Neal Haslem (RMIT) draws out the deep-rooted tenets of design practice and contests assumed disciplinary knowledge systems as he traces Communication Design’s expansion and maturation as a practice.

Also in this edition Sue Joseph (UniSA) shares the emotional challenges that can arise for both student and teacher during creative endeavour. This piece was originally submitted for our previous edition on Creativity and Wellbeing but was delayed by technical difficulties.


[1] Castelli, J. 2021 “What does ‘internationalisation’ truly mean and are we preparing students appropriately?”, in HERDSA 2021 Conference, 7-10 July 2021, Brisbane.

[2] By this we refer to essential workers in supermarkets, chemists, public transport who are precluded from remote work under stay-at-home orders.

Associate Professor Veronika Kelly is Dean of Programs (Creative) at the University of South Australia and an Executive Member of ACUADS. Kelly’s research focuses on design culture and design education, with a specific interest in the relationship between the practice of communication design and the art of rhetoric. Her work explores designs as social constructions, the ways in which design discourse shapes design cultures, and how this in turn informs what design education for contemporary practice is or could be.

Associate Professor Katherine Moline is an artist, designer and Associate Professor at UNSW Arts, Design and Architecture. Her research focuses on the dynamics between technological and social forces in art and design. Dr Moline’s analyses of experimental design and creative ethnography have been published by Routledge and Bloomsbury.

Professor Laurene Vaughan is Dean of the School of Design at RMIT University. She has extensive international reputation and track record in design education and doctoral training in particular. Her publications include the edited collection – Practice-Based Design Research (2017) Bloomsbury, UK.

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.

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.

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.