NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Staying the course: The making of responsible designers

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.

By Stephen Goddard and Carly Vickers

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. Design is now widely recognised as contributing creative thinking, problem reframing, and unique contextually appropriate approaches to collaboration throughout diverse STEAM industries. Advanced interdisciplinary skills at the intersection of science, art and technology are also crucial for designers to imagine empathetic and inclusive futures. Design programs in tertiary education can act as incubators in which students develop the necessary agility, soft skills and personal attributes for these shifting expectations.

The rapidly transforming landscape of design practice challenges the expectations with which many students commence a design degree.

These imperatives form the backbone of the pedagogical approach that is employed in the design programs at the School of Art & Design, University of New South Wales, Sydney (UNSW). The School’s recent integration into the larger Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture (ADA) – which includes the Social Sciences, Education, Built Environment, Languages, Arts & Media and six research centres ­– further enables deep interdisciplinary engagement with the broader humanities. These opportunities are the foundation of the ADA faculty strategy, with the introduction of an Innovation Hub that brings together interdisciplinary teams of students, academics and professional staff to address complex problems and facilitate positive change.

A rich and symbiotic cross-fertilisation of analogue and digital materialities – encouraging our students to think like designers but explore their ideas unbounded by specific media.

The rapidly transforming landscape of design practice challenges the expectations with which many students commence a design degree. Although many are attracted to traditional studio-based practice, design schools need to embed the making of physical artefacts within a context of overproduction and overconsumption. We contend however that an education in diverse materiality and technology that considers responsible practice remains crucial. Knowledge of materials and skills in making, we suggest, not only more deeply engages design students in their educational experience but encourages better and more responsible design frameworks and outcomes in relation to social, technological and environmental contexts. This is underpinned by a respect for processes of thinking through making, a notion proposed by Tim Ingold where in fundamental terms, making becomes a vehicle for thinking.[1] Barbara Bolt makes a similar case through her discussion of Materializing Pedagogies, when she claims that we should consider “the relations that take place within the very process or tissue of making”.[2]

UNSW Art & Design has a rich and continuing history of engaged thinking through making in the studio practices of design students. This is partly due to a physical and conceptual relationship between the School’s primary domains of art and design, as well as the future-facing technology and research labs located within the campus.[3] Students share facilities that range from traditional object, jewellery, ceramics, textiles, graphics and printmaking studios, alongside contemporary making and hacking spaces, and labs that focus on visualisation, immersion, creative robotics, and simulation technologies. Additionally, our recently hybridised workshops have encouraged a more fluid understanding of the interrelationships between varied materials. The resulting DNA of the campus continues a rich and symbiotic cross-fertilisation of analogue and digital materialities – encouraging our students to think like designers but explore their ideas unbounded by specific media.

This commitment to making and tactility throughout concept development allows students to develop critically informed and practical understandings of materiality alongside a keen awareness of the implications of their work as designers. By way of example, in the graduating projects of our current Bachelor of Design and Design (Honours) courses, students have chosen to engage with the redesign of government and campus services; speculation on the digital life of our homes; habitats and revitalisation projects for endangered species; new applications for bio textiles; experimental graphic forms for the communication of diverse narratives; and sensory and experiential interventions that challenge traditional spatial design. Along with the focus on interdisciplinary skills and a commitment to processes of thinking through making, deep societal engagement is core to the design program. As such, recent graduates have moved into careers as diverse as service design for government; entrepreneurial studio practice; traditional design and marketing; junior research roles; and practice-based design research in a range of high-profile contexts.

Speaking recently as a guest lecturer in our core Design Studio courses, eminent Canadian designer Bruce Mau presented his principles for life-centred design and the agility afforded by design training. With an optimism that counters the often bleak messages within current design discourse, he inspired our students with his assurance that “getting educated as a designer is one of the best things you can do for life on earth”.[4] We agree.



[1] Tim Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, (London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2013), 6. Retrieved 28 June 2021 from

[2] Barbara Bolt, “Materializing pedagogies” Working Papers in Art and Design 4 (2006). Retrieved 28 June 2021 from

[3] The UNSW Art & Design Campus is located in Paddington, Sydney, and is home not only to a range of teaching labs, workshops and studios, but also a Creative Robotics Lab, 3D Visualisation Aesthetics Lab, Interactive Media Lab and EPICentre (Expanded Perception and Visualisation Interaction Centre).

[4] Emma Mills, course convenor of Design Studio 3 (of six Core Studios) at UNSW Art & Design, organises an Industry Insights Lecture Series, in which industry professionals are invited to present to the student cohort. This lecture with Bruce Mau took place on Wednesday 9 June 2021.

Stephen Goddard is a Lecturer at UNSW Art & Design, and a practicing designer and curator. His research interests are in the application of autoethnographic processes to transform practice. Over thirty years he has worked with many of Australia’s largest cultural institutions on projects as diverse as identities for Sydney Festival; book design and exhibition identity for The Pool: Australia’s Exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale; and numerous projects for the Australian Design Centre, JamFactory Adelaide, and MAC / yapang. Since joining UNSW, he has led the redevelopment of the graphic design curriculum, and jointly developed the final year Design Studios with colleague Carly Vickers.

Carly Vickers is a designer and Associate Lecturer at UNSW Art & Design. She has a particular interest in interdisciplinary design in both personal practice and team contexts and serves as the Academic Lead for the Innovation Hub, an interdisciplinary problem-solving initiative within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. Carly holds degrees in Music Performance (Sydney Conservatorium of Music) and Design (UNSW) and is currently completing a PhD in creative practice (UNSW). Since joining UNSW, she has made significant contributions to the redevelopment of the Bachelor of Design degree and developed the final year Design Studios in collaboration with colleague Stephen Goddard.

More from this issue

More from this issue

“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?

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.

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.

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.

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.