Notes from: National Design Policy Forum, 8 May 2012

On 8 May 2012 the Australian Design Alliance (the ADA’s official website is currently a bit light. The Design Institute of Australia has more information about the ADA) hosted a National Design Policy Forum at SLQ. These are my notes.

His Excellency Michael Bryce spoke first. He noted that in his experience there had been lots of design-and-policy activities. “I think I’ve been having these meetings for 40 years”. He elaborated on many failures, or lack of successes, for various peak design bodies. “We have lots of design but are we happy? No, we are not!”

Design does not have the ear of government. Many (most?) projects have poor materials selection. The overall design of the city is poor. There are no plans for communities [BJK: though compare with James C Scott’s Seeing Like a State for an argument on how too much (of the wrong sort of) planning for communities and cities is also bad.] But how can we achieve this (better design of the city and projects in the city). Not by paper forms and regulation.

Bryce said there was a need for a commission model, like CABE in the UK.

Bryce also said that it is better to be inside the tent than outside, waiting to be called in.

Designers feel underappreciated in the community.

[BJK: But how can we say design is underappreciated as well as recognising the increasing importance of design?]

Finally, Bryce called to put the design horse before the industry cart.

Next, Dr Julianne Schultz, founding editor of the Griffith Review and chair of the QLD Design Council. She spoke about the need to emphasise design in the National Cultural Policy.

Schultz gave a potted history of design in the federal government ministry. She said that Minister Garrett, when it was his responsibility, had the arts put in to the national curriculum. Minister Crean had a series of discussion documents (not sure what about) which led to a series of goals (again, my notes fail me).

In the call for a National Cultural Policy Schultz said that there were many good submissions but that design(ers) need to think bigger and be more strategic.

Schultz said that it was clear that the National Cultural Policy needs to have a clearly articulated design position.

Next up was Tim Horton (Tim on Twitter), commissioner of the South Australian Integrated Design Commission.

He mentioned the Centre for Public Sector Design in Canberra.

“A design policy is not about a new spend, it’s about a more effective spend for better policy and better engagement with the public.”

Designers and policy makers so often speak a different language.

Horton said that design(ers) should “get political — not partisan political but policy political”.

Then, Dr Sam Buccolo from QUT. Sam spoke about design-led innovation. He asked, what does the business community want from a national design policy? Companies are currently using design as a tactical problem solving approach but he was arguing for design to be adopted more strategically.

Buccolo said that strategic design was an opportunity to “make new meaning” — obviously echoing Verganti.

He also called for designers to “get beyond stories to hard data” about how design is a benefit to business. He showed a series of figures but the one I wrote down was from the UK Design Council who showed that for every $100 spent on design companies saw an increase to their turnover of $225. The Danish Design Council’s figures showed that companies who used design strategically had growth that was 22% above average.

Buccolo spoke briefly about the success of New Zealand’s BetterbyDesign program but said that Australian companies need design for different reasons than NZ companies. First, the Australian dollar is very expensive, making our exports expensive. Second, Australia has declining productivity.

Together, these things mean that Australian businesses must move beyond tactical problem solving to a more strategic (design) approach. He said that there was a need to move from incremental innovation to an approach that led to strategic breakthroughs. At the same time, Buccolo noted that design was not a tool-kit to transform business.

Buccolo said that there was a need for a structural ecumenic change to build an Australian innovation culture.

Finally, Andrew McKenzie from City Lab spoke about design communication. He said that famous architects were often better know for their writing than their buildings. He mentioned Vitruvius, Pallado, Le Corbusier and Koolhaus.

McKenzie asked how we communicate the value of design to the community. He said that design is communication but that in many (Australian) cases, design is being miscommunicated.

Through several examples, McKenzie forcefully showed how opportunities for the value of design to be communicated are failing. He mentioned that in the Building the Education Revolition program many schools were buying generic buildings that had no lasting (architectural) value. He mentioned the Bangaroo project in Sydney which he said was the result of a design competition but was then re-designed by the developer who moved the project away from a public space project to include extremely high amounts of office space and even a casino. Finally, McKenzie spoke about the trend in Australian designer furniture retail to sell knock-offs of mid-century modern furniture rather than locally designed and produced products. He also mentioned a recent newspaper front page which featured Prime Minister Julia Gillard in an obvious knock-off of an Arne Jacobsen chair which McKenzie thought (perhaps only semi-seriously?) should have been a scandal.

Finally, McKenzie said that Design Policy should be set so that it (design?) can be done better not just communicated better.

Then, someone (note-taking failure again!) introduced two CEOs of business that have been working with the Ulysses program in Queensland. First was Nigel Spork of Centor. He said that his company thought they knew about design but after 18 months with Ulysses he sees they knew nothing about design before. He said that he has re-organised his company to take advantage of design and they are expanding internationally. My notes tell me that he also said “you don’t see Apple ripping off anyone else’s industrial design”. (It’s more of a tribute to Dieter Rams’ Braun than a rip-off.) He also said that NZ’s BetterbyDesign is driven by companies not the government.

Next John Hogan of Superior Jetties. He said that “design is our future”. He made the point that as the Australian dollar rose in value his company saw much lower sales. He said he was committed to retaining manufacturing in Australia though his company also has manufacturing contracts overseas. He concluded by saying that designers and CEOs are the same — the both envisage the future and remove obstacles until it occurs.

A panel discussion followed. First to speak was Dorte Ekelund, head of the Australian Government’s Major Cities Unit. The other panelists were the previous speakers. The initially spoke about co-producing policy between government and businesses.

The first question from the floor asked “does design policy belong in the cultural policy?” Buccolo said that design (policy) should be focussed on businesses. Bryce said that design policy should be in the fields that will employ designers. He had a diagram of design policy being spun off from a whirl-wind like cultural policy, which was a model he rejected in favour of a second diagram of two whirl-wind policies, one design and one cultural, shaking hands.

Marcus Foth asked about the impact of new technology on design literacy.

Another question from the floor asked where the bureaucrats were at this session.

I’m sure I missed a few questions in here.

The final question was from Vesna Popovic who commented that rather than policies about promoting design why were we not seeing policies promoting design leadership.

UPDATE: Thanks to Tim Horton for supplying the names and companies of the two CEOs.

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