Business of design: New South Wales

April 7, 2009

For New South Wales design matters. Brian Parkes reviews the state of design affairs in his home state and reports his findings.

*Brian Parkes*
*Associate Director*
*Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design*

The design industry in New South Wales, as in many other parts of Australia, is currently enjoying a significant increase in confidence and prominence – and a good deal of this is translating into substantial economic growth and opportunity. Unlike most of the other states, however, there seems little if any attempt to promote or brand design activity in New South Wales under a state banner. This is true of many fields of endeavour in a state that is dominated by the country’s largest city – a city that is a gateway to the world and one that seeks more often to compete globally than nationally. Of course this attitude – in design as well as in other industries – comes with pros and cons.
Many of the institutions and programs that support design in New South Wales are nationally focused rather than state-based. For example, outside of architecture, there is no state-based awards program for New South Wales designers – they compete with everyone else for opportunities that originate in Sydney, such as the Australian Design Awards (now the Australian International Design Awards), the Bombay Sapphire Design Discovery Award, Workshopped and Launch Pad. Even at a graduate level, emerging New South Wales designers compete with a tough open field in Object Gallery’s annual New Design (to be renamed Design Now from 2008) or in the Australian Design Award – Dyson Student Award. There are perhaps more opportunities in the ‘Premier State’, but they are more competitive.

Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum houses the nation’s most significant design collection and plays a key role in the sector through its temporary design exhibitions, monthly d-factory design talks, the Design Hub website and the annual event Sydney Design – now promoted as a 10-day international design festival. Object Gallery (or the Australian Centre for Craft and Design) is a national organisation based in Sydney and funded by the state and federal governments. It contributes significantly to the presentation and promotion of design in New South Wales through a dynamic program of exhibitions, public lectures, mentorships and a magazine.

An unsurprising but nonetheless important element underpinning the momentum behind the design industry in New South Wales is the increasing commercial success for Australian design generally. Major showrooms such as Anibou, dedece, Living Edge and Space Furniture – each with head offices in Sydney – have supported local designers with positive outcomes. It seems increased confidence is driving increased opportunities. Living Edge in particular has emphasised Australian design as part of its rapid national expansion, providing a valuable platform for designers such as Norman and Quaine, Charles Wilson, and bernabeifreeman.

Design education in New South Wales is very strong and continues to improve each year. The new stream of Visual Design (between the old Visual Art and Technical Design streams) in secondary schools is better preparing creative students for design vocations and fostering a greater level of design awareness in the community. The tertiary system is as competitive as it is anywhere else and internationally recognised courses and research opportunities are offered through each of the big three universities, the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). The most innovative programs and the best graduates in recent years seem to have come from the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at UTS.

The City of Sydney has embraced design as part of its Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan and has recently established a Design Advisory Group that will help shape the future of the city. The State Government has also suggested that it will support design through its innovation strategy as part of its forward plan, but no details have emerged to date and any support would seem long overdue when compared to other states. There is perhaps an opportunity here for New South Wales’s design community to find a cohesive and effective political voice to champion the economic and social value of design in the state.

As a global city, Sydney could and should have a significant public institution specifically dedicated to contemporary design in the same way it has one dedicated to contemporary art. Object Gallery has begun to seek support for a new, much larger and more suitable home by 2015 – a place that could present new ideas across all design disciplines, stimulate robust public debate and truly celebrate the value of design and creativity.

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