Business of design: Victoria

April 7, 2009

Paul Charlwood explores the health of design in Victoria and investigates the State Government strategies that have been put in place to ensure design is front and centre of the arts agenda.

*Paul Charlwood*
*Director of Charlwood Design*

Victoria is about to experience possibly the largest government involvement in the design industry in history. This is not just with the Direct Design program but also, and as importantly, with the recognition that the ‘creative industries’ have a lot to contribute via innovation to all sectors of the economy. This was highlighted late last year at the Committee for Melbourne Annual Dinner. The guest speaker was John Cleese, who was not there to entertain with comedy, but to enlighten on how creativity can enhance innovation in business.

September 2007 saw the establishment of the administrative structure of the Victorian Government’s Design Victoria strategy. This involves government investment of some $14 million into four programs in the design sector over the next four years. One of these, the State of Design Festival, is currently in the tendering process and an announcement is imminent as this issue of (inside) goes to press.

The other three parts of the strategic agenda have been entrusted to RMIT to deliver. These programs are:
* Design Ready. This is aimed at promoting the use of design by business. One of the key elements is 12 Business Immersions, the objective of which is to match companies with designers to undertake projects.
* Business Ready. This is aimed at assisting designers to manage their (predominantly small) business better. It remains to be seen if designers need more assistance than any other business to succeed!
* Design Knowledge. This is aimed at building local case studies and industry know-how.
These three programs will be overseen by the ‘Design Program Reference Group’ – a group consisting of design users, design industry bodies, design educators and private sector service suppliers. It appears RMIT will also be collaborating with broader industry stakeholders to deliver the government’s aims. It is refreshing to see the strong involvement with business groups (Australian Industry Group and VECCI) and other industry purchasers of design services.
The other area in which design is now seen as essential is sustainability, from buildings to products. The Design Institute of Australia is extending its programs with Sustainability Victoria to other states, with seminars, exhibitions (designEX) and awards programs such as the Australian Design Awards. Design is recognised as being critical, with over 80 percent of a product’s environmental impact now locked in during the initial design stages.

In addition, Victoria has been lucky enough to have a number of exclusive exhibitions in recent months that have helped to popularise design. The ‘Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now’ exhibition challenges conventional thinking. It will be interesting to see if this diverse range of movements and eras has a positive impact on the local design scene. At the other end of the scale is ‘Pixar: 20 Years of Animation’, a fascinating exhibition emphasising the importance of traditional skills, such as drawing and storytelling, to the computer animation industry. Despite ‘gee-whiz’ technology it all comes back yet again to the basic skills we learn across many design disciplines.
Anecdotally, the broader design industry seems to be doing well due to Victoria’s strong local economy. Older players, who remember recessions, appear more cautious. Only time will tell…

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