Opinion

A decade of design: Government

March 21, 2011

In the first of a series examining how design in Australia has evolved over the last ten years, Joanne Cys looks at how federal government is finally responding to the importance of design thinking.

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Fair to say our federal government has never explicitly incorporated design into its plans for Australia’s future. However, some recent developments do provide hope. Design in Australia, historically, has always been politically ignored. It has been unacknowledged by the traditional owners of innovation – mainly science and technology – apart from a short-lived appearance by the Australia Council-funded Design Council in the mid-1980s. It was then dismissed by the arts portfolio as nothing more than a commercial undertaking, and in all fairness, design as it was publically perceived in those years was certainly leaving that sort of impression. Even so, the more recent efforts of our design sector have proven to influence how we see the future, in the political sense as much as the cultural.

Sensing a glimmer of opportunity, the 10 professional organisations that represent the design sector in Australia are now mobilised and established as the Australian Design Alliance (ADA), a peak body with a single voice to represent design to the federal government. The ADA’s first opportunity to do this will occur on 22-23 March in Canberra at the HASS on the Hill conference, where the ADA will present its recommendations for a national design policy.

In 2008, the Rudd Labor Government instigated a review of the National Innovation System. Terry Cutler’s review report ‘Venturous Australia’ contained numerous recommendations that finally acknowledged that innovation could be a product of sectors other than science and technology, and provided opportunity for recognition of design as a contributor to innovation.

Informed by Cutler’s report, the government’s innovation strategy, ‘Powering Ideas’, was released in 2009. Like the report that informed it, ‘Powering Ideas’ did not explicitly mention design, but it did outline priorities within which design could be included: encouraging business innovation through research and development; fostering collaboration between researchers and industry via Industry Innovation Councils and Enterprise Connect; and implementing innovation within the public service sector itself through new procurement practices.

Around the same time Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, began to make public statements about the value of design to the economy and continued to do so up to the 2010 federal election, commenting on Australia’s need to invest in ‘smart design’ and adding design in his references to R&D: ‘research, development and design’.

Various state governments have already taken the initiative to establish design strategies for their own regions in recognition of the importance of design to economic performance, innovation and culture. Victoria led the way in 2002 when it budgeted $10.2 million to establish Victoria as ‘The State of Design’. The investment included the formation of Design Victoria and the identification of a Minister with responsibility for design.

In early 2009, the Queensland government launched its Queensland Design Strategy 2020, outlining a commitment to design over the medium term and formalising the Queensland Design Council to provide independent strategic advice on design issues. At the beginning of 2010, the South Australian government announced the establishment of an Integrated Design Commission (IDCSA). The IDCSA will be responsible for the integration of design into all areas of the state’s operations through an unprecedented process of collaborative and multi-disciplinary decision-making. In New South Wales, some movement has occurred through the Enterprise Connect Creative Industries Innovation Centre (CIIC), however this initiative was the result of major federal funding, and is very much concerned with the creative industries in the broadest sense, rather than design as a specific sector.

As always, time will tell what the next decade brings. Fuelled by growing expectations from state-based design sectors and motivated by Australia’s need to be internationally competitive through innovation, the past 10 years should be considered the mere beginning of our creative industries’ potential. Now with a proper seat at the table to shape the possibility of tomorrow, it is time to see what it might be worth.

Joanne Cys is a former National President for the Design Institute of Australia (DIA), Australia’s representative for the Global Design Network and Associate Professor in Interior Architecture at the University of South Australia.

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