Design professional development

Australian design – all dressed up and no place to go

There are exciting opportunities and tremendous challenges ahead for the Australian design industry.

Design is slowly moving up the agenda, for the three tiers of government, for businesses and for consumers. That said, a rapidly evolving Asian business environment means that change must happen faster if Australian design is to compete in the Asia Pacific region.

The Creative Business in Australia report shows that many Australian design businesses are fragile and lack the basic professional and business skills needed to survive in a regional competitive environment. This will become increasingly apparent in the future as Australian design faces greater competition from cheaper outsourced Asian alternatives. With the rapid build-up of design education in China it is only a matter of time before that market develops a mature approach to design and starts offering sophisticated solutions at a much lower price. The rapidly growing Asian middle class is creating a need for designed products and services

Competing in this new design paradigm within the existing and emerging markets of our region will be a challenge. Is our industry up for that?

The industry lacks a focus

The Australian design industry is served by a small number of dedicated design associations and initiatives aimed at supporting industry development. Unfortunately, none of these bodies has universal support and they suffer from low engagement (demonstrated by comparing member numbers to registered design businesses).

This is not a criticism of those associations and the people who run them. With a small population of designers and design businesses it’s not possible to sustain a highly active design industry association without substantial membership fees. It’s a catch 22. Designers won’t pay higher membership fees until the associations prove they can get traction with design clients and promote design. The associations can’t achieve this without more revenue.

Design education doesn’t help

Sustainable designers obviously need to be good at designing but they also need to know what can be feasibly produced within a business strategy that delivers competitive advantage.

These skills are not taught in design courses. Again I don’t blame the universities and the people teaching in them. The funding model for university education is based on pushing students through, with little contact time and funding. In this model the universities default to teaching basic skills.

Design education needs to be more closely integrated with current design practice so that students understand the realities of commercial design practice along with applied creative and technical skills.

Here’s a solution. The massive skill-base in studios could be tapped to offer a completely new model of design education. Imagine a situation where studio owners can offer on-the-job training to develop skills specific to their needs. Students could transfer their HECS fees to pay a design studio to give them relevant industry based skills whilst also earning apart time wage.

Low level of professional development

Recent research by the DBC found that design employers are reticent to provide on-going formal training and professional development for their employees. They also don’t undertake professional development for themselves.

Added to that, post graduation, many designers are disinterested in developing new skills (apart from applied creative and technical skills).

A solution

The design associations could gain much more traction if they had a serious professional development program to offer designers at all levels. This could develop skills that promote Australian design and its value to business.

What’s obvious is that the Australian design industry needs a radical reappraisal of how skills are developed. Only then will we develop a strong local industry and remain competitive in the emerging Asian design market.

Greg Branson


Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.

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