Monthly Archives: July 2011

What is the object of Australia (event)

The Sydney Design 2011 festival starts this week and as well as taking part in the Design-led solutions to wicked problems event, I’ll also be part of Billy Blue College of Design’s Symposium 2011 titled, What is the object of Australia?

Poster from Billy Blue College of Design on Tumblr

At this event, which ‘examine[s] the state of design, innovation and business within Australia’ I’m going to speak about my research on the changing role of the designer in contemporary society. I’ll be sharing my research findings on the different roles of the designer including the designer as strategist, researcher, facilitator, capability builder, co-creator, provocateur and social entrepreneur. I hope these insights can help us reflect on the roles of Australian designers today, and what could they be in the future.

More details about the event are below:

BBCD Design Symposium  2011
This year the Design symposium speakers will share insights responding to the theme: ‘What is the object of Australia?’ With the globalisation of our design and business sectors, we feel it is timely to examine the state of design, innovation and business within Australia 2011. What can we celebrate and what can we look forward to? Within the framework of design and innovation in Australia, our symposium will seek to expose the  influences and currents that point to our collective future.

Symposium Speakers

Hannah Cutts | Cutts Creative

Lauren Tan | PhD Candidate at Northumbria University

Kimberley Crofts | Meld Studios

Patrick Clair | Motion Designer (Hungry Beast)

Ruben Ocampo | Second Road

Chris Maclean | Interbrand

And more to come,  we are gathering a special guest panel to discuss the future of Australian Creative Industries. Stay tuned!!!

Date: Friday 12th August 2011
Time: All day event 
8.30 am : Registration 
9.00 am – 5.30 pm : Guest Speakers to be announced
$20 for Industry / Educators $10 Students.
Tickets can be purchased online here . Please make sure you book your seats in advance as seats are limited.
Bookings/ticket sales enquiries:
Lulu Ruttley, Ph:94923228
Billy Blue College of Design Auditorium. Level 9 Northpoint Building 
171 Pacific Highway 
North Sydney 2060

Who should attend?
Educators, Industry Professionals, Design Students, Business and affiliates of the Design Industry.

Websites:, Sydney Design 2011


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Bringing back the lost art of letterpress

An old uni friend once said to me that he thought typography will become the gramophone record of the design industry due to our digital age. He thinks typography will be a ‘luxury’ where only a handful of designers will continue to design type and only a minority of clients will commission the design of a new typeface. I was thinking about such lost arts last week when I encountered a new letterpress printing studio in my local area and attended their opening party on Thursday night.

The Distillery is Sydney’s only letterpress printing studio run by Nathan and Jess who’s mission is ‘to help spread the love of letterpress in Australia.’

There are a few things that really struck me about The Distillery. Firstly their mission to reconnect designers and the public with the lost art of letterpress, a printing technique invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century. Letterpress uses a plate to imprint ink onto cotton paper giving a slightly debossed feel and beautiful print quality. By the 20th century letterpress was taken over by modern techniques of printing (like digital) that were more cost effective and less labour intensive, so you don’t find that many letterpress studios around these days.

The Distillery’s printing press machine, a Heidelberg Windmill from 1959

Secondly, I absolutely love how they have set up the printing studio to look like a shop front. By doing so they allow the public to observe the process and tools of design, which is not often shown in such a way, and invite passersby to satisfy their curiosity and engage in a conversation about the art of letterpress. The studio is also open to having designers continue their involvement in the production process, to enter the space and watch the design work come off the press.

Image from The Distillery website

Finally, the creative entrepreneurship Nathan and Jess represent. Both passionate and honest about what they are doing and filling a creative niche bringing back a lost art in a new way (you can read more about in this article ‘Enter the new entrepreneurs‘). I thought it was also interesting that the both of them engaged a mentor, an expert in letterpress and retired head printing teacher at the Sydney Institute of TAFE, who taught them the craft, and how to use the machine that they affectionately call Wolfgang.

Nathan and Jess demonstrating how Wolfgang works at the opening party

The Distillery were the perfect hosts on their opening night. Check out some of the food below! I wish them all the best with growing their business and spreading the art of letterpress in Sydney and Australia.

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Design‐led solutions to wicked problems (event)

Earlier I blogged about Sydney Design 2011 and can confirm I will be speaking at a session that will look at Design‐led solutions to wicked problems. I’ll be discussing what can be learnt from my research case study Dott 07 whose projects resulted in a range of outcomes from service design propositions to grassroots community action. Since the end of Dott 07 some of these projects have influenced key policy decisions in local councils to national government.

Here’s more detail on the session. It will be held at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Governments around the world see design as critical to solving economic and social problems, as well seeking to develop a profile internationally for their designers. Australia is just beginning to sit up and take notice of the contribution its designers can to make across the policy spectrum. This event will look at design‐led solutions to some critical national issues.

The Australian Design Alliance (AdA) is representing the design sector in consultations with the Federal Government on a national design policy for Australia. The AdA wants to show how designers can help to change the world with economically‐sustainable solutions to policy issues. This event is for everyone with ideas about how design can make a difference to Australia’s future.

The session will be chaired by Brandon Gien, AdA member and CEO of Good Design Australia. Presenters include: Paul Pholeros, Lauren Tan and Marie O’Mahony.

Date: Tuesday 9 August
Time: Drinks at 5:30 pm. Event commences at 6:00 pm. (Tour of the Love Lace Exhibition starts at 5:00 pm)
Location: Powerhouse Museum 500 Harris Street, Ultimo
Cost: Free
Bookings: RSVP essential to by 3 August 2011. Please indicate in your RSVP whether you will be arriving for the exhibition tour at 5:00 pm
Phone: 02 9368 1900

Download the Press Release here.

Love this shot of the Powerhouse Museum with the Sydney skyline in the background. The photo is from the Powerhouse Museum Photostream on Flickr.

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Critical voices and research into design for social good

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time revising the Introduction to my PhD thesis. To set the context of my thesis I’ve been re-reading papers on design for social good. Otherwise know as social design, design for social innovation, design for social impact, design for sustainability, transformation design, design for public service etc. etc. the use of these phrases are dependent on which country, which design thinker, which academic researcher, which design company you are looking into. I stated in my thesis that I’ll use the phrase ‘design for social good’ as an umbrella term to bring together all these different phrases and concepts where designers direct their design work first and foremost toward social causes.

In the last few years I have noticed many papers and writing that has surfaced on design for social good. And actually less advocating it and more critical voices that outline the weaknesses of design in this context (See Mulgan, 2009), its limitations (See Drenttel in Harrison, 2010; Emilson et al, 2011), the essential need for designers to work with other disciplines to better address social issues (See Schulman, 2010) and its politics, or lack thereof (Fast Company, 2010; Tonkinwise, 2010).

A photo I took of a poster from New Designers, London in 2009 asking exhibition guests ‘Is design political?’ I think the response is pretty interesting. My blog post of the New Designers 2009 exhibition here.

While I have no problem with critical thinking (in fact in a meeting I was in today creatives and designers from industry mentioned there was very little design criticism in Australia) what I have come to realise throughout my research is that we don’t fully understand, and are not clear yet, on what designers actually do contribute in the space of design for social good. One of the most authoritative voices in the area is design and innovation firm IDEO. They identify user research, synthesis and prototyping in design thinking for social innovation (See Brown and Wyatt, 2009). But I have actually found that the most insightful understanding of design for social good actually comes from people outside the design discipline (in literature such as previously referenced Mulgan, 2009 and Schulman, 2010 and also at roundtables and meetings I have attended). Geoff Mulgan who is not a designer, but Chief Executive of NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) provides his perspective on the strengths of design for social good. From his observations of working with designers he outlines the strengths as visualisation, novel insight, providing a user perspective and prototyping (Mulgan, 2009). The weaknesses, he says, are lack of economical and organisational skills, inability to drive implementation, the cost of design consultants, a lack of knowledge of evidence and field experiences.

I think Mulgan’s insight are great, but is this the best position for the design discipline to be in- to have others inform us of what we do well (and not so well)? Shouldn’t designers put their own voice to this? Shouldn’t we be confident in communicating the value we bring? Maybe it’s the case that objective voices are more credible because they balance the positive with the critical. But I think it’s because we, as designers, don’t really understand the value we bring when we design for social good.

Furthermore, many academics have sought to frame research agendas for design for social good, such as Margolin and Margolin (2002) and Manzini (2008). This shows that this area of design is still very young and very emergent.

I am often asked to provide a more critical voice to my research. But before I provide a critical voice, I think it’s really important to better understand the concept of design for social good and understand ourselves as designers. This means understanding what we’re doing in these contexts and identifying what value we bring. These, I believe, are just as important as recognising the weaknesses and limitations of design.

As designers, we need to better articulate what we do and our value instead of waiting for others speak for us. We also need to look at other disciplines, recognise what they are doing and identify what we actually contribute when we work and collaborate with them. Social issues are complex. Designers are not subject matter, policy, economic or cultural experts. We need to work with others to understand social issues, different contexts, and other discipline approaches so that we can use design to enhance, not replace or take over, how we help address and respond to complex social issues. We will be better at outlining our roles as part of these teams, if we know and articulate better what we do and the value we bring to the table.

Update (14 July 2011)

I should mention that in a few months time Object (Australian centre for craft and design) will be publishing their digital magazine and in this edition I profile ‘Design thinking for social innovation.’ I’ll update you here when it is published so I can actually begin to answer some of the questions I ask above! In the mean time check out Object’s current iPad magazine here. Or their past print editions (via Issuu) here. All the latest news from Object on Twitter is here.


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Sydney Design 2011 (30 July – 14 August)

Sydney Design 2011 starts at the end of this month and for two weeks will be “unpacking design, connecting people and creating meaningful dialogue around design issues.”

The event is produced annually by the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney’s museum of science, technology,design, decorative arts and social history) and will contain exhibitions, workshops, master classes, talks, installations and tours. Here’s an excerpt from the website:

We are living in a world where change is so rapid that our notions of ‘normal’ are constantly shifting. In all areas of design – such as product design, architecture, fashion and graphic design, practitioners everywhere are mining tradition and marrying cutting edge technology with an artisanal and human sensibility.

Sound exciting to you? I’ve just been flicking through the website and here are some things I’m thinking of attending.

Design-led solutions to wicked problems (Tuesday 9 August 5.30pm)
If my post a few months ago on a A Design Policy for Australia interested you then check into this discussion which explores ideas of how design can make a difference to Australia’s future and the contributions of designers across a government policy spectrum.

What is the object of Australia (Friday 12 August 8.30am – 5.30pm)
This discussion explore various issues in design education, taking a look at current trends and future needs, and how these issues will be taught to young designers in the near future.

Designing Urban Futures (Tuesday 2 August 6pm – 8pm)
Imagines design for possible urban futures especially in cities which “rely on old ideas of community, connectivity and the physical spaces that support them but the future will also require radical new design thinking.”

Australian design for the next decade (Thursday 4 August 5:45pm – 8pm.)
A panel of designers consider how design has the potential to effect major change in the decade ahead, profiling design projects that have transformed the way we live.

How to make the old ways of kindness and collectivism new again (Friday 5 August 7 – 8pm)
Fascinating title. This event is a talk that sees that “Not that long ago, kindness, general etiquette and collectivism were the norm, so why have they gone out the window in the 21st century? This discussion investigates ways to return these values to society.”

Collaboration in Experimental Design Research Symposium (Friday 5 August 1 – 5pm. 6 August Saturday 10am – 5pm)
This two-day conference explores design collaborations in the global socio-economic contexts.

Sculpture Walk, Sydney City Architecture Walk, and City Bar Tour (30 July, 6 August, 13 August, 2 August, 6 August)
The Australian Architecture Association host walking tours around the Sydney CBD to explore the city’s architecture.

Transparent Seams: Upcycle Fashion! (workshop on 6 August, Saturday 1 – 4pm.)
An exhibition and practical workshop giving guests the tools to upcycle unwanted items from their wardrobe to create something new (and wearable again). I suspect I might see my sister of Melissa Tan Australia around this event as she’s been designing and making from vintage, recycled and reclaimed materials for many years now and lately reinventing (or upcycling) some of my wardrobe!

Factory as Studio (2 August – 26 August. Artist Talk Thursday 11 August 2pm)
I popped this one in as I recently visited a wonderful local letterpress studio called The Distillery (how much do you love their shop front? Click on the link to see a pic) who have been reconnecting creatives with the art of letterpress. The Factory as Studio event is right up this alley, encouraging designers to re-connect with traditional industry, using existing machinery and industrial processes in collaboration with new technology within their practice.

Hope to see you around at Sydney Design 2011 otherwise I’ll write up a few observations and notes on this blog. Stay tuned!

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Milson Community Garden

I’ve been doing a lot of walking around my local area of late and observing what kinds of things are going on in the neighbourhood. I have always been interested in the creativity of others, so every now and then I’ll post interesting encounters where I see the creativity of people make a positive contribution to their community. Such is what Ezio Manzini and Francios Jegou (2008) call ‘creative communities’ that is “groups of people who cooperatively invent, enhance and manage innovative solution for new ways of living.”

Just recently, I came across a community garden called Milson Community Garden. The garden is located within a wonderful park down the road from where I live called Milson Park. It’s actually quite a hidden park in the leafy harbourside suburb of Kirribilli. Kirribilli is one of the most densely populated suburbs of Sydney so the expanse of Milson Park is an appealing juxtaposition.

The park is quite long with the grass leading right down to the waters of Sydney Harbour. Tall palms rise high above the park, planted in a circular fashion marked by lush green hedges. I always see children play hide and seek among the hedges forgoing the playground jungle gym to the right of the palms. The park is really well maintained, with benches scattered around its perimeter and bathroom facilities discreetly hidden. There are private boat moors at the end of the park, and located between the bobbing boats and the children’s playground, is the Milson Community Garden.

The Garden’s origins formed in 2008 when a group of residents, who often walked their dogs in the park, and talked about the idea of a community garden. They began planting herbs in the park which were promptly removed by Council gardening staff. The residents phoned the local Mayor to discuss their idea and the Mayor thought a community garden was a great idea. Milsons Community Garden thus began its life.

Ever since encountering one of my Dott 07 case studies Urban Farming, which engaged local communities in a series of creative endeavours that included cultivating, cooking and celebrating locally grown food, I’ve always found the idea of community gardens and allotments really fascinating. And for so many reasons but first and foremost because of the varied and different outcomes community gardens produce, from encouraging social interactions, to being outdoors, to getting exercise, to cultivating skills, to environmental sustainability (such as reducing food miles) to self-sufficiency etc.

Here’s a wonderful clip I found on YouTube on Urban Food Growing in Havana. I just love the stories here.

Anyway, I think Milson Community Garden is a wonderful example of a ‘creative community’ and a community-led idea put into action. I won’t relay the whole story about how the garden came into being (it was not without its challenges) but if you are interested please view A Short History of Milson Community Garden.

I should also add that Milson Community Garden states “Only people who work in the garden can share in the harvest. The rule is that after you have worked for three successive Sundays in a month, you can share in the harvest.” For more FAQs click here.


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Service Designing: A Network for Service Designers, by Service Designers

This month Nick, Jaimes and my article, Service Designing: A Network for Service Designers, by Service Designers, is published in the Service Design Network’s Touchpoints Journal edition (Vol. 3 No. 1). The edition covers the topics of ‘Learning, Changing and Growing’ in service design.

We were asked to recount our story of establishing Service Design Drinks and Thinks in London which supports a model for informal learning and knowledge exchange about service design. We began monthly Service Design Drinks nights in 2008 (informal drinks nights for service designers) and Service Design Thinks nights in 2009 (a platform to share experiences of service design practice).

Since then, the Service Designing network has gone global to include to date 19 cities in 15 countries around the world. That’s at least 19 other stories, just like London, that host local models for sharing service design knowledge.

If there’s a Service Designing network in the city you live (or at a city you are planning to visit) seek out the names and contact details below because each and city coordinator has their own story to tell and service designing network and knowledge to share.

If you would like a copy of the paper, please DM me on Twitter.

Click on the links below to see write ups on on past London Service Design Thinks nights:

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