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DIAlogues: Jason Bird (Objx + Luxxbox) & Sue Savage (QUT)

May 9, 2011

Once again, the DIAlogues Seminar Series, organised by the Queensland branch of the Design Institute of Australia (DIA), aims to engage, inform and inspire. Each seminar features respected individuals with first hand knowledge of the design industry to discuss their views on current issues facing the design professions, including legislature and policy requirements. The series aims to engage designers from all fields in dialogue associated with being a professional designer.

Thanks to this month’s wordsmith, one of the DIAlogues’ dedicated organisers, Ash Every, for bringing us his take on what was said and what got us thinking at Seminar 03…

Held on the 4th of May, DIAlogues Seminar 03 had a fantastic turnout to see local boy, Jason Bird of Luxxbox fame and Sue Savage, Professor, Architect, Assistant Dean at QUT, Chairperson and most distinctly woman in the crazy tights! But, before I go on any further, I just want to send a quick shout out to all our sponsors – they’re awesome, we love them and they help DIAlogues go from strength to strength. At Seminar 03 we were graced with the presence of Richard Munao, founder and owner of Corporate Culture where we hold all our Brisbane Seminars. It was fantastic to hear Richard tell everyone on the night that designers in Queensland are inspiring in what we are doing for the industry up here, and that no one else is doing it like we do. Cheers Richard! Spread the word…

As we are having a DIAlogues Seminar on the Gold Coast, which Jason will also be involved in, I’m going to keep the gospel according to Jason short and concise and leave the detail to the review of Seminar 04.

So here’s the short version…

(Before I launch into it, when I looked back over my notes, I came across two Confucius moments spoken by Jason and Sue. Think, Golden-rule-style principles such as “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, but applied to design.)

Jason wanted to be in a rock band. He played gigs. I’m sure he was one of the cool kids growing up. But, design called and when it came time to actually growing up – graduation from University with a degree in Industrial Design – he was slightly jaded with the whole prospect of entering the world of professional design. A recent trip to SXSW, the attendance of a seminar called “So You’re in the Music Industry – You’re F#@ked” and the substitution of ‘Music’’ with ‘Design’ helped express Jason’s state of mind.

But, let me just say that I’m glad he stuck with it, as he took us from that moment of ‘You’re F#@ked’ to the present day man who poses for photo shoots in black with five other local superstar designers looking whimsically in the distance (for Quench, a celebration of Queensland design) and sells his stuff to Google. Not a bad resumé for a man whose name seems to pop up all over the place these days. The yards travelled by Jason have not been easy, or straightforward. But, I get the feeling that he’s the kind of designer who can’t sit still, he’s out there making it happen, and for that reason Luxxbox flourishes.

He left us with an empowered sense of “Yeah, I can do that” and gave us the tools to make it happen with a couple of handy links to Kickstarter – a crowd sourcing website to get investment in your product/idea and Shapeways – a rapid-prototyping-for-everyone site where you can get that idea made. Both require only investment in the idea itself.

Which brings me to Confucius moment #1:

It’s not the quality of the tools you’re using, it’s the ideas

Now, as I mentioned, Sue Savage had way cool tights on. They looked very comic book come Roy Lichtenstein-esque, and along with those tights Sue brought wit (perhaps enabled by a wine or two), intelligence (about academia) and a whole bunch of information that made us totally question Design education.

The wit was apparent very early from her opening remark about how thank goodness DIAlogues is not run like those boring RAIA lectures… I’ll write no more about that. She then moved us quickly through design education, the changing demographic of architecture graduates (at some stage in the future 110% of architecture graduates will be female. Figure the maths out!), and how education has not evolved with practice. Sure, at present Architecture education in Australia is good, but it must step up to the next level!

As part of Sue’s job, she has undertaken research into design education and what the graduates of Architecture and Design need to know when they leave university and enter the professional world. From my understanding, our graduates have great technical knowledge but lack the know-how to apply it. As Sue put it:

–        When young graduates are faced with a design problem in the workplace, they don’t know where to begin, who to ask

–        When employers are asked about the performance of their graduate employees they say – ‘Geez they’re smart, but they don’t know where to begin!’

–        And when the Academic is asked about how well the young graduate is prepared for life in the professional realm they answer, ‘THEY NEED MORE TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE!’

So therein lies the problem. The contrast between knowing what is valued in the education of design graduates and the education they actually receive is vast. Looking back at Sue’s presentation, I think the whole thing was a rallying call from her to ‘Professional Designer’s’ to get involved in education (that’s us). Now is as good a time as any to change the existing habits or our universities and Sue can’t do it all by herself!

However, there is no need for all of us to jump on the back of Design education, and kick it when it’s down. The responsibility of educating those graduates is ours too. Sue seems like an extreme advocate of practise in the workplace as part of education. As she put it – How can we (academics) teach, what Jason Bird is doing (at Luxxbox)? The process for students to apply for work integrated learning sounded difficult with the stumbling block appearing to be the lack of opportunity within local companies. Step up local designers and work with the university to make these opportunities more available!

As a side note, did you know that 50% of architecture practices do not have a business plan!?!?! Crazy! As Sue put it – are they waiting to be ‘discovered’? Then once ‘discovered’ they’ll make one? If many designers aim to one day be their own boss, perhaps we should be teaching some basic business skills.

Sue came armed with a lot of facts. She suggests everyone look at the research done by the Royal Institute of British Architects called ‘The Future of Architects?’ Sue referenced this document in her talk.

In the two years I’ve been involved with DIAlogues, I don’t think the post talk question time has been as animated as it was after Sue had finished. It was great to see such passion from everyone on the night. It appears that design education is a very easy topic to pick on, but hey, don’t get down, lighten up! Like with all things, change is inevitable. Just don’t sit back and complain about design education or young graduates, get involved and make sure the change is positive!

Oh yeah, so we come to Confucius moment #2:

The future is not in the tealeaves; it’s in the facts

Thanks Sue, I think we all left with a greater knowledge of the link between education and profession.

And thanks Ash… Phew! I was there and it was a beauty of a seminar, lots to discuss and a little heat under the collar. Now I can’t wait until the next and last seminar for 2011 – Seminar 05 featuring strategic communications designer and branding specialist, Kevin Finn and a yet to be announced panel which he will chair to take the level of discussion up a notch! Check the DIAlogues website for details and see you there!

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