Provocation #1

It hasn’t taken long, but it feels now is the time to propose the first provocation since arriving in WA: design trumps art. (Design Trumps Art?)

In a rhetorical sense, perhaps what you’re about to read is truly ‘Trumpist’ in tone. Here goes…

I’ve spent part of today outside  of the School discussing ways of connecting with areas outside of the field and then listening to a broader discussion on research at Curtin and how (in 2015-16 at least), we are lagging behind our competitors in terms of research funding.

On both occasions, I came away with two clear ideas that help to justify why design matters. 

Firstly, WA and Perth has a burgeoning start-up scene, encouraged in no small part by initiatives led or supported by Curtin: CSIRO’s OnPrime, Curtin’s KickstartInnovation Awards, Accelerate, and Ignition programmes and other initiatives such as SpaceCubed, Flux, Core and Bloom. In all these programmes and services there is scope for design (and particularly communication design and design strategy) to help turn nascent ideas into realisable social or commercial ventures.  The possibilities and amount of work are substantial, real and – even in the short term – are likely to bring true economic and social benefit to the region. Whether it is working on the user-experience on a product in the health domain or developing a believable new brand to secure financial investment, designers are needed here.

Secondly, at the Curtin Research Summit hosted by Professor Brett Kirk, where the wicked problem of how to improve our research performance across the University was substantiated by data charts galore, there is a clear and recognisable role for information design to make sense of the tidal wave of information thrown at the audience. Through the application of simple design principles for communication and a possible role for design thinking in helping to make decisions or support researchers in developing their research, it is clear that design can play a significant part in changing behaviour and performance.

We encounter problems like these every day in every university. They are potentially complex ones that require critical thinking, synthesis and clarity of communication. Is there an artist who can apply their communication competency to solving such complex problems? I doubt it. Is there a designer who could? There are many. For today at least – design trumps art. Art may well enhance our cultural lives in ways that designers cannot. Designers, however, can solve the problems of today that help us interrogate, develop and live in the real world.




  1. I thought about this a lot reflecting on the planning day we had yesterday and the role of the design course and designers in the university. We face significant challenges (both inside and outside of the school) and there are several design thinking approaches (such as service design) that should be looked at as ways of democratically and transparently solving problems to involve and satisfy all stakeholders.

    Both your first and second points tie into something I have been thinking about for awhile – are there any universities that are (for lack of a better term) ‘highly self-sufficient’. By that, I mean they really believe what it is they are selling – the quality of their courses, students and staff is of the highest standard, and give students and staff in all areas the opportunity to participate in WIL projects that contribute to the growth of the university and their education.

    The new Medical School building, for example, could have drawn on students and staff from just about every discipline in the university – the obvious ones in architecture and construction management, to project management and human resources managing the organisation of the project, the role of design and advertising in developing a strong identity for a new medical school, to urban planning and sustainability ensuring the impact of the physical space reflects Curtin’s values. While logistically difficult, the benefits for the organisation, the professional development of the staff and the experience for the students would outweigh the difficulties. This is not to suggest students work for free or deny the expertise of local practitioners and industry, rather all groups work together.

    On a smaller scale, there is significant potential for design students to be more involved in the myriad aspects of research that goes on within the university. It is difficult to find meaningful WIL experiences for all students in a course the size of ours, yet we all work for one of the biggest employers in the state. Students and staff in design can add value to the work of researchers at our school in a way that art cannot, yet has the potential to benefit the whole school (both art and design).

  2. I agree with this post and Ally’s comments. Designers are trained to fulfil the requirements of a brief. There is a problem and the designer offers a solution. These skills work well across a variety of disciplines and design students should learn about working with people from different fields. While universities often segregate based on degrees and even majors, students should be uniting across areas of study to work on united projects.

    As Ally mentioned, there is so much more that the design students can offer a university (including those from advertising, photography, illustration and graphics). Universities often need to brand themselves and events. These are fantastic opportunities that our students could take to learn and create work for their portfolio. Of course such arrangements must be managed for quality control, but the opportunities should be made available.

    Art certainly has its place and can transform spaces and have an impact on people. It can also be used to reflect history. However, design can be used across disciplines to understand and enhance the world. I personally use my experience and knowledge of branding and advertising in analysing social media and exploring cultural studies. Universities should be encouraging interdisciplinary interaction.

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