Creative Life Support: why supporting Australian design matters

Diabetes Jewellery - Rings 2007-8 Developed in collaboration with Nanotechnology Victoria Photograph: Narelle Sheean

“Design is the purposeful, technical, imaginative, thought process that shapes our country, helps our lives and fills our GDP. It is, in short, a life-enhancing activity.” His Excellency Michael Bryce AM AE

Design is in everything we do and come across in our daily lives. Design supports, sustains and enriches us. Design decisions are made all the time unknowingly, by us, such as the choices we make about the route we take to work or the clothes we wear, or for us, the service systems at the bank or the post office, the layout of the supermarket and the school timetable.

Designers work across many areas and increasingly in collaboration with other designers and non-designers to enable better solutions to complex problems –fashion design, architecture, landscape architecture, planning and urban design, interior design, industrial, communications and graphic design, film, theatre and games design, visual arts, craft and media design, service and user experience design.

So many design disciplines working in areas that impact our daily lives and yet design is not well understood. Perhaps it is the pervasiveness of design that makes it invisible to us and indeed taken for granted.

Our design industry needs our support to enable us to realise our creative capital and the contribution it makes to the economic growth of our country; and to demonstrate our creativity and ingenuity to the world to show that we are indeed a clever, creative nation that has answers to the big issues of today and tomorrow. Business and government at all levels are increasingly beginning to understand the value that design and design thinking can add to making intelligent decisions and better choices. Award programs such as the Australian International Design Awards showcase examples of our work to the world. Big name designers reach celebrity status and enter the public consciousness but it is the tens of thousands of designers working in Australia today that are making a reputation for us as an innovative, clever country.

Image courtesy of Healthabitat

Image courtesy of Healthabitat

Three very different but outstanding examples of how Australian designers are adding value by using their creative skills to solve difficult problems are Healthabitat, Supercyclers and Leah Heiss.

The three directors of Healthabitat (Paul Pholeros, architect, Paul Torzillo medical doctor and Stephan Rainow, environmental health) started with a one-line brief from an Aboriginal man who ran a local health service in Central Australia – ‘we must stop people getting sick’. Over the past 27 years, the team of designers at Healthabitat have improved the living conditions in 7500 homes in Indigenous communities by focusing trade work and training local people and giving them the tools they need to make simple fixes to toilets, taps, water heaters and power connections. Giving a family the capacity to wash their children once a day, something that many of us take for granted. The NSW Health Department published a report that showed a 40 per cent reduction in hospital admissions in the areas in which Healthabitat and their local teams have improved housing conditions over a 10 year period. These designers work with local people to understand the real cause of problems and together they implement design solutions that lead to real change.

Without doubt design has contributed to the environmental and ecological challenges that we are now faced with but it is also designers that are among the first to recognise these problems and begin to develop more sustainable solutions. Supercyclers is one example. Here is a growing international collective of designers reusing and repurposing objects and materials to create new products and developing sustainable processes to make these products. What we find in these designers is a respect for craft and craftsmanship and a philosophy that seeks to use waste materials to create beautiful, functional products without creating any additional waste in the process.

Diabetes Jewellery - Neckpiece 2007-8 Developed in collaboration with Nanotechnology Victoria Photograph: Narelle Sheean

Diabetes Jewellery – Neckpiece
Developed in collaboration with Nanotechnology Victoria
Photograph: Narelle Sheean

Leah Heiss is a designer who has taken her work into the realm of science, art and design to produce products that have potent connections for people such as jewellery designed to administer insulin through the skin for people suffering from diabetes. Working on an intimate scale applying design thinking to human problems and creating products that are beautiful to wear and function with subtlety and precision.

“Our cultural expression and the design of everyday things is the mark of our time and place and our historical signature. The lateral ideas and problem solving skills of designers help to shape positive change in our complex challenging world. For this visionary purpose, Australia needs a national design policy.” Tamara Winikoff National Association for the Visual Arts.

The Powerhouse Museum has a collection spanning 200 years representing a significant survey of our design heritage, the objects and the stories behind them. This provides us with evidence of our creative past and the inspiration for designing our futures.

The Australian Design Alliance is working in collaboration with others towards a national framework for design to make best use of our creative industries. Supporting design matters to us all. It is a way to invest in our future and at the same time immerse ourselves in the pure delight that is good design: well made beautiful objects; services that are streamlined, efficient and a joy to experience; urban spaces that enable communities to flourish; and an environment that is sustainable and healthy in the long term.

Lisa Cahill is the Executive Director of the Australian Design Alliance (AdA).