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Changing perceptions: How Melbourne Design Week wants people to rethink what design means

Changing perceptions: How Melbourne Design Week wants people to rethink what design means


Melbourne Design Week kicks off next month with this year’s theme aiming to change the public’s idea about what design really means. Design Effects, an 11-day program of talks and events, will explore how design delivers change for people and the environment.

Ahead of the event, ADR caught up with Ewan McEion, head of department of Contemporary Design and Architecture at the NGV about this year’s theme, the public’s changing attitude to design and current issues in the industry.

ADR: The theme of Melbourne Design Week this year is Design Effects. How did this idea come about and why do you think it’s so relevant in 2018?

Ewan McEion: Design effects is looking at the effects that we want design to create in society but also the effect that design has upon us today.

Design affects nearly every aspect of life: it’s the food system, cities, the communication systems and the way we consume and spend our time. So, we are asking participants of Design Week to articulate which of those effects they want to amplify, but to also think about what are the effects of design that were negative or need to be reconsidered such as more sustainable design practices.

Through having a theme we are trying to shift beyond the idea that the design sector is just about producing work to someone else’s brief and that it’s only a commercial paradigm.

How are you seeing people’s perception of architecture and design changing through your experience at NGV? Your department (Contemporary Design and Architecture) launched in 2015 to expand on A+D, so what has been the shift so far?

 I think what’s gradually happening is that the public understands that design is not just about furniture and lights or interior design and houses. Increasingly people are understanding that systems are designed, that interfaces are designed and a common example would be that be people understand now through the use of mobile devices that behind the physical object there is a whole ecosystem of experiences and products and services that are designed by people.

So the dematerialisation of design away from just being about a physical object, I think people are increasingly getting that, but also with pressures around urban sprawl or environmental pressures that are happening locally or internationally people understand the role of good design to respond to those.

I think design is more much in the media or in the common zeitgeist around designing for health and design helping people with disabilities, so I suppose it means there is a general sense that there is a lot more that designers do than just products.

What are some of the bigger themes that you are seeing in architecture and design at the moment?

Increasingly the digitisation of design process with new tools and production. So more and more work around the future of manufacturing and how we will make things and how we embrace new technologies such as robotics and robotic printing. The tools of design are certainly expanding rapidly.

Also within the industry there’s an increasing role for Australian design thinking internationally. We have kind of focussed the last 15 years on Australian designers helping to build opportunities locally, before that the industry was dominated by importing ideas and products.

We are also increasingly aware of the social impact of design thinking. That is the quality of environments that we are creating, whether it be work places or urban places, we are talking more frequently about quality of life across lots of different areas and certainly that is something that we are seeing come through Design Week.

The other thing I would mention is the link up between design practice and start-ups. More and more we are seeing design enabled by things like crowd funding and easier paths in to manufacturing. People can self manufacture more and more and there is an emergence of design studios who are less focussed on what clients are asking them to do and more focussed on what they are interested in doing.

Melbourne Design week takes place from 15 to 25 March.


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