Today is my last day as Program Director. So I went out and bought a hat. And am now feeling a bit dressy – and flamboyant. Its black – but feelings are in the heart, or head actually.

I will pull out my ear rings. I am permitted to let my true nature come out. Its been three years of ‘eyes on me’ and a sense of being the last to come into the party, and all eyes are on you. The eyes have closed. The lights have gone out. I can indulge.

My first indulgence will be friendships. I will get gushy, will I(?), and speak my heart. I fear not, as I said to Michael Howard, the travelling word carrying tales of power alignments. I still may not let my dislikes show – that would have to await rebirth, and cant come through with just relinquishing of roles.

I agreed to do another three years, and a month into the second term I was sure it was wrong. All wrong … would I have continued the Campus Recycling project (CRP) beyond the ‘proof of concept’? No I wouldn’t. I had to withdraw and close the project so that the 30 workers could consider the next step – that of commercialisng their expertise. The project was thus an incubator. The role at RMIT similarly was a project – and the very project-ness of the role required that I step back and let the ‘sustianbility’ stage of the project start. In the CRP that was the first commercial contracts, the first fights, and for quite a while the lure of the ‘bribe’ (give me a cut and I will give you the contract). In the Rickshaws case that was the setting up the manufacturers and the ‘handholding’ till the orders starting flowing with regularity, and the manufacturing capaability was fine tuned. So it is still work, and still a commitment to the project – building the program.

I have work to do – independent of the administrative side to university work – and this has started with a resounding show of comaraderie. We are all doing joint papers. And are well on the path to seeing cooperative grant application dveelopment.

Stepping down is also a steping into a new phase.


India Readings

Reading India.

1. William Dalrymple: The city of Djinns and /or White Mughals
2. Gregory David Roberts: Shantaram
3. Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies
4. Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things
5. Salman Rushdie: Midnights Children
6. Naipaul: India – a wounded civilization
7. Amitav Ghosh- the Hungry Tide

The waste meter

•    Measures the liquid waste leaving properties.
•    The property can be charged for the size of their ecological footprint, which equals the amount of pollution the property puts out.

The provocation: Suppose we cut off the sewage pipe!

What would happen – If Houses were:

To be prohibited from send away their liquid waste?
Stopped from using a pipe leaving the property carrying away waste with water as the medium?
To have their sewage outflow sealed off?

Changes in Bahaviour
Houses would have to become more responsible when they brought water into the property.
They may need to keep water circling in their properties.

Need – Why?
1.    To push for responsible water use.
2.    To create drivers for grey water recycling products.
3.    To reduce usage of toxic chemicals for washing.
4.    To limit use of acids and chlorine in homes.
5.    To change products and industry ( supermarkets and suppliers).
6.    Promote use of eco and bio friendly products.


On the making of design entrepreneurs: Explorations in the design classroom

Authors: Denis Smitka, Liam Fennessy, & Soumitri Varadarajan, RMIT University

Keywords: Entrepreneur, Design Entrepreneur, Business incubators, Business opportunity, Bootstrap funding


The design entrepreneur as agency has a long history in Melbourne and has emerged in recent times as – a viable construct in defining an urban design professional. Such a construct sees designers as closely involved with/ in complete control of every aspect of the production of their goods and on occasions, particularly in low-tech and low-investment industries such as furniture, homewares and craft objects, they were the producer. Design education/ curriculum that privileges this – focussing upon supporting these goals .. addresses issues of enterpreneurship – Innovative thinking is the key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Whether you actually invent a new product or process, or you use creativity to find a better way to market existing products or services, you will need to learn how to think like an inventor. This simulation is designed to involve all participants in the Entrepreneurship program in the activities of setting up a business. For sometime now the Industrial Design Program at RMIT has developed a pathway focused on design entrepreneurship. enterprise activities in schools can provide the means by which young people gain an awareness of the opportunities available to them throughout their working lives and develop the skills and confidence that can help them to start up in business – The paper describes a program that educates students to become free agents – entrepreneurs – Designer-maker

Constructing Communities

Maybe I would have encouraged you to think that this as a project because I have seen the document as a three year project. While this is a three year research project this is not actually a project. Because we don’t know what the goals are. We don’t know where we are going and we don’t know what the end results are.

But the other way to look at it is the fact that we have to create, that I have a goal to move this program over the next three years. There is a lot of time to make it into a world class program. Which for me is defined purely as something that is a terrifyingly stimulating place. This place where student and staff genuinely taste freedom. Freedom in the way it was articulated in 1968, freedom in the way it was articulated prior to the French Revolution. Whatever notion of freedom you are talking about but freedom to essentially give yourself the confidence or the intellectual arrogance to construct theories or construct design or construct objects. That’s my goal.

I want to create this completely utopian society which can never be created but in the process of doing that I can come up with something that actually mirrors a certain kind of community. A community that is not afraid of anything. A completely unafraid community. There is a parallel to this.

When I did my Waste project I had 24 workers with me. They were people I picked off the streets. They were daily wage labourers. Many of them were drug users and they were manual labours. A lot of them were uneducated. One or two were educated. Most had no education, no background, no skills. I put them in this program and over the three years created an organization. The organization was called a new morning or a new dawn (Naya Savera). There was a new morning, a new dawn. Then I hired a social worker, a lady who worked with communities and asked her to come and talk to these workers and she spent a whole year talking to them, and almost every other day she would come in and sit where they were working and talk to them. And in the process of dialogue they finally said ‘okay, we trust you’.
I said I can assure you one thing. Not a lot of money but I can assure you that you can move from being a daily wage worker where some day you will get work and someday you wont get work, to somebody who will get work everyday. And I will construct an organization which will be a community based organization which will have 24 of these people as members – so it is their cooperative. Which is what we did. We set up a cooperative and told them how to work with a cooperative.

And in this process you can take anybody to any point to bring them to a position where they look after their own interest and work together to look after the general interest. Don’t hurt anybody. What we had with the situation at RMIT before my coming where everybody was hurting everybody. And then you sort of isolate yourself. You don’t want to be hurt anymore so you wall yourself in. And the whole thing then festers and festers and it comes to a point where it is not very good.

On Dialogue

It’s a facilitator. What does that mean?

To be part of a community consulting process. I acknowledged the staff, then I acknowledged the sessionals and two weeks ago I acknowledge the students by telling them all that they were very important members of this community and that every action that the community took would be through the process of consultation. A thing to learn to object or contribute ideas.

I am encouraging a dialogue. I am in the process of encouraging a dialogue and discovering that there exists possibly old practices where there never has been a dialogue, where teachers, students, sessionals, admin staff are all separate individuals, independent isolated pockets. So if you try to analyse that beforehand you try to see that there is a dialogue and then you learn through the feedback of the engine of whatever there was before but by this time you have started the process of moving towards a new kind of life describing a new reality – everybody’s desires can get mapped. Desires. So if we have a link that sort of has something that illustrates that the outcome is common. So if there is mutual links it becomes part of a bigger intervention. Does this makes sense?

On Porosity

There’s an issue which is inside this – that I come from a background of working on community projects and so for me the sustainable and robust action is that which is arrived at through the process of consultation and in the process of consultation there are going to be very many different ideas which people are going to own and you acknowledge the ownership and then through the consulting process you actually craft something that you could give a title to that is contributed to by everybody.

And you recognize that the detailing of any idea is not something that you ought to be involved with because that is going to a prescriptive model. So it is community and everybody in the community has to contribute and they will contribute different kinds of nuances to the whole idea.

How things should be done and what it should be?

What are the additional things that we should explore?

So there are a lot of things that are happening there and everytime somebody contributes something and you can put it down into text, they own that initiative. So the ownership of porous frontiers has to be shared by everybody in industrial design. Now it is not only porous frontiers but it is also the learner centred program when you say everything else. I don’t represent anything – I just say that this is a weakness in our program and we need to convert our weakness into our strength and one of the ways to do that is for our program to be a representative of essentially a porous program.

Early Conversations in 04: Letting go

Its winter, six months into the role. I am looking to stand behind the members in the community and push them forward. This is my Action Research Project – this is me intellectually constructing the unfolding dynamic. And so I say – I will write ( in those days I am still thinking as a place where I would present the paper – on “Constructing Industrial Design”). So to the paper – this is transcription so of audio tapes – hence the nature of text.

The paper essentially talks about how you construct Industrial Design. It talks about the one which is a simple way of constructing industrial design and the other which is more complex way of constructing industrial design. So we are essentially talking about the more complex way of constructing industrial design. And the complex way of constructing industrial design is being proposed and is being located within the overall framework of the actor network theory. Which means that everything that affects the program is essentially an actor and what we refer to as a program is actually a heterogonous network of actors. Some people, some humans, some ideas, some material artifacts, some spartial things, some policies. So we have a huge number of different kind of things which we will gather together as an assemblage.

And we don’t yet look into structurally for making rules for different actors. So we are going to see that the rule exists in terms of university rules, rules also exist within the program in terms of the fact that the program has been doing things a particular way. But that can be challenged. And university rules also tend to be more theory specific because they can be interpreted in a different ways. The program in the past has interpreted them in one way. How you go back to the sources and look to it saying that this is not how to interpret it. And you can open it up. Now what can happen is that you get a sense that the actors are playing their roles out and hence constructing the Industrial Design program a certain way but that is completely arbitrary. And it is the arbitrariness that we are going to get a grip on and then open it up. Now people, roles, procedures, activities will dramatically change in terms of fundamentals.

So what do we do?

For example the notion of who our students are is ingrained in the culture of the place. And this is something that is not laid down by the university. You may find traces of Australian culture, you may find traces of student culture, you may find traces of the way the staff wants to relate to the students. You will also find traces of accretion in the negative things that have happened in the past and clamp down will happen. Clamps have never been taken off. So it is possible for you to go and work with students and tell the students – you tell us what you want to do. And for that to be done you are talking of the Learner Centered Program. We can talk about Learner Centered Program, we can talk about permanent staff centered, sessional staff centered. We are saying that the real and genuine interest of each of these actors will find full expression and it can only find full expression when you set aside or you expose the arbitrariness of the way it is presently there. So when you have a staff center program you go to staff and say – we have a project called the “gurus of design”. We are talking about the fact that he musn’t be a head of the team, he musn’t be subservient to the greater good. But he must be somebody who is extremely selfish and in your selfishness you will be able to realize your professional goal and hence articulate the full scholastic potential of the role you occupy within the university.

We can talk about different concepts here. One of them for example is exposing the arbitrariness of the actors. So this is one way of looking at it. So how do you expose the arbitrariness? By going to the actors and saying ‘look within yourself and figure out what is the best way for you to safeguard your interest. To keep their motivation up. There is a whole plan of action. Which means in the near future the situation is going to look extremely chaotic.

So this is extremely interesting, things will be chaotic, we run away from complexity, we see ourselves as people with different values and depending on the situation who you are talking to we give this information to different players because of this complexity thing they can have different views. At the moment things can sound a bit complex but in the future you are saying there will be some complexities that you can manage. It is part of your responsibility to see that some people are rising to the situation.
I am speaking here of the approach to management – but also of a vision of “maximising potential”. A mother’s voice – letting go of the child. ‘Do not come to me for instructions’ I sais, and continue to say. If I go into the space that needs to be occupied by ‘volition’ and ‘motivation’ I am destroying something. This is not the army or the taylorian organisation. This is the academy – the last bastion of idealism and individual freedom. We are all to be – in the words of Frank Herbert in Dune – mentats, pure minds. Disembodied and purely intellectual.

Collaborative Writing Project

Early this year I said I began the process of pushing academic writing in the Industrial Design Group, and so we now have Six Collaborative Papers for Connected ’07 in Sydney:

  • Australian Design working in China: Methodology development through practice based research – Stephen Trathen, Craig Bremmner, Scott Mayson & Soumitri Varadarajan (lead Steve Trathen , University of Canberra)
  • Teaching Computer Aided Design: An experiment in teaching and assessment practices – Simon Curlis, Helen McLean, and Soumitri Varadarajan (lead Helen)
  • Pathways and Tags: Towards a Model of Research Based Undergraduate Design Education – Malte Wagenfeld, Mick Douglas, Soumitri Varadarajan (lead Malte)
  • On the making of design entrepreneurs: Explorations in the design classroom – Denis Smitka, Liam Fennessy, Soumitri Varadarajan ( lead Liam)
  • The Learner Centred Project: Negotiating contemporary social discourse in the higher education sector – Liam Fennessy, Soumitri Varadarajan, Helen McLean (lead Helen)
  • Working with communities: Diabetes a case study – Helen McLean, Liam Fennessy, Soumitri Varadarajan (lead Helen)

100 years of Womens Suffrage in Victoria

Women got the right to Vote finally in 1908. 2008 will be a 100 years from then. Australia was the second country (after NZ) where the right to vote for women – suffrage – was implemented.


Women Shaping the Nation is a project marking the contribution of Australian women to shaping our nation over the past 100 years and is a key element of the Centenary of Federation celebrations in Victoria.

The Project

Liam and I met Fern, Liz (Victorian League of Women Voters) and Kerry (Women’s Electoral Lobby). And talked about the ‘conversations’ project. The project would involve 12(+12) students talking to women to get a conversation going on the changes in the role of women in victorian society. Some of the women would be in their 80’s and would have a memory of the negotiations and the small battles that were won in the process of attaining equality and recognition. But then again as both Liz and Kerry said – have things really changed. For media enters the equation here and objectifies women. This impacts on potential roles that women can play in the public realm.

Coming back to the project: November 07 may see an exhibition of the works – videos, audio books, and printed books. The setting would be a tea room or parlour – as fashioned by the participants. And there would be more conversations.