Letter to graduating students (2009)

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Every year at this time of the year I sit down to write a letter. I write to you, a group of people who came to this place, a place I help look after, four years ago and are now leaving. The four years spent here were significant, for they came seeking knowledge, skills and a capacity to function in the world of designers. This year it is you 40 something people who I am writing to.

This month as you leave, many of you will have feelings of uncertanity and genuine tension  thinking about your careers as designers. Many of you will continue to live in Melbourne – but we won’t be seeing each other as often, if at all. Some of you will consider a relocation to another city, or another country. Some will even move on and change careers.

Design these days is like many other creative fields – you will rarely have the comfort and certainty of a job in a big company with benefits and perks. In this, Australia is different from other countries where large multinationals have their design studios and some designers have life long jobs in these companies. I have worked in Hitachi and have seen the lives of these in-house designers. I have taught in India and looked after campus placements for design graduates – the good ones often have big salaries and a choice of attractive offers from large multinationals. All this of course is in the realm of a kind of design which we call ‘product design’. There is some product design work in this country but not enough to accommodate all of you especially when you consider the graduates from other design schools in Australia vying for these same places.

We knew this was the case and which is why your curriculum has such diversity and provides for so many different career pathways. You may look back at your time at RMIT and wonder what your folio would have looked like if you had chosen different studios and courses. Many of you will look on your folio and see it reflecting your true interests and capabilities. Some of you may say – ‘I think I want to improve my sketching skills’. Even today I wish I had the time to indulge, and pick up more drawing skills. For me these are aspirations that I may not address. But for you – these aspirations are proof of your yearning. Proof that something fine has been awakened in you. Proof indeed that learning never ends.

I have had occasion to work with some of you and I have enjoyed my experience tremendously. I love the interaction and the energy you bring to the encounters I have with you. Its what keeps me teaching undergraduate courses. I don’t get to do as much undergrad teaching as I would like to do because I am required to deliver different outputs which makes me do a lot of writing (link to writing) and research. I enjoy doing that too. In fact I have had an enormously productive year and have written heaps. I have even found time to dabble in video (http://soumitri.blip.tv) and text blogging (https://campaignprojects.wordpress.com/).

I have, since my time here, cared quite deeply about what I these days speak of as the ‘Australian Industrial Design Condition” and this led me to dream up the Great Civilizations Project which sent many of you to China and India. These days you may have noticed that we have begun to do Hong Kong, South Korea and Turkey. The idea was that if you fell in love with one other country apart from Australia you will have the opportunity to work between two countries. Such a way of work for some of you may transform how you see yourself and what you see design as doing. I am building up, as you can see, to the point where I say – go forth.

You and I, and you and the others, have had a charmed time when we allowed ourselves to be idealistic and find fault with the world. We talked like we had the answers and we talked about changing the world. It would be wonderful if you actually went out and changed the world in small ways. My ways as you know are sustainability, diabetes and the campaign way of doing things. I have, this is a secret, allowed myself the slight indulgence of focusing upon design as purely aesthetic and this gave me the chance to share my passion for minimalism and Japanese aesthetics with five of you in the car design studio. I don’t think there is anything wrong with such a way of constructing design. I therefore am perfectly comfortable asking you to – yes – go out into the world and make a difference. If you need a steadying hand on your back you know where to find me.

I came out this year and have said to some of you that I will be there for you – for umm maybe three years. I mean it. I am putting this offer into action with a ning network (http://industrialdesignmelb.ning.com/). If you feel like you want to be part of this project of mine do feel free to come on board and see where it takes you. So in my mind I see myself being open to helping you along in your career.

I love what I do. You can see me speak of my teaching experiences in this piece I wrote for a book on ‘teaching sustainability to Industrial design students’. I hope you find this ‘love’ place in your work too.

See you around.

On Australia and Indians

Anant’s blog: Of Melbourne and of jingoism | Indian advertising media marketing digital opinion analysis debate – Campaign India online

My daughter is one of many Indian students who have or are studying in Australia.

How difficult would it have been for Indian media to talk to her? She would have been easy to find, studying as she was at Melbourne’s premier university. As would any other Indian student.

So how is it that I saw, read and heard no experience like my daughter’s in Indian media? How is it that I was fed hate and hostility? How is it that all kinds of issues such as racism were dragged into it?

I’m angry. Because Indian news media caused me (and hundreds of parents like me) to be afraid and worried rather than relaxed and happy that my daughter was doing well and having the best five months of her life.