What is Design Integration

Design Integration has been used (UK, NZ, Aus) as a phrase within the specific context of connecting the sectors of ‘product design’ with ‘manufacturing Industry’ to improve the design of the products made by industry. In the past this form of ‘program’ has had different names. Art in Industry was one.

The South Kensington Initiative of 1851 was an early initiative. Focussed upon the theme of “Art in Industry” the program responded to critics (Morris and Ruskin) of the design of early industrial equipment by proposing a ‘capacity development’ initiative.

This early program had three components:

  1. Program: Placing artists within Manufacturing Enterprises.
  2. Institute: The Institutes of Art in Industry were set up to provide a location for exhibiting works, holding lectures, connecting industry owners with artists. These institutes documented works and published articles on topics focussed upon the “good” in taste and design.
  3. Training: State funding was provided for training the new ‘artist in industry’. The Glasgow School of Art has its roots within the South Kensington support ecosystem.
Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow School of Art

All State programs – including the very robust programs in Japan and South Korea – have these three components. In modern parlance its usual to see terminologies such as these:

  1. Demonstration Projects: Cofunding programs where the state pays part of the design fee for SMEs to hire product designers.
  2. Promotion: Chambers of Industry organised Industry+Design professional networking events.
  3. Professional Development: Workshops and lectures for industry leaders/ employees about ‘new product development’.

Replacing Program, Institute and Training with Demonstration Projects, Promotion, and Professional Development aligns the same motivations of the state with the contemporary categories of activating and facilitating change.

Art in Industry is an early precursor of the discipline of Product Design. These days due to the influence of American nomenclature many Product Design Courses are named Industrial Design. The post hoc explanation of the discipline often describes a generalist or diverse discipline. The method and content are still closely aligned to the South Kensington curriculum: art(aesthetics) plus manufacture (engineering). 

What do Governments look for?

While the early motivations (late industrial revolution period) may have been to do with emerging modernism (the look of Industrial equipment), the mandate was very soon eclipsed by the state imperative focussed upon manufacturing competitiveness. The Crystal Palace Exhibition (1951) was an ‘exhibition’ to showcase the producer-side competencies of Britain (Imperial Britain). The State of Design Festivals funded in the past by the Victorian Governments (Australia) were largely intended as a showcase to connect designers to Industry. The state mandate wasn’t always understood by the organisers – this frustrated the department functionaries, many of these people are still working in VicGov, who have been custodians of Design Capacity Development in Victorian Industry through many governments in Victoria. I imagine this then lead to endless arguments between the staff of ministers and bureaucrats within the government. In one way these festival spends were never meant to be towards a celebration of ‘urban works’ or craft artefacts made by designers for elite consumption. Such monies were set aside by governments to boost the economy – significantly the manufacturing economy and the innovation ecosystem in Victoria.

These festivals were also not funded to showcase urban scale works. There is a separate ministry for that. In fact the naming of ministries by successive governments (who always change the names of ministers portfolios) has tended to keep industry and the arts separate. In the current incarnation we have two ministries connected to the ‘design for manufacture’ discourse.

Industry and Employment: Funding is also available for business capability development activities – including assistance with management skills, sales and marketing strategies, financial management, new product development, business development and marketing opportunities.

Creative Industries: The Andrews Labor Government has teamed up with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to deliver a new dedicated program to celebrate, promote and strengthen Victorian design.

Of these Industry and Employment has a capacity gap around New Product Development. When a consultant presented the last draft report at the consultation meeting (years ago now) I spoke up and said that he was probably too focussed on only ‘product design’. This is normal in Scandinavia, UK, Germany and the US – where State programs connecting Manufacturing and Industry are focussed upon ‘new product development’. I was referring to the fact that the audience at the consultation workshop had only one product designer – me – and the rest were from the creative industries, which require a different narrative of state support.

NOTE: Let us say the issue of Design Integration in Victoria is in the category of an intractable problem. UTS (Sydney) probably is having a bit more success. This is the link to Powerhouse post on this topic.

Case Study: New Zealand

New Zealand is commended for their Program of Integrating their design community with their manufacturing enterprises.

Excerpt from: http://www.designforeurope.eu/case-study/design-integration-programme

In 2006 Better by Design introduced the Design Integration Programme, a six stage process to help companies use design to become more innovative, efficient and internationally competitive.

The programme helps businesses use design to create more desirable products and services, faster growth, a better workplace culture and loyal customers.

The coaching is delivered inside companies and works on the specific problems and opportunities they face. It’s a hands-on collaborative approach to learning that focuses on addressing the firm’s current challenges.

Design Integration coaches are carefully chosen for each company, these coaches are generally private sector practitioners with expertise and experience in both design and business. They support the CEO and their team, sharing knowledge and skills, breaking down some of the traditional divisions within companies that block innovation. As the confidence and design capability of the employees increases, coaches will support them in taking on increasingly complex challenges.

The initial phase of coaching is 100% funded by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise – after which costs are split 50:50 with the company. The structure of the support reflects the fact that integrating design within a business is a journey, and the Design Integration Programme provides coaching that is tailored to the needs of each firm as it progresses through the six stage programme. This support is delivered in a way that is reflects the speed with which the company wants to progress, and exactly what they want to get out of the programme.

  1. Enrolment

Better by Design look for CEOs who see value in design and want to know more about how it could help their business.

  1. Design thinking experience

A day-long ‘Design Thinking Experience’ workshop provides an intensive introduction to the design process that’s customised to address the current challenges of each company.

  1. Discover, define, design

This is a three month co-discovery process including two workshops and a series of practical activities that help companies look at the way they work through a design lens. The outcome of this is a shared understanding between the company and the coach of key commercial objectives.

  1. Design activities

A series of activities help cross-functional teams within the company learn to apply design to specific challenges. Proven techniques are used to tease out and resolve real issues faced by the business.

  1. Evaluation

This is an opportunity to share learning and assess progress. Teams within the company work together testing out new forms of collaboration as design behaviours become embedded at every level of the organisation.

  1. Completion

Companies may spend up to two years being coached and building design skills before they graduate from the programme. At this point they will feel competent to move forward as an effective, design-led organisation. Grad companies become part of Better by Design’s learning community with continued access to events and resources.

(Detail Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne. Source)

The Codesign Initiative

I have for years been working on a project, with colleagues, within this space of design integration. I discuss that project using the language of Capacity Development – and this has been a useful exercise for me.

How is the Codesign Program akin to state development/ support for of industry transformation? The Codesign Initiative can be articulated a aligned to the spirit of developing ‘industry’. The key principles employed are similar to those in the state mandate for their programs:

  1. Recognizing industry employee careers:
    1. Embedding design within the organization
    2. Collaboration to last a long-period of time with Ongoing Mentorship
    3. Staff Professional Development
  2. Need Identification
  3. New Product Development

Capacity Development

The Codesign Initiative has been working with Industry in the following dimensions/ WAYS:

  1. Developing in-house design capability: Setting up design studios within the organisations, employing design graduates
  2. Mentoring in-house design staff, and leadership
  3. Industry Placements
    1. Embedding PhDs within the organisations
    2. Embedding Honours (UG) students within the organisations
    3. Proving Student Placements: Undergraduate Industrial and Interior Design Students
    4. Embedding RMIT academic staff within organisations: Three staff are Hon Senior Lecturers at Austin Health.

New Product Development

I am working on Design (Research) projects to develop Products and Services for commercialization and wide adoption. Two of the projects I am able to share are:

  1. VCCC/ Pancare: Funded by Cancer Australia (2017-2019) to develop an App to support (especially rural) people with Pancreatic Cancer.
  2. State Govt (VicGov): ARC Linkage in development focussed upon developing a new framework for crime/theft, and vehicle identification.

Industry (Design Integration Partners)

The Industry-Partners I work with are:

  1. Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre/ Austin Hospital
  2. Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre ( and VCCC)
  3. VicRoads
  4. Victoria Legal Aid
  5. CoHealth
  6. Royal Dental Hospital
  7. Alfred Hospital
  8. Jayco

The ways we can engage with organisations

In our work with agencies and organisations we have typically begun from a low base and focussed upon listening and doing codesign projects to build the ‘need identification‘ matrix and framework. This work then is owned by the organisation and is core to their enthusiasm and commitment to investing in design capability and mentorship of senior leadership within the organization. Then we have stayed the course and over a period of 3 to 5 years embedded a robust design culture – Case Study: The work with VicRoads(VR) began in Dec 2012. In 2015 Dec they funded positions to set up an inhouse design studio employing 3 RMIT Industrial Design Graduates. In Dec 2016 they increased the funding and restructured the design studio to be more visible with the organisation. The studio employs now 3 of our graduates and has made a commitment to spend upwards of 750,000$ over the next 4 years, plus is very enthusiastic about joining an ARC Linkage application. My role with this organisation has been as the mentor, and supervisor of staff – plus to build a ‘research culture’ – such as drafting the current ARC Linkage Application.

In addition to the above 6 WAYS – we can undertake to do work with organisations on a few specific fronts (below). This could be aspects additional to the process we have followed in working with the 8 organisations listed above.

  1. Product and development-process Audits/ and recommendations for action
  2. New Product Development/ focussed upon radical innovation
  3. Capacity Development through demonstration projects
  4. Capacity Development through training workshops

Published by Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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