Soumitri in 2016

Design is vehicle for change. A Design Project can be a campaign. In a furiously online world I see design projects as either a first step towards a business venture or a campaign that changes the way people think. Design innovations can change the way we deal with ageing and death. Design projects can change the way the world thinks about issues. Design projects can be about improving the lives of ordinary and marginalised people. Below are some of the areas I am currently interested in/ excited about:
  1. How to die well
  2. Ways of dealing with obesity
  3. Imagining a Future beyond Medicine
  4. Ways of Journalling Pregnancy
  5. Design for people with Locked-in syndrome
  6. Proposing a Bio-Dome (a personal diagnostic ecosystem)
  7. Design for living longer
I live and work in Melbourne. In Melbourne there is a lot of energy these days around imagining a healthy future. I engage with this energy.
  1. My design approach focuses upon proposing a future that contains preferred/ visionary products and services.
  2. I am excited by design projects that focus on the small and big challenges facing humanity.
  3. I see design projects as campaigns and so have developed, and therefore teach, the abilities required to prototype design projects within communities.
  4. My current interest is in innovations in healthcare services, where I focus upon de-medicalising and re-contextualizing normal practices to develop new traditions and artefacts in the areas of:
    1. Mental health
    2. Obesity
    3. Ageing
    4. Death
    5. Diabetes
    6. Maternal health
    7. Hearing loss
    8. (Defines the design theme or discourse)

We have to change the world

Or so goes the sentiment in”design thinking” – and well its possible. Or alternately – let look back to see how we HAVE changed the world. From 2004 till now we (my colleagues and I) have shaped 321 minds and put them out into this city, Melbourne. Of these, lets say for the sake of our story, 100 are proactively idealistic and changing the world. We have in effect created the perfect 100th monkey phenomenon. Which means the change that we have been instrumental in effecting, is already a phenomenon. The question here is how do we see, touch and feel this change? (I would be keen to hear your responses to this question – in the comments section)

“What we’ve been talking about since my first day on the job two years ago is how artists can change places,” Landesman said – have a listen on ABC RN here ( He was talking about the role artists (which is all creative people – including Industrial Designers) play in a society and the economy. He went on to say that artists (Industrial and Fashion Designers) create events and works. People flock to places where a concentration of such works happen (Melbourne?) – and where the city acquires a reputation as a creative cluster. Where there are people – there are jobs: people eat, watch and go out spending on a whole load of other consumables. The service industry in Melbourne continues to grow. Melbourne is a creative cluster – one of the big ones. How aware is Melbourne of this creative ecosystem? How well does Melbourne support and nurture this creative ecosystem?

Below are a few additional/ useful/critical readings on creative clusters and Richard Florida.


PDF download from here –

Where does Melbourne rank among cities as a creative cluster:

In 2009 I started a few different kinds of engagements with creatives (designers) – the ones that I had worked with in their formative stages. I had a hand in their development – and I decided that it would be good to walk with them as they took baby steps through entering creative practice – this was one intervention – careers curation. I have a few other interventions.

One was to speak loudly in the hearing of the people in the Victorian government (Lyn Kosky in the old days and then the Innovation-wallahs who supported the labour policy on innovation and more recently the people in the Bailleu Govt)  that DESIGN IS AN INDUSTRY and as such needs support like an industry. Everyone in this city agrees that Design contributes to the economy – as in a sector that employs many people. It is a sector, that is not in doubt. But can it claim status as an “industry” and then become eligible for government support – and development projects (a 100 hectare design precinct and incubator estate – with state of the art prototyping facilities – like China has in most cities, possibly also with a visionary like like Bao Fu Han leading it)? Instead we got a festival (not bad for starters) and an Industry support organization (modelled on New Zealand and 1970s UK) – not bad as mild commitment. But not necessarily anywhere near what cities, that wished to be leaders in innovation, were doing. Will this change? Probably not anytime soon.

The orthodoxy sees the situation in two ways: One, industry and the potential employers of designers need to be educated bout the economic benefits of design. This ignores the fact that contemporary society is ‘saturated’ with design – and anyone needing design help knows where to go – the internet. This was not the cse in 1960s UK and so the design council had a programme of workshops and training courses. Is it valid to spend resources educating potential clients to use designers? Why wouldn’t it be a better idea to seed designers to go off and do some creative activity. Like an arts council – only as a new age ‘design council’. Two, more damagingly another view is that designers need to be re-educated to fit into industry and workplaces. Damaging – because it superfluous – or even that these workplaces need fresh ideas not creatives trained to “fit in”. Hence these orthodoxies are fallacies. Have you heard me say this – Yes this has been the way my litany has run for a fair few years.

Still to move on.

Then there was an attempt to find out what the 321 people were doing. This last suddenly seems a very interesting line of inquiry to follow. What I would like to do is first have a group of people – who I can then chat to. If I can get an understanding of what they are doing – then I can get some ideas of what manner of support they could do with. Or I can propose that ‘creative insurgency’ with the willing ones. I can also add to this 50 additional people – the ones who came to us from overseas (mainly from NID in India) and walked some way with us. Right so I have 371 people.

Next I create a place – I tried a NIG network in 2008. It wasn’t perfect. I am trying facebook now – and it looks promising. I have about 200 people at hand.

Then I need projects! First I tested the ground with a ‘pilot’: DIY Pads. Then started looking further afield. I have been looking around and talking to agencies about projects. It looks like there are two projects that have potential for 2012. (If you want to know more about this – express your interest in the comments section.)

My goal initially was to find work for graduating designers, that became bigger and I was looking to figure out all the places where a designer could potentially work in Melbourne. Its now all that, plus – why not create work, workplaces and projects!

Industrial Design Melbourne

This year, like every year at this time, a whole bunch of design students will leave university to enter the profession. And as with this time every year the prospect of making a living from design is scary!

So I said to myself I would do something about it. But what?

I could visualize projects – write grant applications and generate jobs myself. September saw me submit a grant application – to redesign a glucometer. A simple project – that can use fresh design talent. October saw me dream up a rash of design projects – and I realized I had missed the deadline for many grants – thats okay I said to myself, I could ask the graduating students to work with me writing grants. That is my solution.

But all this is a long term strategyl and what if I dont get the grants. OK – this problem needs a solution that has many parts to it.

So here is what I came up with – my short term strategy:

1. If I focus my attention on only 10 of them or so – I could ask around and find them work: But shouldn’t they do this themselves? This is training for work as a freelance designer – to hustle for work is a skill that is invaluable, and has to be acquired the hard way. Still I can pitch in – and ask people over email or by calling hem up. So I did this. It may work for one or two of this bunch of students. I have to remind myself to keep the pressure on the agencies.

2. Some of the students have not done so well in their last year. Life intruded. I realise they may want time to sort things out. Or a design place to be in for a bit.

3. I think some of the students would be better off starting a business. But they do not have the necessary confidence. I realise they may want a sounding board.

4. I think some of them would be better off going overseas. But they want to live in Melbourne.

So then I realise I could do things to help 10 students. And this is best done on a case by case basis. So I said to them all – ‘okay here is the thing, I am going to support you for a year will you find your feet’.

But this left quite a few of the others out. And this is when I went off and had a conversation with Design Victoria. I came away from that conversation understanding DesignVic’s agenda and role much better. It wasn’t about work availability for Industrial Designers. I mulled about talking to State of Design – then came across the Australian Design Unit – also being done by Propeller. So they were doing something else – which was part promoting design in Melbourne and part resource for designers. Neither answers the problem – how do you employ the hundred or so fresh design graduates?

What if you dont? Well (a) its not fair, and (b) its back to the retail sector for the graduates, and of course with some more options which may be employment elsewhere – not design! I have for decades heard the comment that this is an okay situation – that we train our students will a tool kit – ‘the design way of thinking’. I wish I thought like that. I cant. My predicament is that in my previous job I looked after placements – and campus recruitments. That was in India. It doesnt happen here.

So I am back to my hole – I need to do something that will work for everyone.

This is when I thought to rectivate a NING social network we had set up last year for a course. I did that and sent off the info to the whole student community. Now in my next post I will talk about the vision for this project.

So remember the project is called – “Industrial Design Melbourne“.

Its a social innovation project.

And the NING network is here if you want to join it.

And if you have a suggestion of a solution to the problem – let me now through a comment here.

In the recession

Barry Katz – writing in ARCADE says:

But what of the legions of unemployed designers? Happily, in a truly restorative world there would also be more design. A lot more of it. But design of a different sort, practiced by a new breed of designer according to principles now only dimly perceived.

The first new design specialty to blossom will be un-design. Under the guidance of trained and dedicated professionals, un-design students will study methods of fabrication but starting from the back end of the textbook. Forget Derrida. They will practice applied deconstruction. During their summer recesses, they will intern with un-design studios and gain practical experience excavating junkyards, strip-mining department store shelves and clear-cutting rooftop satellite dishes. Upon graduation they will hang out their shingles and begin practicing un-design for an array of corporate and municipal clients: Architects will be put to work un-designing dilapidated, underutilized and just plain ugly buildings; Graphic un-designers will set out to neutralize billboards, web pages and corporate identity systems; Industrial un-designers will start by dismantling handguns and cigarette machines and move on to assault rifles and SUVs. They will have more work than they can handle.

As legions of un-designers gradually clear away the appalling detritus of the Design Century, a guild ofimmaterialists will emerge who specialize in “mining urban industries,” in the phrase of the Worldwatch Institute, transforming industrial waste into a new generation of building and manufacturing materials: Used tires will be more sought-after than virgin timber, empty soft-drink bottles and salvaged copper wire more valuable than oil wells. Just as the raw engineering of the first industrial age had to be softened by the designer’s touch, so the processed materials of the post-industrial age will cease to look like used egg cartons and become shimmering, sensuous and superb.

who do I want to be as a professional?

Tales from an Unemployed Interior Designer

Now I’m faced with yet another problem (in addition to all those associated with searching for a new position in this economy); if my job is not coming back in any way, shape or form… then what do I want to do and who do I want to be as a professional?

on Design Forums

Why has the level of discussion in “design forums” degenerated so quickly? Maybe because they’re not populated by “designers.” Greenfield explains …

A List Apart: Articles: The Bathing Ape Has No Clothes (and other notes on the distinction between style and design)

I admit it: I’m one of those poor souls who likes to indulge myself in the fiction that there’s something called “the online design community.” And (in what is probably a still greater admission of my own naivete) I believe in both the possibility and the worth of associating with this diverse and international scatter of people on message boards.

Stimulus Program For Unemployed Designers

Job Stimulus Program For Unemployed Designers –

With unemployment at a 25-year high, and an estimated 3.3 million jobs lost in the last five months, a leading design software company has created its own stimulus package-providing unemployed engineers and designers with the opportunity to learn valuable new career skills.

The program gives free software licenses, training videos and tutorials, networking, certification and potential job leads to any job seeker living in the United States, Canada or Europe-helping candidates stay current with the technology while upgrading their skills for an ever-changing job market.

Behind The Scenes

Don’t give in to shamefaced cringing and glum, hand-wringing humility

Product Panic: 2009

In 2009 you might be unemployed, like those moguls at the top of the financial food chain, so it’s necessary to look busy, preferably at some advanced and exotic activity. Don’t give in to shamefaced cringing and glum, hand-wringing humility. You’ll be getting plenty of humiliation from crazed market forces, which behave in ways that make no sense to anyone. So why not be out there, zanily extravagant? Are you losing anything the whole world hasn’t lost already? Ask yourself, “What would Maurizio Cattelan do?”

Fit for work?

I was looking up ‘unemployed designers’ and came across this.

Unemployed Anonymous – Support group for recently graduated industrial designers | LinkedIn

Unemployed Anonymous is a ‘support group’ created for and by recently graduated industrial designers from the TU Delft, but hey! we’re all ears for anyone out there who can give a hand or a good tip!

We’re here to share experiences and hopefully also tips on how to get a nice job as a designer after your graduation.

Sketch for a Course

Design and the Indigenous: Exploring contemporary Aboriginal Australia

The title took some constructing – but I am happy with this, and the fact that the title does not commit to a position or angle.

The next task is to establish the need for this exploration. I began an exploration titled ‘Great Civilizations’ in 2005. The idea at that time was to privilege an exploration of China, India and Australia. My aim there was to make these three the sites of interest and potentially the centres of design exploration. I was in those days arguing against the privileging of Europe/ European Design as the centre and Australian Design as a remote periphery. This distinction is not so much about the primacy of European Design as its relevance in Australia. Its one thing to design here and then go off and exhibit it in Europe to acquire an international reputation – which is a valid practice in a particular way especially for an individual. Its another thing entirely when the curricula in design schools is orientated this way. So I was arguing for local relevance, regional relevance and a completely different cultural discourse. Now the cultural is not done in an overt fashion by design in Australia – as my mother in law said it; “the Australians do such practical stuff”. That statement was probably inspired by a visit to IKEA. But I do agree on one thing – the cultural is missing. The symbolic is absent!

Design in India and China is symbolic. Quite significantly so. And it is ,my call that so is the Aboriginal – in the manifestation of the symbolic as the story. I realise the unpacking of the Indigenous Australian culture into modern language is done though English – which sets up a particular way of constructing meaning. The realisation is at this stage a feeling of dis-satisfaction with the texts I am reading. Chatwin was a good read but a bit shallow in retrospect.

So in this way I am saying that the ‘cultural’ is the key to navigating materiality in these ‘great civilizations’. A tinge of the sacred, heaps of proscriptions and the ever present malevolent force have to be given form and shape.

Lurking in this is the exploration – design and the indigenous.

What this may not be – is a visual appropriation (that would be at the surface) of the aboriginal as a surface pattern or motif. And a big challenge is in the area of ‘adoption or adaption’ where traditional artefacts are transformed by a process of migration. Indigenous Australia is a bit light on artefact culture.

Design and the Indigenous

Its been a few months since my participation in that forum where I got introduced to the Indigenous in design and architecture. My first impulse was to go off and literally consider a ‘design school’ for the indigenous. This is something that Alison Page is championing – so I could join in that effort. I did join the NING network that is about Indigenous craft and Design.

I then thought the area could be the subject of an ARC grant application. This saw me have a chat with Kevin Murray – who was not very thrilled with the idea. And asked some pertinent questions – like have you looked at the published material. I hadn’t.

Many mind maps and jottings later I am at this place where I am exploring the indigenous through texts. I have gone back to Uncanny Australia. And I went to the local library and got some books. Its going to be a textual immersion for now.

Immersion in what: Immersion in the territory of the indigenous in Australia. This is also called Aboriginal australia – which is a different thing entirely.

I am speculating on a course I could teach when I have made some headway through my texts – a course on Design and the Indigenous, or titled exploring Indigenous Australia, or exploring aboriginal australia.

In the next posts I am am going to think aloud (in type) on this blog – about my thoughts on the topic of the structure and for of the course.

If you have any suggestions – Do write in here!!

Melbourne school of fine woodworking

Melbourne School of Fine Woodworking – Home

melbourne school of fine woodworking (msfw) is a not for profit organisation located at Box Hill in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

We provide ongoing daytime and evening tutor groups, specialist workshops and project based courses in fine furniture making for beginners through to experienced woodworkers.

Professional designers and furniture makers teach students in small classes with an emphasis on using hand tools and techniques. Our facilities include a workshop equipped with workbenches and hand tools for each student and a separate machine room.

We welcome applications from anyone wishing to broaden their skills and design and make furniture for their own enjoyment in a supportive environment. Previous woodworking skills are not necessary, but success in fine furniture making does require patience and attention to detail.

Please click on ‘tutor group vacancies’ to view our current list of places available.

Reading India

Industrial Design Studies, 12 Credits, February 2007 
Lecturer: Soumitri Varadarajan (
Contact Hours / Duration: 3 hours per week over 13 weeks. [39 hours contact]
Non-Contact / Self Directed Hours: 6 hours per week over 13 weeks [78 hours expected]
Location: Building 87 [rooms TBC, levels 4 & 5]
Time: 9.30am –12.30pm Fridays

I applied for and got a grant to pay for a few RMIT students to spend a semester in India (, and for a dozen Indian (NID) students to spend a semester at RMIT. In this way India becomes significant and is a something and somewhere that we need to know. ‘Reading India’ is an exploration of India as a significant destination in the future for practicing designers – a place where you will look for work, where your clients will live and where you may spend a lot of time. My India is in books and in ideas and I invite you to explore a very particular India through readings and investigation.

Key Learning objectives
The course has a specific area – India – and a particular way – provocation – to go about the semester.

  1. Understanding Indian society and industry


  1. Research and Paper Writing

Online Resources,,

There are three things you have to do in this course: Participate in the events, Study India for its culture and the state of design, and write papers.

Indian Culture and Society
You have to choose a topic and read in that area. You also have to do research on the internet and through conversations with Indians.  You then have to write an original paper on the topic of your study. Eg: What do Indians do over the weekend? OR Seeing India through the eyes of the women who live there. 
Design and Industry in India

You have to choose a sector of design practice, say furniture design or transportation design, in India and do your research in that area. Your paper has to be written in the form of ‘state of art’, and be an informed comment on the situation.

Indian Culture and Society Project: 3000 word paper, Due 30th March
Design and Industry in India Project: 3000 word paper, Due 1st June

All papers have to be submitted in a prescribed format.