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!

I can do my take on Design Today

I make a proposition that Industrial Design is at a place where graphic design was in the 90s and photography was at the time of the digital camera. The line between the professional and the amateur is blurred. The amateur often explains better – and in the early days of the explainer these people were Historians (Penny Sparke) and later Management people – and this community has among them some very prolific people like the Sociologist Liz Sanders. Another things that happened in the 90s was that the STS (science technology and society) wallahs moved in to study ‘how designers design’. In the celebrated example (or atleast a example I am fond of citing – so I don’t really know if it is celebrated – and by whom, maybe by the social science people) of the Aramis study Latour does an amazing job of mapping the discourses of the various stakeholders. I teach my students to do Actor Network Mapping if only for them to understand the perspectives of the different stakeholders.

More specifically the study of the ‘design process’ ( as a step by step process/ activity plan used by designers in a fuzzy way) was an initiative of the corporation and motivated by – the goal – the desire to study the activity (activity analysis) to make it more systematic and amenable to management practices. (note whether the good product can only emerge from a rigorous ‘process’ is still an open question – but as an enterprise option it is the only way to go).

I am interested at this point – in giving voice to the designers lament that ‘oh we have been overrun by the outsiders’. But I don’t wish to go down the path of maintaining the purity of the discipline – like my colleagues – but am quite happy to be eclectic and engaged with the social science discourse. I in fact did my PhD in social science – so I have a particular stake in seeing the social science perspective come to the fore and dominate articulations.

To quickly capture the point I am making – I propose two provocations:
1.    Are the products made today ‘unique’? That is could they have emerged from traditional design approaches or projects constructed in the ‘old’/ traditional way.
2.    Are products today consistently successful. Is the lowering of “Risk” – by making design systematic – paying off.

(This is the project perspective – a note to myself)

Design Manager (job) in Sydney

Design Manager – Design + Industry, Australia – Balmain, Sydney | Job Postings from

An exceptional position exists for a Design Manager to work within our concept team in our Sydney office.

The Design Manager will enjoy freedom to implement their own vision in the conceptual design of commercially competitive products. This individual will be exposed to world leading clients and work on diverse, challenging and highly stimulating projects.

The Design Manager has a minimum 10 years experience, consultancy preferred. Essential qualities include a strong eye for 3D form, proportions and overall aesthetics as well as the ability to research and interpret trend data. They will have experience and practical expertise in product design and manufacturing processes. They will have the ability to balance concurrent projects as well as establish and maintain design excellence within the concept team.

Design-Industry (

In 20 years Design + Industry has become the largest and leading
industrial design consultancy in Australia with a team of over 35
specialist design engineers.

The core function of D+I is to achieve global design and engineering
excellence through the development of competitive and innovative design
solutions for companies striving to become world leaders.

The basis of operation is a powerful and fully integrated 3D CAD
platform, offering greater efficiency and faster lead times in the
development of products from concept through to production. D+I has the
expertise and specialist skills to develop any product for any market,
suited to any process of manufacture and for any production quantity.

Industrial Design Jobs – RitaSue Siegel Resources

In the mid nineties I used to send my students to look at Rita Sue’s site for Design Jobs. There seems to have been a bit of a change since then – the focus now seems to be – not just any designers – but ‘leaders’ and ‘innovators’. The question of course is in this day of Google and Facebook CEOs in their 20s – are people in the 20s potential leaders? And of course will firms looking for design leaders pick them from looking at graduating student portfolios?

About RSSR | What We Do | How we Work

RitaSue Siegel Resources (RSSR) is the premier retained search and advisory firm operating at the intersection of design, brand and business for over 30 years. Our fundamental mission since 1969 has been to serve as trusted advisors to the design industry and to industry on design. We enable organizations to gain sustainable advantage by delivering leaders who drive the growth of their brands and businesses through innovation and design. As the search offering of Aquent, a global staffing company and professional services firm with over seventy offices worldwide, our scope is wide and our reach is broad.

Taking on Australian Industrial design education: current practice and future directions

Draft abstract.

Mr. Stephen Trathen, University of Canberra Australia and Dr. Soumitri Varadarajan, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

There is much international discussion regarding the role of Industrial Design in a rapidly changing world, from the view to focus solely on the need for relevant design skills and knowledge as fundamental for employment; to a recognition that industrial design is having to work in a more complex environment and with an ever increasing need to be able to work with and have an understanding of other knowledge areas. This shift in practice has required design education to restructure, often as add ons and patchwork solutions (as they did with sustainability) – more rarely as brand new programs where the old emphasis upon skills is only faintly seen (as in the case of programs which emphasize interaction design) – to accommodate and reflect this change. And so programs and practitioners all over have taken upon themselves the challenge and come up with many solutions to deal with the situation in which ID ( a profession with its key constructs coming from the 1st industrial age) finds itself. As a result diversity proliferates and so does a lot of denigration of each other’s curricula and the resulting graduate capabilities. At this point both Australian industrial design practice and industrial design education flounder in the onslaught from new practice-constructs and the pervasive sucking-out of opportunity by new locales of industrial manufacture and therefore employment for traditional ways of product design practice. University educators find themselves in a period of reflection and renewal with competing factors vying for dominance the authors propose that there is no one ‘way’ – and through this paper explore the strands in the complexity and construct a way forward that privileges clarity and dialogue.

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