A shared future
Words: Claire Beale FDIA, DIA National President

Over the past almost two years, I have had the privilege of writing to (and for) Artichoke readers and DIA members in this column, sharing my thoughts and opinions about themes that affect all of us in the design community. During this time, I’ve asked you to consider how you talk to a wider audience about what it is that you do, to further build awareness of just what professional design is, to celebrate the wins in whatever form they come, to know the real value of design, and the importance of making a real contribution to solving the complex problems faced in our shared future.

And that is what I want to explore here: the idea that we all have a share in shaping the future – and a responsibility. (I’m not going to mention the “L” word* directly, as for me it’s not about ensuring you leave an individual mark or adding to the institutional folklore per se, it’s simply about doing your bit and getting on with things.)

As DIA president, I have been deeply aware of my role as custodian of the “brand,” acting as the chief volunteer among many who work for and on your behalf every day in our organization. We are a strong community, and unique in the global design environment, because of the breadth and diversity of disciplines within our remit, and the spirit of inclusiveness, collaboration and acceptance that is inherent in everything we do. The DIA is the rallying point for professional designers – for those times when we want to make our voices heard, for when we need advice, guidance and support, for recognition and celebration of our achievements, and also for when we just need to let our hair down with like-minded people who understand why choosing just the right shade of white really, really matters. You may laugh at that last point, but I’ll guarantee that you’ve never felt better understood than when you are with a group of your fellow designers. Conversations take on their own form of shorthand, and the sharing of sorrows, joys, ideas and a general enthusiasm for practice later serves to inspire you when you are alone in your studio facing yet another deadline. Put simply, it is nice to belong.

In my first column, I set the agenda for initiating an ongoing conversation about design, where the listening was just as (or perhaps more) important as the speaking. Since then, we’ve been listening hard, and responding to the shifting environment for design and design practitioners. The DIA as an organisation has also been working through a massive period of change, reforming our governance and operational frameworks to ensure that we are ready for the next seventy years. While change can be messy and confusing, it is also exhilarating, as with each small incremental shift, we gain the potential for a whole new way of seeing things and begin to realize the opportunities that can flow from this different point of perspective.

Designers are well adept at dealing with change, probably because of the very specific way in which we see the world. Recently I spoke about the difference between art and design (in a very simplistic way) being fundamentally the difference between an internally driven versus an externally driven practice. For the majority of artists, this comes from within, developed and inspired by a deeply personal aesthetic and creative response to specific themes, issues and stimuli, expressed in the work they create and then presented to the world for consumption (or not). Generally, for a designer, work starts by taking a brief from a client, so the challenge is to use our skills, creativity and knowledge of the design process, to develop a range of solutions and present the most suitable version for that client’s need. Designers are working not with themselves in mind, but with someone else at front of mind.

This requires you to design with empathy as an essential element of your “toolkit” – to have the ability to set aside your own assumptions about the world, in order to see and deeply understand the unique perspective, experience and challenges of another. It’s my view that good designers have been doing this as an inherent (and perhaps assumed) part of their practice for decades, it’s just that now we deliberately frame this within the context of user-centred (UX) or human-centred design, and bang on about the transformational magic that is design thinking. And why shouldn’t we? In the business world, design thinking and designers in residence are touted as the next innovative organizational “tool” that will save lethargic industries and workplace cultures that are otherwise slow (or resistant) to change.

That’s quite a big responsibility for a designer to take on, but as I have previously stated, the strength of the DIA and of the design community is that you are not alone. As I look towards the future, I’m able to confidently “pass the baton” onto the next DIA president, secure in the knowledge that with the support, expertise and wisdom of the board and National Advisory Council, working with our executive staff, branch councillors, volunteers and members, the DIA will continue to flourish and evolve.

Because, no matter who has the privilege of being the current leader of this incredible organization, you occupy but a fleeting moment in the broader narrative of design in Australia. It is the community of passionate, creative, generous and innovative people – our members – who understand that by working together, designers can create an extraordinary future.

* “L” word being “legacy”

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