Design Factory goes Down Under

While doing my research exchange here in Australia I paid a visit to Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, to check out their work in relation to design. When visiting the university, I also visited their Design Factory, a concept inspired by and in collaboration with the Design Factory at Aalto University, Helsinki. Swinburne Design Factory (or ‘Living Lab’, as they also call it) was formally opened already in last November, but the first actual projects have started in March and are still in the making.

When having a chat with Päivi Oinonen (below in the picture), the Swinburne Design Factory coach, an interesting issue came up. Whereas among the academia in Finland it seems that it is easy to connect business together with research and education (to the extent that I’ve been taking this as granted), in Australia it is slightly a different story. Here, it is seen that if something is for business, it can of course feed into research, but not necessarily be directly linked with it, not to mention with education (and vice versa). Our fondness in Aalto to connect business together with teaching and research seems not to be the case in every context.

From where do such doubts then emerge? I’d intuitively think that it has to do with trust among the different parties that bring in investments in the forms of work and other resources. In Finland we are very fortunate to govern a model, where company partners can trust for excellence in education and for a good will between institutions, to enable research in business and in academia to cooperate rather profoundly. Examples such as Product Development Project (PDP) in Aalto Design factory or International Design Business Management program (IDBM) between the different schools have formed to be almost respectable brands in their own right, with a long-established tradition and results combining the best student experience in learning together, interesting research and a profitable output for business as well.

The same concept is now under development in Swinburne, and it may help to create further setting for such cooperation. However, to be able to replicate the success stories in PDP or IDBM in Aalto a lot has to be achieved. In many ways these first projects at Swinburne Design Factory will provide a test bed for a proof of concept, and the future will tell how the story continues.

For me as an educator, researcher and practitioner interested in a transition towards sustainability, the need to seek for new connections between research, practice and education is imminent. Designers and educators alike must involve themselves in creating a ‘transdisciplinary design dialogue’ between several institutions, stakeholders and interest groups to  (as suggested by Wahl & Baxter in their Design Issues article, 2008). But this requires trust among the different institutions and stakeholders in the process, and a tradition of success does help.

In many ways such approach to design, research and education requires also understanding of the politics of such activity. In this respect design (and design management) in such contexts can become a powerful agent of change (as a book by Tony Fry, Design as Politics, 2011 – suggests). Design (and design education) for such a transition must understand the politics for creating the change, to achieve the transdisciplinary design dialogue between several partners, institutions and practitioners, to create new value-systems and new sustainable linkages – for a more sustainable world.