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International Design Week Down Under

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by Carlos Andrade

During the first week of April, designers from across the world migrated to Melbourne, Australia, to share ideas, practices and dreams. The season is early autumn Down Under and, over the course of four days, the academic, business and design sessions drew an audience of just under three thousand design aficionados, students and practitioners. Wondering if design makes a difference? The International Design Week in Melbourne removed all doubt.

Design Research, the field of building understanding of design, methods and tools, has come a long way over this past decade. The field addresses complex challenges such as the branding of nations, the role of emotions and logic in business, re-framing crime prevention and gamification in concept design, to name just a few. Whenever there are two hundred design researchers in a room for eight hours, explosive conversations are ensured since it is a field chock full of emotions and passion. That is just what might be needed to finally move design from a mere differentiator to a strategic business advantage.

In the area of business advantage - new methods and tools were shared for bridging business and design. These included building Design Driven Organizations, formulating Design Strategies, including design in Design & Business Model Experimentation, co-creating Inspirational Design briefs and tracking design performance using Design Balance Scorecards. The days of being able to rely primarily on incremental innovation as a driver for business are long gone. Nokia, Blockbuster and Border Bookstores are but a few of the recent cautionary tales in this regard. To succeed, not in the future, but right now, organizations need to apply Design 4.0 (as strategy) and no longer limit themselves to applying Design 1.0 (as a differentiator).

In one Upstairs session, practicing designers shared their stories on such topics as the Mandela Poster Project, branding of Australian wine, signage for The Louvre Museum in Paris, design of characters for games and movies, poster design and magical sustainable art. There were also products shared in the field of medicine, as well as in transportation and the Olympic games.

The most impressive presentation was the crowdsourcing of ninety-five posters, celebrating Nelson Mandela's ninety-fifth birthday. The project provided a unique insight into how wisdom of the crowd actually works, eventually receiving over eight hundred posters from average people, students and professionals. Most posters incorporated familiar elements such as Mandela's face, the contour of Africa, the South African flag, doves, a cage, chains and so on. Some even understood how to create truly breakthrough images, such as the poster that played on the black Pantone chip as a symbol for Mandela being the ultimate benchmark for Black.

Over the course of four days, the audience enjoyed an explosion of creative ideas and outcomes. The speakers themselves had ample opportunity to exchange ideas over a glass of Australian beer in one of the small pubs along the banks of the Yarra River that winds though the picturesque city of Melbourne.

The top echelons of the design world consist of a few international nomads, making the world of design very small indeed. Gathered together for one wonderful week in Melbourne, they all seemed to share freely of their knowledge, intent on helping the next generation of designers in finding their unique voice.