Elevating Australia’s Economy: Harnessing the Value of Design

Design quietly shapes Australia’s economic landscape, influencing our buildings, goods and services, and daily experiences while addressing human needs and aspirations. It serves as a cornerstone for progress, driving value, urban functionality, sustainability, and innovation both locally and globally.

The contribution to Australia’s GDP of design-related industries and workers was approximately AU$67.5 billion per annum by 2018, or more than 3.5% of GDP, matching the size of the construction industry. Despite its profound impact, Australia has yet to fully capitalise on design’s potential to foster a thriving, design-led economy. 

While some businesses are embedding design into their future roadmaps and strategies, there are many others who could benefit from design as a strategic tool to grow and prosper. 

Businesses who make strategic use of design in these ways are more likely to deliver successful products and services to market, and outperform non design-led competitors. According to the UK Design Council, every £100 spent on design increases turnover by £225; McKinsey reported similar performance for companies with a strong design function, correlating to both higher revenue growth and higher return to shareholders. 

Recognising design as pivotal for business growth and national prosperity, the Australian Design Council plays a crucial role in advocating for its transformative potential. We had the opportunity to discuss this with Steve Baty, who leads as CEO.

Design as a Driver of Economic Growth in Australia: Industry Challenges and Opportunities

In light of this perspective, a critical challenge within Australia’s innovation ecosystem emerges: the need to amplify the awareness of the importance of design as a strategic enabler. Addressing this challenge offers a substantial opportunity for economic progress by prioritising design in research and development efforts and integrating it into government incentives and policies.

According to Steve Baty, “Governments can strengthen the role of design through effective policies, regulations, and procurement strategies.”

He further points out, “This includes prioritising design quality in purchasing decisions rather than solely focusing on price, and reassessing supplier selection criteria accordingly. By emphasising the significance of design, Australia can foster growth within the design sector and underscore its economic value.”

Design is a process that leads to business growth and national prosperity. Source: Australian Design Council.

Steve recognises significant opportunities in integrating designers early in product development to transform design from an afterthought into a proactive capability that anticipates issues, devises effective solutions, and deeply understands end-user needs from the outset.

“Design is often seen as something that occurs well down the line,” he explains. “You have an idea, you develop the technology, you get it to a proof of concept or a prototype. Then, maybe at some future point, you bring designers in to ‘make it look better’. Instead, designers should be viewed as a strategic capability. They understand what problems we should be trying to solve, how those problems should be solved, and who the solution is for. This understanding should inform the process much earlier.”

“Ultimately, strategic design integration leads to high-quality, cost-effective products, reduces waste, enhances pricing potential, and fosters stronger customer loyalty and advocacy. This approach underscores the tangible benefits of design for businesses and economic prosperity in Australia,” he added.

Embedding Design: Australia’s Path to Economic Growth

One of the Australian Design Council’s flagship initiatives, the Design Review Program, currently being developed by Steve and his team, will provide businesses with specialist knowledge in the strategic application of design capability. The program will result in more businesses successfully entering the market by embedding and aligning professional design into business strategies to amplify their impact and maximise return on investment. 

“The Design Review Program aims to enhance leadership and management skills and experience, providing for increased capabilities in areas of product/service commercialisation, and growth with the ultimate aim of creating more design-led businesses in Australia and inturn, nudging us closer towards a design-led economy,” Steve concluded. 

Steve Baty and his team are spearheading the Design Review Program, an Australian Design Council flagship initiative, with the goal of enhancing the strategic application of design. Source: Supplied.

Design stands as a pivotal force in shaping Australia’s economic landscape, driving innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness across industries. Despite its profound impact, there remains untapped potential in integrating design into broader decision-making frameworks. Embracing a design-led economy not only enhances product value and market competitiveness but also accelerates progress towards environmental sustainability, particularly as economies around the world transition to a more low carbon, regenerative and circular economic models.  

By prioritising design from inception to implementation, Australia can harness design’s creative potential to foster economic prosperity, meet global demands, and pave the way towards a more resilient and prosperous future.

Where are they now? Good Design Australia’s Next Gen Award Winners

Each year, the Australian Good Design Awards recognises and celebrates some of the brightest young design minds in Australasia. Each year these brilliant designers continue to push the boundaries of design and challenge conventional thinking, to develop new and innovative ideas that help push our industry forward.

The Next Gen category was specifically created to inspire and support the next era of designers and to help foster a culture of design, innovation and creativity in the upcoming generations. Over the years, the Good Design Australia community has seen how these emerging designers often offer learnings and perspectives that can inspire those of all ages. 

2022 Next Gen Award – Neural Tourniquet by Kathy Ky (Source: Supplied)

For 2022’s award winner Kathy Ky, these lessons came when she embarked on her UNSW Bachelor of Industrial Design Honours Project to solve one straight-forward, yet inherently complex question: How do we control traumatic bleeding in emergency services and emergency scenarios?

The then 21 year old set out looking for answers, undeterred by the fact that she wasn’t a doctor and didn’t have a background in cardiology. 

“My project was so very technical and I found it challenging to grasp the science behind it, but being so young, I wasn’t so constrained by the rules or standards that you would follow when you’ve spent a lot longer in the industry,” says Kathy Ky, 2022 Good Design Award Best in Class Winner for Next Gen. 

“I had a fresh perspective that allowed me to seek out innovative solutions that hadn’t been considered by other people before.” 

The odds were stacked against her, but the emerging Sydney-based designer’s persistence and resourcefulness paid off. 

“I started reaching out to as many paramedics, trauma experts and other medical experts as I could, until I stumbled on the scientific paper proposed by the UN Institute in the US and their research became the skeleton of my project.” 

“The technology was developed by the institute but the concepts and aesthetics of the orbital and how it could solve the problem of traumatic bleeding in patients was a big part of my project – the Neural Tourniquet.” 

The Neural Tourniquet is designed for paramedics to use in emergency situations where rapid bleeding control is required to save lives in the critical minutes following a traumatic injury. The device uses TENS technology to stimulate the cervical vagus nerve, proven to stop uncontrollable bleeding in under a minute.

For the now 25-year-old, the Australian Good Design Award Best in Class win completely revolutionised her view on design, saw her land an Industrial Design role with Street Furniture Australia and has fuelled her drive to continue finding answers to big questions throughout her career. 

“Winning the Australian Good Design Award in the Next Gen category proved to me that I can challenge existing thinking and I’m able to translate my insights into real life projects that respond to real problems,” shares Kathy.

“I want to keep building on this momentum and gain as much knowledge and experience as I can before starting my own studio.” 

“If anyone is thinking of applying, I want to remind you to take opportunities when they come to you and seek out collaborations whenever you can – I wouldn’t have achieved all of this without doing so.” 

 2019 Next Gen Award – Gecko Traxx by Ryan Tilley and Huy Nguyen (Source: Supplied)

Only a few years earlier, Melbourne-based Industrial Design student, Ryan Tilley, used his own limited experience as the driver to challenge the standard of a global industry. It was on a summer study program in Singapore that the then 22 year old’s eyes were opened to the issues faced by people with disabilities or mobility issues. 

“I spent three days in a wheelchair myself while in Singapore and immediately saw just how many challenges these individuals face every day,” explains Ryan Tilley, 2019 Good Design Award Best in Class Winner for Next Gen. 

“Things as simple as people looking down on you when you’re trying to navigate food courts or crossing the road and the red man is flashing before you’ve even hit halfway and your shoulders are already burning.” 

“Coming from a technical background, my immediate thought was – Man, we can make these so much better”. 

Where others would have been deterred by the challenge at hand, it was ironically Ryan’s limited exposure to the healthcare and mobility industry that gave him the confidence to ‘jump straight into the deep end’ and design the Gecko Traxx – a portable and affordable wheelchair accessory that enables off-road access for manual wheelchair users. 

“I just approached it with youthful enthusiasm and probably came in a bit wide eyed as I’m not constrained by what’s already happened in the past,” shares Ryan. 

“There’s not been a lot of young people in the industry, so it’s been a welcomed change for all of our consumers.”

Since being named as a Good Design Award Best in Class Winner in 2019, Ryan has transformed his idea into a thriving business. Gecko Traxx was part of the founding range at Rove Wheelchairs, an organisation ‘committed to bringing cutting-edge designs and technology into wheelchairs and assistive technology products’. 

With a growing multidisciplinary team and support from the likes of Australian Paraolympian, Dylan Alcott, Ryan and his colleagues now have their eyes on the global stage. 

“Our focus at the moment is really on scaling and growing the current product that we have in the market, but we also have a new product that will be in the market in the next month or so and we’re getting ready to expand into the US.” 

“We want to be more than a wheelchair company and we want to be a global mobility company, so we’re also looking towards innovations such as power assist and how we can augment someone’s strength to make it easier for them to get around.” 

For Marcus Lee, winning the Australian Good Design Award Best in Class in the Next Gen category not only opened up doors for him in Australia, but catapulted his career to the other side of the globe. 

Marcus was named a winner in 2016 for his life saving dialysis machine, which helps treat people with kidney problems in remote areas. The project and his award helped him capture the attention of Apple recruiters from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Recognising the achievements of our Next Gen Award Winners highlights the immense potential of emerging designers. Through their innovative endeavours, they not only impact local communities but also contribute to broader societal advancements. Their dedication serves as a testament to the transformative power of design in effecting positive change.

Judging is currently underway for the 2024 Awards, and Good Design Australia is proud and excited to continue recognising and supporting the talent of tomorrow. 

Click here to read more about the annual Awards.