Design for the times

Tertiary design studies were once about discipline, focus and specialisation. But in today’s rapidly changing world, design is now interwoven with almost every discipline imaginable.

desna jury aut design pro vice chancellorPHOTO: Tony Nyberg

Tertiary design studies were once about discipline, focus and specialisation. But in today’s rapidly changing world, design is now interwoven with almost every discipline imaginable 

When we think about design education, the traditional definitions and boundaries no longer apply, says Desna Jury, an AUT University Pro Vice Chancellor. Design is now interwoven into teaching and learning across a wide range of disciplines to equip students for exciting careers in a range of sectors.

“All business thinking and strategic development needs to be ‘designed’ and this is what we teach at AUT,” says Jury.

“By imparting the philosophy of design-led thinking across many disciplines, we enable bright young minds to explore and create new careers that link with sectors like business, health, technology and computing.”

In her other role as Dean of AUT’s Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies Jury is relishing the new niche that design is carving for itself.

The faculty combines four schools – Art and Design, Communication Studies, Engineering and Computing and Mathematical Sciences – and an interdisciplinary unit (Colab).

A unique interdisciplinary focus on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship connects the faculty’s core themes of design and creative technologies.

“There’s a move away from what people might have conceptualised as design in the past,” says Jury. “We still do all the traditional things, such as teach typography to graphic designers, and spatial and interior design, but a whole new realm has opened up in design.”

That new realm has seen students push their design talents in exciting and diverse directions. Third-year and postgraduate tudents are taking design thinking into the health arena, collaborating with local health boards to create more patient-friendly experiences.

Their work includes medical equipment for Starship Children’s Hospital that’s engaging and accessible rather than threatening to young patients, and holistic design to improve the experience for children visiting mobile dental clinics.

“Design thinking is all about research – reviewing, assessing, evaluating, looking at the human factors, ideation, prototyping and implementing,” says Jury.

“It’s packing in more design around products, systems and experiences.”

At the heart of the faculty is Colab – headed up by Associate Professors Charles Walker and Frances Joseph – a teaching and research nexus that facilitates collaboration on a range of cross-disciplinary projects. Art and science meet to create some truly unique outcomes, such as cockpit system designs for a New Zealand-led challenge on the world land speed record.

“Design is one of the most effective tools we can give graduates who are looking to add value. It helps them with innovation, creativity and iterative improvements.

“I think it will play a defining role in our future economy and AUT is committed to producing graduates who will help to strengthen the future economy, either by working for others, or by running their own businesses.”

To add impetus to this idea, the faculty has joined forces with the AUT Business School to offer New Zealand’s first and only design major in a Bachelor of Business degree. The 100 or so students who enrol in the major each year will graduate fully versed in ‘design-led thinking’.

“A design major in business really appeals to students who are creative, and it’s been incredibly popular,” says Jury. “It will be fascinating to see where these first graduates go and what they end up doing.”

Students have a choice of papers around innovation and creativity and can learn about prototyping, sustainability, design theory and human-centredness.

“It’s about developing a mindset, a certain way of thinking and working,” says Jury.

As well as creating graduates who add value, the Faculty of Design and Creative Technology’s progressive approach is responsible for a significant growth in postgraduate numbers.

“Postgraduate students are welcoming the chance to demonstrate their skills in a practical way by producing an output such as a film, a performance or product in conjunction with their written thesis,” Jury says.

Heading up an agile and future-focused faculty that celebrates design thinking is a great fit for Jury.

“Every day our staff and students are doing things that take design to the next level – that’s the part I enjoy the most.”