STEM-D: Let's give design the props it deserves

The government must understand the importance and value of design to the New Zealand economy when it considers diverting tertiary funds from other disciplines into science, technology and maths (STEM) subjects.

Tony ParkerEconomic development minister, Steven Joyce, has hinted at government plans to divert funds from faculties such as arts and humanities and funnel them into science, engineering and technology students.

While STEM subjects are important, the list is too short: it should be STEM-D, as in D for Design.

Without design nothing gets to market or if it does, nobody wants to buy the products.  Countries like Singapore and Korea understand this and are taking the world by storm.

The Designers Institute of New Zealand supports the government’s intention to improve our global competitiveness by increasing investment in R&D and STEM subjects.  However, we must also invest in our global design competitiveness to ensure that the products and services we produce benefit from first class design.

I am not just talking about industrial design, but about graphic design, branding and spatial design, so we can fully realise the brilliance of science. You need design to make products and services desirable. Otherwise new scientific and technology products and services remain unappealing and incomprehensible to the end consumer.

Successful global companies, such as Apple Inc, use science and engineering – but design through its products, services, graphic communications, and retail outlets is fundamental to its success. Otherwise it would have remained an undifferentiated PC company. Instead, it is one of the most successful companies in the world.

New Zealand companies who use design effectively to develop and market their products internationally include Fisher & Paykel Appliances and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Tait Electronics, and Waikato-based Gallagher Industries. In the primary industry field, companies such as Silver Fern Farms are wooing UK shoppers with innovative branded meat products.

Don’t forget that design is a vital part of the mix. If you increase funding for engineering and science, you also need to increase funding for design. Design must be part of the strategy.

The United Kingdom is ahead of us in this – they started with STEM but now are definitely recognising the role that design plays in R&D and in the commercialisation of products and services.

Design is a human resource and to invest in it is one of the most important global differentiators and competitiveness factors.
Tony Parker is the president of the Designers Institute of New Zealand

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