Claire Beale, of RMIT University, has been appointed president of the Victoria Tasmania branch of the Design Institute of Australia (DIA).

She lectures at the School of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University.

Architecture and Design spoke to Beale about the changing role of organisations, why design needs to be sensitive and responsive to the community and how connecting with other designers is helping graduates.

Has it been hard for industry associations to stay relevant in a changing industry?

As the design industry in Australia (and globally) has evolved, so too has the profile and focus of our associations – it’s a symbiotic relationship. In order to remain relevant, we need to ensure that we remain flexible, responsive and unafraid to take on new ways of doing things. Perhaps the most important element of this is to ensure that we remain open to change and that we have a clear vision of what the future of the design industry may entail.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the industry at the moment?

For anyone reading the mainstream press, perhaps the biggest (or most public) issue facing the industry is the 'crisis' in traditional mass manufacturing in Australia at the moment. Whilst we are seeing a number of well-known brands close down operations or move their production facilities offshore, we should also be aware that the nature of how we design, produce and consume products and services is undergoing a momentous shift in focus worldwide.

Design should remain sensitive and responsive to the needs of our community, seeking to provide real and tangible solutions to issues such as dealing with an ageing population, the effects of climate change and finite resources. We need to adapt ourselves to the reality of working within an increasingly complex global marketplace, without losing the homegrown skills and expertise that have evolved in our local environment.

How do you think it could be tackled by the industry?

It may seem a heavy responsibility, but it is also an exciting time to be in the design industry – we have a great opportunity here! Central to all of this is the emphasis on developing creative solutions to difficult problems and the importance of communication.

Whilst this may sound trite, its unfortunately very true for all designers – we need to be able to interact with one another, our clients and end users in order to get things done. No longer is it the remit of a sole designer to come up with a complete solution to a client's problem. Increasingly we are working collaboratively in cross-disciplinary teams in order to create innovative and personalised responses to client's needs. 

You're a lecturer at RMIT. Have you seen any differences in the students coming through now and their approach to design compared to when you completed your degree?

Of course! Back in the 'dark ages' when I completed my design degree, the expectation was that a graduate would work in a commercial studio, working their way through the ranks and potentially 'one day' reaching the top. To start up your own practice straight out of uni was a rare and frightening leap of faith.

These days, most graduates are launching their own independent practices in line with taking on part time roles in industry studios. They are more collaborative, aware that they will not always have all the answers or expertise, and instead of trying to 'fake it', they call in the help when they need it. This means 'co-labs' are becoming the norm, where designers work together on specific projects where and when necessary.

You try to help students from the university environment into the real world. What challenges do they typically face when they make the step out of university and into the working industry?

Taking a leap into the great unknown is the biggest hurdle for many to overcome, so my role is to ensure I've created opportunities to connect them with their industry peers prior to graduation. By connecting into a broader design community from their first days in their design studies, they are able to draw on these linkages when they are ready to enter the workforce.

Mentoring programs, internships and industry projects all help to give them insight into their abilities and clearer expectations of the industry environment.

What's been the most rewarding part of teaching?

The most rewarding part of my role is when I see that “a ha!” moment in a student's experience when it all finally comes together for them and they find once difficult problems or processes have become easier, or better still, when they forget to worry about them at all.

Most students are notoriously shy about promoting themselves and their work, so it's part of my role as an educator to build their confidence and ability to communicate in a range of forums. When I see a student find their voice, it's as exciting and thrilling for me as it is for them.