A new deal plan for manufacturing – a design-led future for the industry by Brandon Gien

Design is unfortunately misunderstood and undervalued by a lot of Australian manufacturers. Dr Brandon Gien discusses its importance and why the industry needs to adopt best-practice design.


As Australia navigates through the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a unique opportunity to position a design-led approach at the centre of the recovery process – particularly in the revival of Australian manufacturing. 


Today, to be a successful manufacturer through design is no longer only about ensuring a product is aesthetically pleasing, ergonomically sound or designed for manufacturing efficiency and productivity. Manufacturers need to consider design from a much broader context: the digital and non-digital user experience, how they capture value from new services, the impact of Industry 4.0 on their offering and supply chains, circular economy implications and global changes in our climate system – all of which will inform their current and future business models.  


Investment in and ongoing best practice in professional design today can enable manufacturers to become more competitive, more efficient and more sustainable. More importantly, a design-led manufacturer can grow their export offerings and contribute to a vibrant economy. 


Design-led innovation is a process and a mindset that can be applied to transforming complex systems and services, processes, digital technologies and products as well as the places we live, work, play and learn. Good design applied in this way is good for business. Global consulting firm McKinsey tracked the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period in multiple countries and industries, identifying those who use design as a strategic tool. The report reinforced the commercial advantage of investing in a professional design approach with businesses considered to be ‘design-led’ increasing their revenues by 32% points compared with those that didn’t. 


Unfortunately, the term ‘design’ is still largely misunderstood and undervalued by Australian manufacturers with many seeing it as an ‘add on’ rather than an integrated strategic investment in their business. While there is a growing list Australian manufacturers who understand the importance of using design as a strategy to differentiate their products and services, the large majority still don’t fully appreciate or understand how to leverage the power of design to drive competitiveness. 


Australia’s design sector is up there with the best in the world. Our industrial designers consistently develop innovative and sophisticated products and services that are truly world-class and exportable. This is evident by the high number of Australian design teams receiving top accolades in our annual Good Design Awards where design is benchmarked at an international level. The real challenge is to unlock this design potential and to find better ways to link our world-class designers to the revival in Australia’s manufacturing sector. 


Design-led growth must be central to the future of Australian manufacturing. We need to do more at a national level to accelerate the adoption of best practice design within our manufacturing sector. We need intelligent policy settings from government to embed design as a means to increase the diversity in our export mix, with a renewed focus on high-value, design-led manufacturing. We need a national design-led strategy backed by government that embraces the role of design, innovation and creativity to drive world-class solutions and economic competitiveness in our businesses and industries.  


Through strong design leadership, we can build our economy and the capacities of Australians to find new and innovative solutions to challenging problems. If we can embed design-led innovation as a national priority for Australia, together with the corresponding policy settings from government, Australia could finally become a design-led nation. 


Dr Brandon Gien is CEO, Good Design Australia, and President Emeritus, World Design Organization.

@AuManufacturing’s new deal plan for manufacturing is brought to you with the support of Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions

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