Design means business: Bus

Design Means Business

Design needed to invigorate economy

Recently Melbournians have noticed a new and distinctive vehicle zipping along the city’s tram tracks. The new tram is the first of 50 new E-Class vehicles scheduled for deployment across Melbourne’s tram network. The E-class is the longest tram ever to grace Melbourne’s tracks. With its size and striking design the tram has been turning heads of Melbourne café goers and tram-spotting gunzels alike.

The E-Class trams are truly innovative with, among other features, dedicated wheelchair spaces, low floors and external safety cameras. As stated by Victorian Premier, Denis Napthine; “The great thing about these E-Class trams is that they were designed in Melbourne, (and) built in Melbourne, for Melbourne conditions.”Melbourne has had trams in continuous operation since 1884 and currently boasts the largest urban tram network in the world. Given this history and Melbourne’s strength in transport design and manufacturing, it’s interesting that these are the city’s first locally designed and manufactured trams.

Manufacturing’s decline

Australia, like many western countries, has witnessed a dwindling in the profitability of its manufacturing sector over recent decades. This has driven companies to announce closures of their Victorian operations in the last five years, including Pac Brands and more recently Ford Motor Company. These closures are of particular concern for the Victorian economy. The $30.8 billion manufacturing sector is the largest single full-time employer in Victoria. If the challenges facing the manufacturing sector cannot be addressed soon, Victoria may experience a period of significant economic stress.

Tapping into our inherent innovation

For many years the Australian economy has been an oligopoly, insulating businesses from the rigours of fierce competition. This environment has bred a generation of companies in Australia that have been able to achieve success without the need for world standard innovation. Despite this, as a nation we are an exceptionally creative and innovative people with a heritage of innovative thinking that has changed the world as we know it. The use of stainless steel tanks in the wine industry and the ‘black box’ in-flight recorder are two particular examples of Australian innovations that have made a significant contribution to the modern world.

Design is the process used to develop creative ideas into innovative solutions that create value for a business and an economy. Design leads to the development of Intellectual Property (IP) and generates new opportunities for manufacturers, while giving business a unique competitive advantage. Design is the key to the commercialisation of Research & Development (R&D). Our world class design capabilities cannot be effectively utilised without appropriate investment in R&D. Alarmingly, given the threat to our manufacturing sector, Australia has seen a reduction in R&D investment. In FY2012 Australia’s $18.3 billion R&D spend decreased from 1.28% to 1.24% of GDP. Most disturbing is the trend of R&D spending in the manufacturing sector, reducing from 36% of total R&D spending to 24% in the 6 years from 2006.

The UK government’s 2005 Cox Review examined how British industry could use design to ensure the nation’s long-term economic success. The report is highly relevant for Australia as both countries have strong design industries that have been underutilised in the development of innovative and implementable solutions. The Cox Review advocated the use of design to revitalise Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Given SMEs contributed 46% of Australia’s GDP in 2006, the findings are clearly relevant. The Cox Review recommends that one source of stimulation for the local manufacturing sector is through public procurement – driving more innovative, locally designed and locally manufactured products. State and Federal government organisations can play a key role in reversing Australia’s recent trend of R&D spending reductions.

Using design; A win, win, win

As announced by Denis Napthine in July of this year, the E-Class tram resulted in the creation of 500 jobs at manufacturer Bombardier. The local content requirements of the E-class tram tender process are a perfect example of how government organisations can drive the use of local design to develop innovative solutions and create local manufacturing jobs. In addition to boosting the manufacturing sector, using Australian design, made the vehicle a genuinely local product, improving operator and end user ‘buy-in’, while creating local jobs within the product design industry.

There is little doubt that effective design can drive the development of products that create manufacturing opportunities and contribute to growth for businesses, sectors and economies. Within the spirit of the Cox Review, the new Melbourne E-Class tram is a successful Australian example of deliberate planning and good design leading to new and real jobs. However, Australia needs more brave and long-sighted policy and legislation to support the use of design in invigorating our economy. In 2005 the Cox Review suggested there was a 5-10 year window of opportunity, for the use of design to drive economic success. If it is not already too late for us here in Australia, we are definitely on borrowed time.


Melbourne Now: NGV

Melbourne Now at NGV

Melbourne Now

The NGV’s Melbourne Now exhibition is an ambitious cross-disciplinary project that celebrates the breadth and depth of Melbourne’s creativity, featuring contributions from the fields of architecture, fashion, art, design and performance.

The exhibition is a first for any Australian state gallery, and for the first time the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) will feature contemporary product design. “The exhibition has embraced a very strong design agenda, because we recognise that Melbourne has such a strong design community” according to NGV’s Director Tony Ellwood.

The Design In Everyday Living installation accounts for almost a third of the entire Melbourne Now program, with the wall becoming a centrepiece for the exhibition’s strong design focus. Curated by Simone LeAmon and covering an enormous area 16 metres wide and 8 metres high, the ‘design wall’ will feature multiple units of products designed in Melbourne.

According to LeAmon: ”We have the products in multiples because the aim is really to say design has a really strong relationship with serial production”. What most people don’t realise, she says, is that “mass-produced items are often subject to the same rigorous design processes as luxury products. The really humble, simple things – even something like a dustpan and brush – are the result of a lot of creative angst and a lot of thinking and a lot of energy and work.”

Cobalt were honoured to be invited to submit three of our products for this important exhibition: the iconic Yarra Tram grab handles, the slimline Exit Lights and the acclaimed KeepCup, illustrating Cobalt’s significant and ongoing contribution to Melbourne’s design landscape. Other familiar products such as Willow coolers and Rip Curl wetsuits, to name a few, will also feature as multiples on the wall.

Exhibition visitors can view daily information via the Melbourne Now online social hub, run through the Herald Sun website. They can also upload a smart phone app for detailed artist information, programs and maps, as well as an interactive component called Clickwithme, encouraging users to engage their creativity by uploading their own impressions of daily life in Melbourne. Melbourne Now opens at the National Gallery of Victoria on Friday 22nd November and runs until March 2014. Entry is free.

China Creative Design Forum 2013 thumbnail

China International Creative Design Week

China International Creative Design Week showcased the best of Victorian design innovation and attracted international delegates, speakers and creatives from across the design spectrum.

Co-ordinated by the DIA (Design Institute of Australia) council member Ian Wong, and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, the event was attended by a number of senior Chinese delegates and Australian State and Federal ministers and representatives. Visiting attendees included Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb, former Premier John Brumby and former Victorian Police commissioner Christine Nixon.

Jack Magree made an address and presentation at the event’s Design Forum, and presented various examples of award winning Cobalt designs including the KeepCup reusable coffee cup, Agilent analytical instruments and Heartsine defibrillators, showcasing Cobalt’s design ingenuity in the fields of scientific, medical and transport design. Minister for Trade Andrew Robb took a special interest in the range of Agilent and Heartsine projects.

During his visit, Jack also had the privilege of being invited to the opening of the Monash & South East University campus at Suzhou. Introduced by Ian Wong, Program Director of Monash University’s Master of Design Program, Jack delivered a guest lecture to the graduate students on campus. Using the KeepCup as an example, Jack communicated the Cobalt design ethos: a focus on user-centred design principles, contemporary styling, a rigorous iterative process, and an emphasis on precise engineering and manufacture. Jack also spoke at the China Creative Design Forum, outlining how Chinese businesses could benefit from the creative design expertise of Cobalt.