The member spotlight was shed on Icsid Professional Member, Design Institute of Australia (DIA) in order to better understand Australia’s only multi-disciplinary organisation. Below is an interview conducted with Mr Oliver Kratzer, industrial designer and Immediate Past National President of the DIA and chairman of the Australian Design Alliance.

Q: As stated on your website, “the single biggest issue that prevents the design sector from effectively supporting its member base is the splitting of the available funds between multiple organisations.”

As Australia’s only multi-disciplinary organisation representing professional designers what do you see as the overlapping concerns and collaborative opportunities for all types of designers? What can industrial designers learn from other professional designers?

There are many overlapping issues that affect all design professionals irrespective of discipline. Free pitching, ethics, business management skills, government liaison, sector intelligence and analysis to name a few. These concerns are shared by all. Catering to multiple disciplines is also difficult: it is tempting, but wrong to try to be all things to all people. Without addressing specific discipline concerns, you will lose all but the least sophisticated members. People look to the DIA for leadership and expert insight – there is enough general design information readily available on the Internet.

The DIA was started in 1947 as the Society of Designers for Industry. Over the years, we have amalgamated with the Australian Textile Design Association (ATDA) and the Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA). The reasons for integration are many and work on a number of levels.

At ground level, we are paying for duplicate infrastructures. This is not about penny pinching, but the freed up funds could be deployed to provide more specialist services including engagement of professional CEOs and senior level staff, detailed policy research, sector analysis, etc. These are the deep, valuable pieces of knowledge that peak industry bodies are the creators and custodians of. Multiple organisations also dilute the sponsorship pool and big associations are more attractive to sponsors.

At the middle level, boards and senior personnel are preoccupied with almost identical compliance, risk and strategic issues. How do we attract more members, how do we stop membership turnover, etc. This also detracts directors and senior staff from thinking at a more strategic, long-term level – where will our profession be in 50 years? How do we fix the currently broken ‘fee for service’ business model?

At the high level, lack of consolidation keeps the voice of design weak: one hundred organisations with one hundred members each have a fraction of the clout as one organisation with 10,000 members.

A body that represents more than 140,000 members; professionals, who use creativity and design to create wealth, the Australian Design Alliance (AdA) includes the peak bodies representing artists, designers, engineers and architects. The AdA’s role is not to duplicate or replace its member organisations, but provide a forum for discussing the big, broad, strategic issues. This is a milestone for us, and perhaps the world. It is the common issues that have brought us together: a common voice and first point of contact for government. The first big goal for the AdA is to establish a National Design Policy. With these kinds of numbers, government pays attention!

Q: In your most recent issue of SPARK magazine you have a compelling article ‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ regarding “…the contentious and apparently never-ending problem of pitching, crowdsourcing and design competitions in general.”

The article mentions that the DIA, AGDA and the Designer’s Institute  (formerly DINZ, the Designer’s Institute of New Zealand), all oppose pitching and exploitative design competitions, and are uniting their efforts to help inform Australian and New Zealand designers and businesses about the pitfalls of pitching and related issues. How have you gone about this and how can organisations lobby for their government to recognise this issue? In addition, how can we work towards an international policy on free pitching?

The original ‘Say No to Free Pitching’ guide was produced by a previous DIA National President. It is sophisticated because it acknowledges that the situation is rarely black or white. It spells out the individual issues and gives designers and potential clients the tools, language and framework to have a meaningful discussion. Free pitching is an evil that infected the design world from advertising and architecture – sectors with different revenue models that can support this approach.

The DIA, AGDA and New Zealand’s DI have just signed an MOU that has been two years in the making, which outlines a broad strategy for engagement and collaboration. From direct human touches like mutual membership benefits, to commitment to working together on industry wide programs and issues like free pitching, awards and professional recognition.

As a footnote, the new collaborative mood is partly caused by the AdA – it is the forum where the presidents and senior executives of the thirteen member bodies can talk about the issues their sectors and organisations face.

Q: What are some accomplishments in terms of lobbying government for change/recognition that the DIA has achieved? 

The DIA had a wonderful win a few years ago, when we managed to change the Australian Bureau of Statistics classification categories, allowing various design professions to be individually recognised. The most tangible outcome is an about-to-be released DIA Practice Note, which combines the latest census data with information from the DIA’s own Fee and Salary Survey. This paints a detailed, statistically significant picture, of the design sector, which we can use to back fundamental claims and use as the basis for strategic policy development. This paper underpins the DIA’s claim to being the nation’s peak professional body.

Australia is divided into seven states and territories, each with its own state government. Respective DIA state branches have long had good relationships with their state governments. These relationships result in state policy influence, event coordination and sponsorship. From Victoria’s Design Maps Sister City projects, to New South Wales’ Sydney Design Week, there are many examples of successful collaboration.

The DIA also collaborates with other organisations that work with the design sector – Good Design Australia’s Australian International Design Awards(AIDA), the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), the Federal Government’s Creative Industries Innovation Centre (CIIC), the Green Building Council, many university advisory boards, and more. Collaboration takes the form of board level representation, promotion, endorsement, etc. That the DIA – which runs on a very tight budget – can manage to do all this is testament to its highly active members and its excellent infrastructure.

Q: The DIA focuses on many international partnerships and often features internationally relevant news on its website. DIA chapters have also actively hosted World Industrial Design Day activities for the last few years and regularly participated in several Icsid General Assemblies. Can you recommend any other ways for members to get their own constituents involved in Icsid?

A former DIA president and friend of mine always said, “A DIA membership is like a gym membership, it’s not enough to just get one, you have to turn up for it to do you any good.” I believe it is the same with our memberships in the three international peak bodies (Icsid, Icograda and IFI) – we have always had representatives attend all their general assemblies, and one of our Fellows, Mr Brandon Gien is currently Icsid’s President-Elect. I would urge all member bodies to look closely at Icsid’s programmes and offerings.

About Oliver Kratzer

Mr Oliver Kratzer, LFDIA is an industrial designer and the Immediate Past National President of the DIA and chairman of the Australian Design Alliance.

About Design Institute of Australia (DIA)

The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) is the organisation working for the future of the design professions in Australia. It is the only multidisciplinary organisation of designers in Australia. It speaks for all designers. Since 1947, the DIA has been actively improving the community recognition and status of designer. The DIA promotes the value of design and designers to industry, business, government and the community. It provides a vibrant networking base on a state, national and international level.