Curve editor, Belinda Stening, spoke to Brandon Gien, director of the ADA and general manager of design and communications at Standards Australia, about the changing scope of the ADA and the reasons behind the shift in thinking.

Can you give us some background to the decision to change the format and reach of the ADA?

Although serving a noble cause – the promotion of Australian design at a local level – the relevance of the ADA to Australian designers, industry and consumers has reached a plateau.

In its current capacity, the value of the ADA to government as a driver of design promotion policy is inconsequential. The important message that good design is not just about better products and services, but about a whole new way of thinking that can help us meet our economic and social challenges, is simply not getting through!

The ADA needs to reposition itself and engage effectively with government and business in Australia about the value and benefits of design and the changing dynamics of this global activity.

It is simply not sustainable to continue to operate the ADA under the current insular format, which has limited scope for leverage and value adding. The impact and relevance of the ADA under an expanded model will increase significantly, due to the increased number of products the program can attract, reward and promote.

Perhaps most importantly, it has the potential to provide added focus, direction and exposure to Australian industrial designers and design students and the national asset they represent.

Through implementation of this initiative, the ADA aims to become one of the foremost design assessment bodies in the world and better support the local design industry through exposure to opportunities far greater than its existing offering.

The ADA will celebrate fifty years of promoting design and innovation in Australia in 2008 (its humble beginnings originated with the Industrial Design Council of Australia, which was established in 1958).

The initiative will create a platform from which to celebrate the past fifty years of Australian design and innovation and prepare for the next fifty years.

Under the revised guidelines, can a product that has been designed and manufactured overseas be entered into the ADA?

Yes. We intend to turn the ADA into an internationally recognised and respected design awards program.

Some of the biggest and most successful design assessment bodies in the world accept entries designed and developed internationally and have been doing so for many years. Their primary criterion is that entries be available for sale in the program's country of origin.

These design bodies are well established, internationally recognised and highly regarded by consumers in their region. They are financially stable, fulfill an important role for consumers, designers and manufacturers alike, and offer a unique marketing advantage to businesses that wish to differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace.

These include the red dot design award and iF design awards (both Germany), Good Design Award (Japan) and the Industrial Design Excellence Award (USA).

There is currently no other design assessment body for Australian consumers other than the ADA program, which is limited to Australian-designed products.

Popular consumer brands such as Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Apple, IBM, Dell, HP, Canon, Nokia, Motorola, Philips, Fujitsu, Microsoft (to name a few) are available to Australian consumers but are not eligible to undergo a design evaluation through the ADA system due to their country of design origin.

The net effect is that only a very small proportion of products on the shelf will carry the trademarks of the ADA. The relevance of these trademarks to consumers is therefore minor.

Similarly, automotive brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Lexus and VW are only able to enter their products into automotive assessment programs such as the Wheels Car of the Year award, though there are also a number of consumer-advocate bodies that provide product certification and testing services.

The focus of this new initiative will be carefully considered to ensure it does not in any way duplicate or infringe upon any of these existing functions. The key differentiator must be design.

Have you had much feedback from design professionals about the wider net the ADA will be casting?

The initiative will both require and offer a more dynamic and strategic engagement with Australian design stakeholders. We conducted a round table discussion in Sydney for key industrial-design stakeholders who have been heavily involved with the growth and support of the ADA over the years.

We also travelled the country to engage in one-on-one meetings to gauge support for the initiative. Further to this, when we conducted a detailed review of the 2006 ADA (this happens each year) to capture feedback, we specifically asked stake-holders what their view was on expanding the ADA to cater for products designed internationally.

The message was clear that credible facilitation and cohesive leadership in this sector was required. In principal, the concept was unanimously accepted.

Will the awards still be called the Australian Design Awards?

We are in the process of commissioning a design and branding agency to provide some professional advice in this regard. We are conscious of the significant history of the ADA and our various trademarks and name registrations. The aim will be to build on the name and ensure the brand is vibrant and exciting and is a symbol of design excellence.

To ensure the focus of the ADA remains on the promotion of Australian design, we will also be establishing a national design-promotion body to provide a formal structure to this enhanced promotional activity.

The design-promotion body will also be responsible for the administration of a national design-promotion website that will focus on promoting Australian designers to the world. 

Will there be any changes to the composition of judging panels and the judging process?

In order for the expanded ADA to function successfully, the current assessment process will need to be revised to service a much larger entry catchment.  For the program to remain credible and be internationally recognised, it will become increasingly important to attract the highest calibre judges in the world.

In what way do you see the enlarged ADA remaining relevant to the Australian design community?

The primary stakeholders of the ADA are members of the industrial-design profession in Australia who have been instrumental in shaping the ADA into what it is today.

Being independently benchmarked by the ADA gives an industrial-design practitioner a strategic tool with which to compete for ongoing business. With the shift of product manu-facturing offshore in recent decades, vying for international work is increasingly important. The ADA needs to better reflect the changing needs of this important stakeholder group.

The ADA also fulfils an important function for product manufacturers, the clients of the industrial-design profession. This includes entrepreneurs and business-people engaged in research and development and working with new technology, and the industry of product development.

Carrying a symbol of design excellence enhances the sale-ability of a wider variety of innovative products and promotes fairer competition at point of sale.

Finally, the ADA plays a vital role to consumers by independently recognising products for design excellence. Recognising good product design can be challenging for consumers.

With the help of symbols differentiating a larger and more even spread of products by design excellence, consumers will be given a better indication of exceptional design standards in manufactured goods than the current model. 

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