Design and Art Australia Online  (DAAO) is a e-research tool that has been built on the foundations of the Dictionary of Australian Artists. DAAO captures biographical material, when artists were born, when they died, whom they associated with, but also gathers information on artists’ practice such as their works and exhibitions. It is a dynamic and multifaceted research tool that services a range of researchers interested in Australian art and design. Dr Gillian Fuller, DAAO’s research director, took the time to talk to arts interview about this complex, evolving project that involves organisations from across Australia’s art and design sector.

 Interview by Kim Goodwin

DAAO is going through a change – a relaunch.  Who is involved in this new project?

Academic Researchers have always been at the core of the project, which is wonderful, it has enabled the DAAO to get a solid sense of scholarly authority. For the DAAO to be something you can trust, the academic input into this has been pivotal. Next is to open up the database to researchers who are non-academic, those working in museums, such as the Powerhouse, or amateur researchers who have knowledge about Australian art and design.

It works on two levels; we are opening up technically, so that the actual structures of the database can interoperate with other database, which means we can directly exchange data with organisations such as the Art Gallery of NSW or the Ian Potter Museum. We are also opening up the project at the interface level, so that a whole range of researchers can not only use the database, but they can contribute and update records, and participate on projects together through the database. In addition, we are enabling a whole range of researchers to not only use DAAO, but also to contribute and participate on projects together through it. For example, two researchers at different ends of the country can contact each other, share data, form teams, really start working together and finding new questions about Australian art and design.

What challenges have you faced bringing together so many academic and non-academic organisations to participate in such a complex project?

One challenge and I think this is the area I find most encouraging – once you get the business plan right you have to also make it worthwhile for everybody involved. It is a challenge, but it is an exciting challenge to find out what people want and incorporate the feedback into a design that works. We had to listen to the issues that partner institutions are facing. For example, a lot of museums and galleries have incredible digitised assets but they have nowhere to put them beyond their own websites. By putting things into the DAAO, all of a sudden their collections data is sitting next to exhibitions data, which is sitting next to biographical data. This incredible and beautiful juxtaposition of data enables a really rich picture to emerge. Our partners really understand this; they are driven by a love of wanting to know what influences Australian art and design.

You have made the switch from academia to leading this project, what have you learnt?

I would not say I have made a switch as such – I am still an academic; I still research and publish. When I was working academically I would talk of data ‘coming together’ without understanding the actual footwork that goes into working with institutions with regard to getting the data to be open about obtaining permissions etc.

I have learnt too that when you have a big project with a big budget and a short timeline, you learn to be very solutions focused very quickly. The thing I find very satisfying about working on a technical project is knowing if something works or not immediately.

Also the more detailed and open you are about what you are doing, the better quality feedback from stakeholders you get. I am not particularly concerned if stakeholders disagree with me, just so long as we get a chance to talk. For me these kinds of discussions are part of best practice in design.

After July the project moves into a new phase. When the new site launches, what does ongoing success look like for DAAO?

Success looks like a truly useful e-research tool.  If you can create something that is useful you have solved most of the problems.

Ongoing success means a database that is self-sustainable and active. One that a high amount of people use every day, and saving and exporting our data for other purposes.

However, success is not just people using the database, but using it in surprising ways that I have never thought about. We are putting out a website with new functionality and many different sorts of system capabilities. I cannot wait to see how people hack it, mash it, how they use it, what they do with it.

More information the DAAO journey can be found here: