The Australian Design Alliance (AdA) was formed in September 2010 to bring all the professional associations within design together under one umbrella. 12 members are part of the group, ranging from Australian Graphic Design Association, the Australian Institute of Architects to Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia. All members are national bodies, and the AdA covers approximately 80,000 designers across the country from a range of disciplines.

Lisa’s role is threefold; to lobby the federal government for a national design policy, to advocate around design education across all levels and to profile the design sector through case studies and activities. She spoke to arts interview on the importance of learning and the current opportunities out in the market for professional development.

 Interview by Kim Goodwin

How important is continued learning for those in the design industry, and where can such opportunities be found?

 For all of us continued learning is really important. A lot of the work that designers do is collaborative, so they are constantly expanding their knowledge as they develop designs. As the industry moves and shifts, and technology changes continued learning is crucial to take advantage of all opportunities.

There are formal options through art, design and architecture schools around the country, tertiary and continuing education choices, professional development through associations and other learning practices throughout the field. It’s hard to generalise, but many in the design sectors, such as industrial or graphic designers are in small to medium enterprises, so often they aren’t as equipped to provide the level of development as larger organisations. SME professional development is generally available through associations such as the Design Institute of Australia. So wherever you are, there are various opportunities, but the most powerful learning is often on the job.

You’re about to facilitate an online learning program through the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), can you tell us a little bit about that?

 NAVA Connect is NAVA’s first venture into online learning for which I’ve been asked to facilitate one of four programs. The course is called “Expanding Your Career” and is essentially for artists and designers who are looking for ways to take their career a step further.  It focuses on opportunities in local government such as public art or community cultural development, product development, manufacturing and marketing, and international opportunities. The aim is to help extend practice in ways that are beyond the individual studio to grasp available options and develop alternative income generation.

Conducting online learning is relatively new in the arts sector, what benefits can you see?

 One of the benefits is flexibility – you can access and do online programs whenever you want. You don’t have to turn up to a physical location at a particular time, but rather make it fit around your work commitments or practice. It has also a lower cost of delivery so it can be offered to participants at a much lesser rate. Online learning opens you up to a network of people that may not have been accessible before, where new ideas generation can occur, particularly if you work as an individual artist.

The online learning enables you to come to grips with technology, in ways that may not have been done in your career so far. It really throws you into a technical environment, but one that is gentle, easy to use, supported, and opens up access to a range of online resources. Finally, teaching new ways of working with people provides an ability to collaborate with others in a virtual environment, which in the current market is a great asset.

You’ve had a very successful career in a number of high profile organisations, where have you personally found your best learning opportunities?

 Aside from formal learning, my most significant experience has been on the job.  Learning by doing, learning from collaborating with others and learning from mistakes. So, looking at how they operate, view the lessons and establish my own working patterns.

One thing someone once said to me has really stuck in my mind. Very early on in my career, when I was working within a government department in Canberra, I sat down with my manager to discuss the extension of a program I was working on. It was something I felt was absolutely impossible to do, and he said to me “Nothing is impossible, you’ve just got to work out a way of doing it.” That was really valuable to me, to say to myself “You are right, it may not be the best way, or the way I want to go, but we can do this.” It made me see that I needed to shift my thinking and to tackle the problem in a different way.