The Role of Slavery in Design Education

Mark Strachan
2014 Conference

Traditional undergraduate design briefs frequently remain within familiar boundaries, theoretically framed for the purpose of teaching particular design themes, techniques and processes within discipline silos and their practices. Through introducing significant and challenging topics, valuable learning contexts can be generated using systems and service design pedagogies.

This paper describes an ongoing community engagement project, working with Slavery Links, an Australian non-for-profit organization, to address modern day slavery systems and their relevance in design education futures.

The topic of slavery was adopted in the undergraduate interdisciplinary Design Services and Systems studio at Swinburne University. Slavery is an unusual subject in Australian design education as it is typically associated with the 19th Century slave trade and its abolition. However, slavery persists to this day and, as Australians, our consumption often unwittingly encourages it in the Asia Pacific region.

By applying service design and strategic systems approaches heightens students’ awareness of design’s potential and its application to complex problems, which are both unfamiliar and seemingly overwhelming. By providing frameworks for understanding, the role of design is seen in a broader context and through applying systems thinking and service design methodologies students are able to re-orientate their own perspective and insights.

This project enables students to realise how their disciplines can embrace and contribute to both behavioral and social change, to appreciate the ethics of design, and to understand their wider responsibilities as future design practitioners. This was evidenced through student reflections and the motivation of some to engage independently with Slavery Links.

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About the author

Mark Strachan MDesRCA FRSA

Mark is a passionate design practitioner and educator, committed to interdisciplinary, collaborative design and strategic development.

His expertise draws upon many years in industry and consultancy where he has extensive experience in systems, services and product development. Mark’s teaching specializes in supervising capstone projects in the disciplines of Industrial Design, Interior Architecture and Product Design Engineering at the Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology.