Women’s experience of industrial design education: What worked, what didn’t and where to in the future

Cathy Lockhart and Associate Professor Evonne Miller
2014 Conference

As the ways of defining business and industries change, understanding how and where the designer fits – and what skills are most valuable – is important for educators. The education of a creative, flexible and effective designer is an important goal for being ‘work ready’ in this changing environment, which emphases multidisciplinary ‘design thinking’ (Ball 2002; Bridgstock 2013). Yet, students, educators and the design profession may differ in what technical and social skills they prioritise (Savage, Davis & Miller 2009). This paper investigates the educational experience and perspective of female designers, who comprise nearly a half of the design student population at university yet remain underrepresented in leadership roles in practice.

In-depth qualitative interviews with nineteen female industrial designers (who completed their degree course over a period of ten years at one Australian university) explored their life, university and career trajectories. Participants openly discussed the highlights and lowlights of their educational experience, emphasising the importance of developing professional capabilities beyond the basic design skill-set (for example, entrepreneurship and skills in small business management). The findings, highlighting what aspects best develop the skills base and confidence of female designers, may help inform educators and shape future curriculum change.

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About the author

Associate Professor Evonne Miller is the Director, Research Training for the Creative Industries Faculty (CIF). She is responsible for developing, monitoring and improving research training – for research Masters and PhD students, as well as their supervisors – across the Faculty.

In terms of her own research, she is an environmental psychologist based in the School of Design, CIF. Her interdisciplinary mixed-methods research focuses on the complex real-world social change challenges facing society today – climate change, sustainability and population ageing. In the past five years, she has been awarded over two million dollars in competitive research grant funding for projects exploring the interrelationships between people, their built, technical and natural environments, with over 70 peer reviewed publications in these areas. More broadly, she is interested in how contemporary societal norms and values affect life/career choices, with her PhD from the University of Otago exploring the relationship between media use and women’s body image perception and satisfaction.


Cathy Lockhart’s research explores the implications of the shift in the gender mix of the student population in industrial design education where there has been a notable increase in the number of women graduating. In particular she is interested in the educational experience and transition into the profession. She is currently enrolled in a PhD by publication at QUT.

Cathy has worked for many years as a professional designer being Design Director of consultancy that was a leading designer and manufacturer of retail merchandising systems. Cathy has undertaken leadership roles within the Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building through a number of academic course management positions in the School of Design: Co-ordinator of Design 1, Director of Interdisciplinary Studies unit and Course Director Industrial Design. In these roles she has overseen course reaccreditations and course refocus to address the global readiness of graduates.