There are five themes moving through the 2019 conference, which respond to the shifts, problem spaces, and discourses playing out across our society: Ethical Practice, Capable Business, Designing Designers, Subversive Design, and Future Places. All speakers, facilitators, artists, and curators are asked to present along one of these themes.

During the conference participants will spend around half the time together in a single track program, and the other half in curated, theme-led break-out sessions.


Design is expanding its reach – with governments, not-for-profits, corporates, and other organisations bringing in designers to consider the complex problem spaces they work within every day. This comes with increased responsibility, and the need to deepen ethical practice (and consider non-human actors) so designers can work with the nuance, respect, and cultural intelligence that our communities need. How can we re-consider the role designers play, and critically evaluate the impact of our designs on broader society?

Design ethics, cultural intelligence, societal impact


Large organisations have embraced design as a capability, scaling up design teams and embedding new approaches into their businesses. However, there is doubt as to whether this has been able to effect change – with the complexity of systems, organisational politics, and inflexible processes bringing a reality check to practitioners. Many have started to see design as ‘theatre’, with leaders questioning the outcomes being delivered, while there are just as many designers pushing back to maintain the integrity of the practice. How can we reconcile these tensions, and evolve our capabilities, to shape more capable businesses?

Design capability, organisational design, systems thinking


Learning in design can range from quality scholarship to apprenticeships to startup courses, with all these modes responding to the constant shifts in industry (and society) that require new proficiencies and approaches. However, there are fundamental competencies and reflective practices that can only be achieved through rigorous, continual learning and real-world experience. Many practitioners also struggle to make the space – or be given the space – to practice reflectively, and to maintain self-care. What is the future of learning, design education, and professional practice – and what role do existing and future players have within it?

Design education, reflective practice, self-care


How do you feel about design? Is it safe? Today’s designers are largely focused on designing for a singular, understood reality in which they design for immediate problems and opportunities. As unconscious servants to a dominant worldview, are we perpetuating these self-fulfilling prophecies? The role of designers should not only be to design within societies dominant frameworks but also to question these limited horizons and design alternatives. How are we – designers, artists, technologists, makers, and non-designers – pushing boundaries and shaping futures?

Speculative futures, critical design, design fiction


In an unsustainable world, there is doubt about the future of the places we inhabit – and as designers we have a lot to answer for regarding our contributions to the age of the Anthropocene. Smart cities and technology are changing how we interact with our surroundings, but we also need to consider the human and environmental cost of the futures we design, as well as the ongoing impact of colonialism and past decision-making. How can we bring these considerations into our practice to transform and regenerate places, and shape inclusive communities that ensure better futures for all?

Sustainable design, smart cities, post-colonialism

We acknowledge the Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung people of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of the lands on which our events are located, and the traditional owners of country on which we practice across Australia. We recognise that sovereignty over these lands and waters has never been ceded, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and future.

RMIT University RMIT Master of Design Futures Paper Giant Think Place Service Design Melbourne Melbourne Speculative Futures