Refrigeration, the Hills Hoist and Australia’s beloved Ute… Geelong is no stranger to innovation or design thinking.

It was just two years ago in Paris that Geelong was officially welcomed into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Creative Cities Network.

Fast forward to today and we’re the first and only regional city in Australia to hold a UNESCO Creative City designation and the nation’s only UNESCO City of Design.

This has already led to fantastic opportunities for our region, recently demonstrated through the City of Greater Geelong’s (CoGG) partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2019 Melbourne Design Week. For the first time ever, twenty events were held in our city as part for Melbourne Design Week, which showcased some of the clever, creative and cutting-edge design that continues to be at the forefront of Geelong.

One of the events was a keynote lecture presented by Danish Design Centre Chief Executive, Christian Bason. Discussing design policy, leadership and innovation, Mr Bason shared some of the challenges that faced Kolding, Denmark following their designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Design.

These challenges included governance, identifying collaborations and partnerships and communication – how to make business and community understand design and subsequently build on that.

These challenges are not dissimilar to what Geelong is facing now. How can the business community leverage our designation as a City of Design to form the clever and creative narrative of our future?

Mr Bason emphasised that having an approach that engages community was imperative to overcoming some of these challenges. ‘Human-centred governance’, he suggested was key, together with ‘pushing the bandwidth’ of engagement. In other terms, ensuring that government, business and community equally owned the ‘design’ narrative.

Just two weeks ago, I attended a CoGG stakeholder event with representatives from fellow UNESCO Cities of Design. The aim was to share and workshop ideas that could leverage Geelong’s UNESCO status.

During the event, it was made clear that Geelong’s UNESCO City of Design designation is to be community led and not owned by one agency.

The Committee for Geelong strongly believes that there needs to be a deep dive in community engagement and buy in. How can we embed this thinking in our own business and broader community, but equally look at ways we can all collaborate?

According to Mr Bason, there are four elements to design:

– Challenging (asking why and how can we reimagine opportunities?)
– Human (understanding drivers and behaviour)
– Experimental (trying things and failing – but knowing why it failed)
– Concrete (making the future tangible).

The Committee firmly believes that applying this approach in our businesses and community will embed design practice and thinking into our processes, which in turn will leverage our UNESCO designation.

Mr Bason was clear: design should make things better, and if it can, it’s going to make it better socially and economically. This feeds into a bigger picture for our region – design can act as an attraction and retention strategy that makes Geelong very attractive to live, work and play.

The Committee is really interested in what this narrative means for future planning and infrastructure, and we believe that the business community needs to inform the narrative of our UNESCO City of Design designation.

The Committee will be working hard to identify opportunities and collaborations and give voice to businesses. After all, a creative city is good for business.

Published via the Geelong Advertiser, 27/03/2019