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From Toyota to NASA, life as a globetrotting designer

Dr Gjoko Muratovski

Director and Endowed Chair: The Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design
Design and Brand Consultant
Doctor of Philosophy, Design Research: Corporate Communication Strategies
Dr Gjoko Muratovski

With a career spanning over two decades, Dr Gjoko Muratovski has worked with some of the biggest brands and universities around the world.

During the course of his career, Dr Muratovski has been a design and brand consultant for governments, NGOs, and corporate brands such as the United Nations, Greenpeace, and Yahoo! Outside of a business setting, he has taught at universities such as Tongji University, the University of Cincinnati, and our very own University of South Australia.

Dr Muratovski discusses his extensive business and academic career, his efforts in promoting sustainable change, and how automation might impact design.

Outline your journey from your PhD at UniSA to heading up to the Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design at the University of Cincinnati.

My journey from being a PhD student at UniSA to becoming a director of the Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design in the US is a relatively short one, in academic terms. Within six years I have progressed from a PhD design graduate in Australia to becoming a director of one the best design schools in America.

Upon completing my PhD studies in 2010, I was offered a position as a design lecturer and course coordinator at the UniSA School of Art, Architecture and Design. Within a year I was offered a program coordinator role at the Faculty of Design at Swinburne University of Technology and conference chairman at the Melbourne International Design Week. Two years later I was recruited by the School of Art & Design at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, where I became a senior manager and department head. Last year I was offered the position of director and Endowed Chair at The Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design at the University of Cincinnati.

I never seriously considered starting a career in academia before studying at UniSA. I always saw myself as a corporate designer working in industry. However, at UniSA I was encouraged to use my industry and research experience for the advancement of the higher education in design and to help my discipline evolve further by training the next generation of designers. I really enjoyed that and never looked back.

In your 20 plus years as a consultant you have worked with governments, NGOs, and corporate brands. What are your most interesting design consultancies, and why?

One thing I could highlight here is the establishment of the Greenpeace Design Awards. I was working on that while I was completing my PhD at UniSA. As the director of the Greenpeace Design Awards, I managed to engage more than 1500 creatives from over 70 countries to take part in the development of highly inspirational social and environmental campaigns.

Another very exciting project was consulting NASA Johnson Space Centre on design for spacecraft habitation and extraterrestrial environments. Mainly, the focus there was on the design of the interiors of the spaceships that could be used for deep space exploration and Mars colonisation. That is another project I worked on while I was at UniSA.

In my current role, I regularly engage with Fortune 500 companies on developing new industry and university partnerships and initiatives and this is something that I really enjoy doing. I like engaging with industry because design is an applied discipline. When leading businesses want to work with us as a school of design, this means that we have something of value to offer that goes beyond just educating students.

Last year the Chinese State Administration appointed you as a ‘high-end foreign expert’ at Tongji University in Shanghai. What does this involve?

The appointment as a high-end foreign expert is a very prestigious recognition. The process for this appointment is rigorous and highly competitive. While the nominations for these appointments are made by universities, the evaluation process is independently conducted by government officials from the Chinese State Administration. In this regard, I have been recognised as a high-end expert in design and innovation, and my role is to serve as an advisor to the Dean of the College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University, which is one of the leading design colleges in China. In this capacity, I provide advice on the design curriculum, on aspects of the administration and the management of the College, on internationalisation strategies, and on various research initiatives. This is a dual appointment between the government and the university, and it also comes with the title of guest professor at Tongji University.

You are also a visiting Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. Is it unusual for a designer to hold a professional appointment at a business school?

Design thinking today is seen as one of the biggest drivers of business innovation. The Copenhagen Business School is one of the very best business schools in the world and they have a great interest in better understanding the role that design can play in the business world. For many years my work has been sitting on the intersection of design and business and I feel equally comfortable operating in both domains.

It’s quite rare for a designer to be recognised as an expert in the field of business on the same level as in the field of design, especially by such a renowned institution, and I feel very honoured because of that.

More than five years ago you founded Design for Social Innovation towards Sustainability (DESIS), working with UniSA and others. What do you mean by ‘sustainable change’ and how are you promoting it?

In 2010 I founded the first DESIS Lab at UniSA. The UniSA DESIS Lab is a part of the global network of interconnected DESIS Labs. This is an initiative supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and more than 50 universities from around the world participate in this network.

As the world struggles to sustain mass consumption as a lifestyle of choice, the need for sustainable behaviour becomes increasingly evident. Even though there are already a number of technical and legislative solutions underway, we still need to work on changing our consumption habits. This calls for social innovation strategies that can lead to promotion and acceptance of sustainable behaviour on a global scale.

The campaigns that had brought out the rise of the consumer society did so by inspiring a substantial change in our behaviour. Now we are at a point where our behaviour needs to be changed once again. We can do that by embracing and reversing the same consumer-driven approach that caused the problem in the first place, and introducing a new kind of social design and marketing – one that can lead to promotion and acceptance of sustainable behaviour on a global scale.

Automation is impacting on most professions and traditional jobs are disappearing. What is the future for visual and graphic designer? What is your advice to graduates who want to work in design?

Automation will impact design as well, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that designers will become obsolete. The nature of the design profession is such, that with every new technological development, the basic premise of the design job itself changes. Many functions that designers did in the past, prior to the use of computers, do not exist anymore, but design as a profession continues to evolve and adapt. The same will happen when automation starts taking over some of the current functions. This, as it has been the case in the past, will simply open new opportunities and new avenues for designers to explore.

Then again, with or without automation, things will change. Many of the 21st century problems and challenges are far too complex to be approached in a conventional way and from a monodisciplinary position. Designers today, and even more so in the future, will need to work in a manner that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Design graduates will need to be prepared to challenge conventions and constantly look at things from a different perspective. After all, complex problems require creative solutions, and being creative is what designers do.

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