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Designing for Social Change

Cities 05 November 2015 | 10.43am

What do re-purposing local shops as community hubs; growing food in cities; borrowing house parts from a housing library; an Airbnb for CBD office space; libraries of the future; and Arup Design for Social Change have in common? They were all challenges addressed in this year’s Australasian Design School.


Each year Arup runs a Design School in the Australasia region, organised by Arup University. The aim of the Design School is to give a small group of people a chance to set aside the day-to-day challenges of their work and to think about and work on the kinds of things that motivate us all at Arup, regardless of technical background. In fact, the diversity of backgrounds and experiences is what unites those who attend.


At this year’s Design School, we delved into the idea of design for social change and immersed ourselves in the opportunities design thinking offers for tackling not only physical design challenges, but also organisational, social and community challenges.

For a little over two days in mid-October, 30 eager staff from around the Arup world came to Melbourne for a programme of mind expansion, skill development and fun. Teams of participants were taken through a design thinking process to help them devise businesses able to tackle those tricky challenges listed above. Interspersed with this design thinking, participants were challenged by speakers on topics ranging from social usefulness to agency, from disruption to buy-in. At the end of a packed program, each team pitched its business proposition using new-found skills in selling an idea.


Participants emerged from Design School exhausted but with insight into working in teams, in explaining, in sharing, in challenging, in looking at issues through a new lens and in stepping back and re-evaluating within a design thinking framework. Design School is about learning, of course, and participants identified a number of techniques and behaviours to take back to their daily work and to share with their teams. They also took back memories of the fun they had working hard on something different and with friendships forged that will stay with them throughout their careers.

Design School is one of the many activities that makes Arup unique; it is about sharing knowledge, thinking creatively, challenging preconceptions, building connections and investing in our staff.


Arup University, as conveyors of Design School, pushes the boundaries of our projects, exemplifies our culture and puts our people, their skills and their creativity at its heart.

For further information on Australasian Design School, contact Hayley Coombs. Our thanks to Andrew Wisdom, of Distilled Wisdom, for designing and delivering an outstanding Australasian Design School.

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Hayley Coombs

Sydney, Australia

“I head up the Skills Networks within Australasia, as part of Arup University team. These networks are key to driving skills and research activity across our region. My role is to guide, engage and connect the Skills Network Leaders for the benefit of their network. I have a passion for design, creativity and collaborative work and Arup provides a great place to support this interest. ”

View all posts by: Hayley Coombs