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11 Australians Changing the World through Design

May 27, 2015

The crackly facade of Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia was awashed in February’s late summer sun. Optimists, innovators, DIYers, technologists, designers, and changemakers were gathered in Deakin Edge conference hall awaiting the start of the second annual Link Festival. With steam rising from hot coffee in reused (and clean) mugs, all 300+ curved wooden seats were nearly taken. Sally Dominguez, a bold blonde with a resounding voice, entered stage left with a huge smile and kicked off the day with a big, warm “Hello!”

Organized by Engineers Without Borders Australia and Wildwon, the two-day conference was packed full of discussions, workshops, pecha kuchas, and mingling time for participants of all walks of life to dive into the worlds of design, technology and social change. From Who Gives a Crap founder Simon Griffiths to Delta-V Space Accelerator director Tim Parsons and Still Nomads poets to polar explorer and scientist Tim Jarvis, the mix of topics drew a diversity of people and enabled a true cross-pollination of ideas and inspirations.

With the amount of diversity in fields represented at Link Fest, our team here at Impact Design Hub was particularly drawn to the diversity amongst impact designers. Here are eleven designers we met or heard that you should check out.

Michelle Tabet

Urban design & digital technology

With a background in urban planning, Michelle has become a “part innovation coach, part strategy director, part placemaker” who challenges, disrupts and guides teams to new ideas. She loves being involved at the start when the “what” is being conceived. At Link Fest, she posed a question that we should all consider: “Are we overly positive when it comes to technology?” Through her work with architecture, planning and property industries, she’s exploring how ownership of data is contributing to the design of cities–and whether it makes better places for people or not.

CoDesign Studio

Urban design & community development


This design and placemaking organization has been on our radar for awhile so we could not miss the opportunity to see them in person. As a program partner for the conference, CoDesign contributed to talks, workshops, and the “Make Your City” conference hub to meet, chat and work on ideas together. We were delighted to see founder Lucinda Hartley and her team put the principles of “low-cost, high impact” tactical urbanism into a conference setting. By the amount of lounge chairs constantly occupied in Federation Square’s atrium, their tactics proved successful.

Collective Impact Australia

Transdisciplinarity & evaluation

CollectiveImpact_5 Conditions

Started in the US, Collective Impact is a structured framework for facilitating and achieving large scale social change. As independent social change consultants working with nonprofits and government bodies, Australians Dawn O’Neil and Kerry Graham identified the potential in this framework to focus the “inevitably messy” conversations with their clients and create momentum towards “purposeful action and measurable outcomes.” The two were then funded by Australia’s Centre for Social Impact to undertake a study tour on collective impact throughout the US, which led them to creating multiple case studies. At Link Fest, Dawn shared their findings and the key concepts for a collective framework, many of which are applicable to impact design. Dawn shared two profound statements for us to takeaway:

“No one part of a system can solve a problem.”

“Disadvantage has a location and a place.”

Studio HUSS

Design research & evaluation

“We do not design, but we make design better,” boldly states Studio HUSS. As the “studio for human understanding of social spaces,” the 5+ person team is exploring the impact of architecture and urban planning through evidence-based design, environmental psychology and building physics. Director Jonathan Daly gave a superb talk on the theories that drive their work during the ‘Cultural landscape and design’ session. We’ll be hearing more from them on how they accept that design is not always the answer in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria

Architecture & community development


Startlingly, there are only thirteen Indigenous architects and architectural graduates out of roughly 12,000 total in Australia. Two architects representing this 0.1% minority are Ruben Berg and Jefa Greenaway, co-founders of non-profit Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria (IADV). IADV was created to encourage Australia’s Indigenous communities to engage more with the built environment and simultaneously encourage architects and designers to engage more with Indigenous culture. Ruben presented projects at Link Fest where these goals were achieved and Indigenous history and culture were incorporated into the design of new housing developments and landscapes.

Enable Development

Advocacy & education


The World Health Organization’s 2011 World Report on Disability estimated that 1 in 5 people in any community have a disability. As a person with lived experiences of disability, Enable Development founder and CEO Huy Nguyen sought out to address the social exclusion, discrimination and lack of access that encumbers disabled people. Huy and his five team members are changing these issues through disability inclusion education, consultation and advocacy around Australia and in Southeast Asia.

Engineers Without Borders Australia

Engineering & international development

With CEO Lizzie Brown at the helm, EWB Australia has been creating systemic change through humanitarian engineering for over 10 years. This organization is not only working to address the lack of access to basic human needs through partnership projects, education and training but also convening a movement of like-minded people with Link Fest. EWB volunteer Katrina Bukauskas perfectly summed up the organization’s philosophy with this quote from Joel Arthur Barker:

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can the world.”

RainWater Cambodia

Community development & engineering


Around the world, access to safe water supply and sanitation continue to burden many communities. Kea Pheng of RainWater Cambodia (RWC) partnered with EWB Australia to identify and implement appropriate water solutions for people in Kampot Province. At Link Fest, Kea presented the low-cost engineered system they developed and improved over the years. But he didn’t stop there. As the design of the piping, water tank and power were improved, RWC also recognized the need for capacity building within the community. They now incorporate training local entrepreneurs in construction and maintenance and educating locals on drinking water to create systemic change.

Intract Indigenous Contractors

Construction & cultural awareness


Very rarely have we seen construction groups part of a design, technology and social change conference. Intract’s General Manager John Briggs was a welcome addition to the mix of panelists speaking about collective impact. As a proud Aboriginal, John has become a mentor for Aboriginal workers and spokesperson for cultural awareness. After discussing the ins and outs of achieving collective impact, John’s simple recommendation for those interested in trying it out was “have a crack at it.” Doesn’t get any easier than that.

Three Farm

Making & education

Started by a group of friends with backgrounds in design, ceramics, art, photography, business and marketing, Three Farm is a social enterprise focused on the democratization of manufacturing. The team of three channels their interests in upcycling, fabrication and making through education programs to teach design thinking as a “meaningful and sustainable process for social development.”

Asylum Seeker Resource Center

Advocacy & human services


Although technically not a design organization, the ASRC was founded by Kon Karapanagiotidis in 2001, who has an innate ability to communicate the importance of the organization’s work. From direct aid, welfare and medical care, community development, and campaigning for social change, Kon, 32 staff members and over 1,000 volunteers maintain a strong point of view to garner support and humanize the experience of asylum seekers in Australia. Kon had numerous recommendations on how to disrupt mainstream media and reframe critical issues during the “Designing the Conversation” panel at Link Fest. Here are a few of our favorites to inspire your communication efforts:

“People are looking for intimacy, authenticity and honesty.”

“Don’t be afraid to be fearless.”

“If you stand for nothing, then so does your cause.”

Did we miss one of your favorite Australian impact designers? Tell us in the comments below or submit it directly to the Impact Design Database!

Image sources: Pure and Applied on Flickr, CoDesign Studio, Collective Impact Agenda, Studio HUSS, Craig Lamotte,, Intract Indigenous Contractors, Asylum Seekers Resource Center on Flickr

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