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How design can rescue Australian manufacturing

Arts & Culture

A leading Australian designer believes an overhaul of research and development incentives could help stop the rot in Australian manufacturing.

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“Say, you’re manufacturing a fridge,” leading Australian eyewear designer Jono Hennessy Sceats told InDaily.

“In the engine of the fridge, you develop something that’s new, technically, and you can get a research and development grant for that. But 80 per cent of the choice in buying a fridge is the outside styling.

“When somebody goes in to buy the fridge, they buy it because it’s going to look good in their kitchen.

“The brand will tell them whether it’s technically correct. So why would you give a grant to 10 to 20 per cent of (a customer’s) decision, and not a grant to … design or styling?”

This week, Australia’s last refrigerator manufacturer shut up shop.

Sceats notes that Australians buy imported French, German, Italian branded fridges, and asks why Australia can’t compete with these countries.

“Why aren’t we making a fridge that competes with the imported one?”

Speaking as he began his mentorship of design students for the UniSA / Health Partners Optical “Eye Candy” eyewear design project, Sceats described Australia’s research and development scheme as “old-fashioned”, based on “the original research and development grants of 40 or 50 years ago”.

He argued that if Australian manufacturers were increasingly failing to compete against Chinese counterparts on cost, they must compete on quality – and that means investing in design.

He plans to lobby the Commonwealth Government and Industry Minister Christopher Pyne to re-assess Australia’s research and development tax rebates scheme, and adjust it to give manufacturing a design-led innovation boost.

“They have to have a total and innovative review of the research and development laws,” Sceats said.

“I’m talking about consumer products, so you’d probably be able to limit it to that.”

Sceats made a name for himself as an Australian eyewear designer in Europe in the 1980s, carving a niche in the Australian export industry.

He will be mentoring the UniSA industrial design and jewellery students through the process of developing a prototype eyewear design, in a competition that will put their eyewear on show at the Health Partners Optical store in Pirie St, Adelaide in July this year.

He said he would be advising his students in the eyewear design project to assert themselves as leaders in business culture.

“Designers who start their own brands have to be businesspeople as well,” he said.

“[However] In the creative process there are a lot of things that you have to be careful of.

“You have to be true to yourself (but) at the same time, with eyewear, you have to make quality, comfort and fit, and use technology that works.”

It’s the second time Health Partners Optical and UniSA have run the program, supported by InDaily.

InDaily readers will also get the chance to vote on their favourite student design.

 

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