How can I promote the senior design subject within my school?


The new senior design subject faces challenges as it has no clear “ownership” within existing teacher identities.

Design, graphics, ICT, home economics, arts, engineering, manual arts teachers (and many more) all have skills that fit with the subject. At the same time, many teachers are put off from engaging with the subject, perhaps due to pre-existing ideas about what is meant by “design”, amongst other reasons.

Because of this, each school needs a combination of leadership (that is interested in the subject) and champions (teachers who care about the subject) to make it happen.

Is there anyone in here in this situation of trying to make senior design happen within their school? If so, do sing out and let us know to see if us university-dwelling folk can help in any way.

How much *making* is in Design?

Slightly off topic… just a thought. I find it interesting how ‘STEM’ and ‘Makerspace’ have become new educational buzz terms being kicked around in schools describing their innovation enterprises… hasn’t this been our core business in Design Technology like forever?


Many teachers have told me that they use the promise of actually building things, furniture, rapid prototyping, etc., as the carrot to attract students to take their subject. There is a perception that design seems to place less emphasis on making and thus may not interest these students leading to the risk of having insufficient numbers to make Design a viable subject in their school.

I suspect that the clientele of existing subjects, such as Technology Studies, Graphics, etc., are not necessarily identical to that of Design. Design might not interest all the students who are focussed on making but it will attract different students who love the idea of designing.

I’d be interested to hear from teachers currently teaching Design on what attracts their students to take this subject.


The learning how to make things is the incentive with ITS. A design process is used and documented. It is through production that students practice design; testing and modelling their ideas through to a solution.

When working with a small cohort of students (25-50) finding students that love designing, but aren’t interested in making what they design, will be very difficult.


Hi Paul, I take your point, that many students get really engaged in making a “finished product” once they have a great concept. I don’t question this.

But it’s been my experience as a design educator that they also get really engaged in the design process and in the prototyping and in the coming up with a great idea (and a physical/virtual manifestation of that idea) that allows them to communicate it so that other people “get it”.

I feel like it’s not an “either/or” - I think you’re absolutely right that students really enjoy making finished products (the production process), but that doesn’t mean that they won’t also really enjoy the design subject with its focus upon concepts, prototyping and communicating. I know it’s been said before, but… it’s just a different subject.

I do feel like there is an awful lot of scope in this syllabus to teach it in a way that plays to your strengths and the needs of your students - and if that involves more “making” in your school than in the school down the road, then you can do that.

[Side note, and I do appreciate that perhaps I’m talking beyond my expertise here, but my personal opinion is that the political side of things (which subjects should be offered? which should count for ATAR? who should teach them?) is separate from the pragmatic side of things (how can we teach this thing that will be offered next year and for which I’m the person in my school who is responsible?). That might sound like a cop out and is easy for me to say given that I’m not in a school myself… but it comes from an awareness that I have zero ability to influence the former.]


Making is a valuable part of the design process but we need to draw a distinction between making to test design ideas and making the finished article. The former should be a routine part of Design syllabus activities, the latter an exception.

I say this for two reasons:

  1. The Design syllabus requires that students not teachers dictate the form that a response to a brief takes. Projects need to be written in such a way that students are free to design a building, or a garment, or an interior space, or a product and so on. Imposing a requirement that the finished design be physically fabricated limits the possibilities drastically.

  2. My experience working in a university that teaches a broad range of design disciplines has shown me that student designers don’t need to physically build the final article to learn about the design process and to refine a design. Instead they ‘build’ simulations of their ideas. Simulations range from the crudest back-of-the-napkin sketches or rough cardboard models, right through to detailed renderings and 3D computer models.

Of course for some realms of design fabricating ‘the design’ is indeed possible. For example fashion designers routinely make prototypes of the garments they design, graphic designers create finished ‘art’ and interaction designers create the code that makes their interfaces tick. This is not possible, though, for most of the designs of industrial designers, architects, landscape architects and interior designers.

The Design syllabus needs to cater for interests across all of those areas. Student designers must not be limited by their school’s specific facilities and their teachers fabrication expertise.

It’s not that designers aren’t interested in making (quite the reverse) it’s that they mustn’t be limited to designing only the things they can make.

This isn’t a limitation, it’s a liberation.


We have been engaged in a global deep learning project (NPDL) for the last 3 years as a pilot school for Queensland. It has challenged me to look at my own practices more closely and activate student voice and choice within the classroom to foster real student engagement and ownership of learning. The design process is a beautiful tool to complement deep learning - design and create are high order cognitive verbs. I am fortunate to have a supportive principal that has promoted a ‘safe to fail’ culture enabling me to trial new and different approaches. My reason for adding this comment here is that I believe the students have so much more to offer than what they are generally given credit for. There are many brilliant minds in our schools (and some of them you may not immediately recognise) with a host of untapped ideas. Yes, we need a balance between ‘designing’ and ‘making’. We are moving towards limiting (but not excluding) design in our workshop classes and developing a full design course (replacing our junior Graphics) with the low fidelity prototyping for years 7-10 in preparation for the new syllabus. As it is pointed out earlier in this discussion, there may well be a different type of student taking these courses. Some will still prefer to go to the ‘making’ side, some down the ‘design’ focus and some both. In an ideal world we, it would make sense to set up our curriculum to support this.
We are looking at how the design process can be used across the whole range of curriculum areas as it definitely helps foster and develop 21st century skills.


Absolutely! Not only time for DT Teachers to be recognised, but also to lead the way with this new syllabus and show that any of those old perceptions of ‘what we do’ are LONG gone!

Justin Hill


So far, in term 1 I have lost 5 students from my class of 19 in Design because they are not in the workshop and find the in depth processes of the Design syllabus quite a challenge. The difference in the skill level of students continuing in Design and those who have left is significant.
I am passionate about Design and have managed to instil that in my Year 10 class I think and so far my Year 10’s are loving the Design syllabus implementation. The majority of my 10s studied Graphics last year and so are not overly bothered by the lack of ‘making’. We do prototyping using 3D printers, laser cutter and plasticine though.
My Year 10 class is small however and I do worry about the uptake with future cohorts, particularly as we are regional and a lot of our students come from farming communities.


Hi Kirsty, you’re ahead of the curve in implementing the syllabus already and I suspect it’s really useful for many to hear this feedback. Do you have ideas for what (if anything) could be done to get all students engaged, regardless of their skill level? Or do you think it’s just the nature of the syllabus that many students will find it quite challenging?

I think I get what you’re saying, that it’s pretty important that the syllabus get a “good reputation” amongst students to make sure that it gets a strong uptake in future.


Hi Nick, Yes we’ve implemented it with our Year 8, 9 and 10 at the start of the year. We have just adapted projects that we already have to suit the new syllabus and incorporate the cognitive verbs.

I think to engage students you have to be passionate about the subject. I’m a designer by trade and studied Design at University in the UK so the new syllabus is my bread and butter. I’m super excited to get the opportunity to deliver it.

An obvious one and no doubt something you all do but I break my lessons up into small activities and usually start with a group activity linked to the lesson. If students are doing Design Criteria I will show products from designers such as Starck and Alessi and ask students to define what they think the design criteria was for that product. When we do product analysis, students see products and give 3 positives and negatives for each product in their groups. I’ll show images and ask students to develop them being as creative as possible in 60 seconds. These all seem to motivate the students relatively well.

I try to make content relevant so for example recently my Year 10 students were required to design a piece of wearable tech. I really try and focus on getting students to be innovative and not limit themselves by thinking about whether the technology is available to make their designs yet.

I got some real useful tools from the DATTA conference last year. There was a lady from Springfield school who introduced me to Empathy mapping so I utilise that in my classes to get students to understand their target audience. QUT did an an activity called ‘prototyping for an age friendly city’ and I have tailored that activity many times to encourage creativity and innovation with my students.

I do think as you say, the nature of the syllabus means that some students will find it a challenge, however, with time and as we learn more about the new syllabus and develop new strategies it may open up more avenues to a range of different students. I think only time will tell.
It is important that all members of the Department fully understand the syllabus and are able to effectively communicate it with colleagues, students and parents.

It’s a long post I know, I just hope its a little bit helpful.


Our school is currently teaching Design in Year 10 and we have three, fairly substantial sized classes, and the students are all really engaged. I think one of the important aspects with getting students interested in Design is to show them in earlier grades how diverse it can be and have fun with it. We often get stuck in thinking of Design as being just built environment, industrial and graphical design (something I had been guilty of), but there are a multitude of things that can be designed.
In previous years I have had Year 8 students designing re-imagined superhero costumes (using the change in Batman costumes over the years as an example). I put a little less emphasis on the design process and more on creativity and idea generation and I find it gets them interested in what Design could offer.


Hi All.

Similar to others, our school doesn’t have a plan yet to introduce the senior Design syllabus. This is mainly because of student/staff numbers. Graphics folded as a subject years ago because of this. I am trying to promote it in the jnr school to see if there can be a demand for it in a few years. Like @kcooperrgs I have been doing activities on designing criteria. One activity that they love is watching episodes of “Shark Tank” and evaluating the ideas. We also look at things like target audience/stakeholders, whether it is a new product/idea or if they re-invented something already existing. … Students have been a bit turned off by the thought of not actually making stuff and will probably stick to the applied subjects. With my ITD bias I usually think of designing and making a product but I love the limitless potential of this subject for creative ideas without having to build a finished product. I worry that students will struggle with how broad the scope of the subject is and whether they would need a lot of direction and scaffolding to get them on the right path. They may find it daunting or overwhelming to not have as much direction in the task.


To be honest, I don’t envy teachers who are leading the introduction of Design in their schools. It’s an exciting but daunting time!

I’ve heard quite a few teachers say that making the finished article is a big drawcard for students in Technology Studies and related subjects. It’s true, students who are passionate about fabrication, manufacturing and so on might well be happier in the applied subjects but that doesn’t necessarily mean the pool of potential Design students is a subset of traditional ITD students. I think these two groups overlap but are not identical:

How much overlap of interest is there between the previous syllabuses and Design I can’t say and perhaps we won’t know for several years.

I suspect it may vary depending on the region and the kinds of things students are inspired by.

  • if you live in a heavily urbanised location or if you have travelled to a variety of different environments your imagination may be inspired by great architecture, landscapes, interiors, etc.
  • if you live in a rural setting you may be more inspired by the ingenuity of people around you ‘making do’ or solving practical, often mechanical problems*
  • the internet provides an amazing way of viewing the world so where you live doesn’t necessarily limit your horizons however the internet is primarily a visual experience and even VR can’t match the experience of ‘being there’ so perhaps the ability to inspire is diminished in comparison

I do not for a moment mean to suggest that one set of life experiences is inferior to the other just that the kinds of things that inspire you will be different and these will have an impact on how you might seek to affect the world.

(*I should also add that I know little of small town or rural community living and really don’t know what I’m talking about. Please set me straight!)

I very much hope that Design will attract a wide variety of students, some of which might have been put off by an emphasis on fabrication and making because the creative potential is greater:

Incidentally we’re coming up on exhibition season. If you have the chance to visit any of the end-of-year exhibitions that will be taking place in November it’s probably useful to get some ideas for how final year uni students design without necessarily making the finished article.

I’ll find out the dates, times and locations of upcoming exhibitions and post them in a new thread here. Perhaps we could share photos of designs of interest on this forum for the benefit of teachers who can’t make it to the events themselves? What do you think?


Hi Andrew et al,

I have qualifications in both Industrial Design and Education (TAS), and I see both sides of the argument here. What is happening at my school is the following;

Some students are dropping the subject (down from 40- 25 before the holidays started) because they cannot REALISE their design.

Some parents are not allowing their children to do the subject because the emphasis IS (as presented in the syllabus documents) on drawing and on block Maquettes. They see this as therefore being a ‘nowhere subject’ for the kids who cannot do anything else - not even make things.

Some students are joining the subject because it is a ‘bludge’ subject, and all they have to do is some drawings, and it is not as intensive as art.

When I arrived at the school, the department was in tatters for various reasons, and I was tasked with lifting the standard, and attracting students. I have done that through combining DESIGN with PRODUCTION, and I have had a great deal of success (from where we started). I now have students coming into my class and workshop during Lunch, after school, weekends, and holidays. These students form a diverse make-up, from pure aesthetic design to pure neanderthal making in the workshop.

What I have found interesting is that the two extremes are beginning to rub off on each other, and we are beginning to see some results at both ends.

"In class, I do not prescribe what students are making, for example, the first year 9 project, the brief is as follows:
-You are required to have in-ear earphones for each Design class so that you can listen to tutorials. Unfortunately, they break from being pulled in and out of pencil cases and from being constantly pulled in and out of plug sockets.

You are to solve this problem".

We then do a “learning block” where they learn how to laser cut, 3D print, understand polymers, and learn to make silicone molds into which they cast Polyurethane.

From there, we then go back to the Earphone Challenge, and see what they come up with.

We need to understand that these young people are straddling the divide between child and adult, and they do still want tangible achievement, and most of the people who take the subject over Visual Art do so because there is a practical component.

One big problem we face at an Independent school is that parents don’t want their children going for “applied subjects”, and essentially, the perception is growing that whilst ITD could be manipulated to being anywhere on the spectrum from Industrial Technology to Design, the new Design Syllabus cannot.

I have recently had a person working for me who was a qualified Industrial Designer (qualified in the last two years) who is converting to teaching, and one thing that did come as a big shock to me whilst working with him was the lack of practical ability, practical knowledge, and visual-spatial understanding that I was given when doing my training in the dark ages. This came coupled with no experience working with any materials other than foam and cardboard. In my experience, this knowledge is invaluable in overcoming intricate problems in the design process, and in knowing what is available for manufacturing - or what the limitations were. This came to the fore in something that was made for a project in the junior school that had to be re-made by one of my Year 10 students.

Finally, I would like to ask the question; when our parents are comparing what a similar type of student would be doing in the UK (DT), New Zealand (Design and Visual Communication), the IB (DT), and NSW, how do we justify the perceived difference in breadth and depth of learning.

I fear that one factor driving the government in this direction is cost and availability of suitably qualified teachers, and the second might be that you cannot put an academic value on divergent creativity.