The single biggest issue that prevents the design sector from effectively supporting its member base is the splitting of the available funds between multiple organisations.
This fact has been known to committed organisers of the design sector since the inception of the Society of Designers for Industry (the original name of the DIA) in 1947.
Despite repeated efforts to rectify this the design professions have been unable to stop counter-productive initiatives from undermining this goal.
Between 1995 and 1997 talks were held between the DIA, Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA), Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA) and Australian Textile Design Association (ATDA). The purpose was to explore the unification of the design support organisations in Australia.
In 1997 a national vote was taken amongst the membership of the four organisations. The DIA, SIDA and ATDA all voted to unify. The majority (63%) of AGDA members who voted were in favour of unifying.
However the hurdle set by the unification committee had required a 66% majority and for more than 50% of the members to participate. In AGDA only 25% of the members returned their ballots. A potential reflection on the ability of an under-funded administration mechanism to adequately communicate with its members.
This was a very disappointing result for the professional design community in Australia. And especially for those AGDA members who had engaged with the process.
It meant the perpetuation of a situation that the leaders of the four organisations were only too well aware of when reviewing their annual budgets: the duplication of effort between organisations and the inability to fund major industry needs.
The DIA, SIDA and ATDA proceeded with the unification process and joined into a single organisation 1998.
The new strengthened DIA implemented many of the findings of the unification review process and increased the services that it was able to offer its members.
The organised design sector has put considerable effort into consolidation over the years with the single aim of creating an effective organisation for the future of professional design.
The forces aligned against the DIA (or any body representing design) reaching a sustainable mass and funding level keep increasing. Every time a planned gain is made some influence, often from within the design sector, negates its effect.
The problems to overcome are immense - lack of consolidation and focus, the vagaries of volunteer resourcing, the constant rotation of many of the directors in a professional body or association, plus the technological and societal changes within the last fifteen years.
It can be very fulfilling to create a new organisation. And in the Internet age it is very simple to get started. The aims of these new businesses or organisations may be very worthy, but where they heavily overlap existing services all they ultimately achieve is the dissipation of effort in the design sector.
Ultimately they are restricted by exactly the same financial constraints that have brought unification back to the table time and time again. What it all boils down to is money, resources and history.
The following timeline gives an outline of pivotal events in working towards a larger, more resourced organisation to support design professionals and an illustration of how difficult and lengthy the process has been.
Throughout the world design organisations struggle for membership despite the explosion of designers in the community. The same problems of resources and effect are reported at meetings of the international design bodies endlessly. For example the relatively new British Design Business Association claims 230 members in a population of 60 million people. No doubt 230 influential and committed people, but people duplicating a significant portion of the aims of the British professional body, the Chartered Society of Designers.
A professional body is a vehicle through which designers can work for the good of the design sector. It provides a structure, a support base, a brand and a reputation that will make industry efforts more effective. It is a resource and a mechanism that the design sector has invested enormous human capital in over fifty years. The DIA is the only body that has maintained an unwavering commitment to design and professional standards in the design professions.
The history and the business analysis is overwhelming. We need to consolidate effort and funding if we are ever going to have an organisation such as architects or engineers enjoy. A team of people whose full time job is the interests of the design sector.
‘The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.’