Strategic Design and Cathedral Thinking in Addressing National Priorities

With five books by QUT’s design researchers due to be launched in June in Brisbane and London, and QUT’s introduction of the Master of Design (Strategic Design), design is generating diverse currents of governance, societal, environmental and economic impact. In the following commentary, Prof. Marcus Foth, co-editor of the forthcoming book Designing More-than-Human Smart Cities: Beyond Sustainability, Towards Cohabitation (OUP), provides insights into how design research is not only addressing national priorities, such as urban policy, but also enabling counternarratives and pathways.

Strategic Design and Cathedral Thinking in Addressing National Priorities

by Professor Marcus Foth

Federal budgets are always scrutinised based on the allocation of funds—or lack thereof—across various sectors. However, another way of looking at the budget considers not just the distribution of funds but the strategic decision-making processes underpinning these allocations. In the context of strategic design, this approach reveals significant intersections between budget priorities and design innovation.

The recently released federal budget outlines key areas of investment that align closely with the research themes and initiatives of the QUT Design Lab, particularly in light of our new Master of Design (Strategic Design) program. Using a strategic design lens for analysing budget priorities, it is essential to consider not only the sectors receiving funds but the principles guiding these investments. For example, New Zealand’s “Wellbeing Budget 2022” was lauded not for any one specific funding area per se but for its underlying philosophy that prioritises wellbeing over mere economic growth. This paradigm shift aligns closely with the ethos of our strategic design program, which promotes prudential decision-making and advocates for holistic, long-term solutions over short-term gains.

Research led by the QUT Design Lab emphasises the importance of this approach. In the upcoming book Designing More-than-Human Smart Cities: Beyond Sustainability, Towards Cohabitation, Prof. Foth has collaborated with Adj. Prof. Mary Graham and Dr Michelle Maloney to explore the concept of “A City of Good Ancestors.” Drawing from Australian Aboriginal principles like the Relationist Ethos and Custodial Ethic, they advocate for urban governance that is regenerative, socially just, and designed with a Cathedral Thinking perspective that considers the next 10,000 years.

By integrating these principles, we challenge not just urban governance professionals but Australia’s Treasurer to leave behind the old neoliberal paradigms of GDP and “growth” and instead design a budget that allows us to be good ancestors for future generations. This long-term, relationist approach to nation-building can significantly influence how we address current and future budget priorities.

Graham, M., Maloney, M., & Foth, M. (2024). A City of Good Ancestors: Urban Governance and Design from a Relationist Ethos. In S. Heitlinger, M. Foth, R. Clarke (Eds.), Designing More-than-Human Smart Cities: Beyond Sustainability, Towards Cohabitation (pp. 239-266). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192884169.




Share content via social media