Themes & Platforms

In 2016, the QUT Design Lab was established as a research centre in the School of Design, Creative Industries Faculty. The lab is one of the first new research centres at QUT that has been created based on the new research policy environment making transdisciplinarity an integral part of research at QUT. Therefore, the QUT Design Lab replaced the previously used notion of strictly demarcated research programs with an open, agile and permeable structure of four value-driven research themes and four service-oriented research platforms:

Research Themes Research Platforms
Health & Wellbeing Design Thinking
Community Design Education
Social Entrepreneurship Design Fabrication
Sustainability Design Criticality

Health & Wellbeing

Not long ago, people thought of health and wellness in terms of illness or nutrition and weight. While the World Health Organisation defines health as a state of wellbeing and wellness as a lifelong active process that people engage with, the way people employ these terms seems to continuously be redefined by their experiences. Driven by new technologies, people’s health and wellness related activities have shifted from tangible contexts to digital and global informed experiences. A technology centric view seems to lead our world’s increasing connectivity in many aspects of health and wellness: governments enabling people’s access to self-manage health related services, businesses augmenting people’s ability to customise, share and build groups around their health and wellness interests, people’s enhanced ability to self-diagnose, and their quantified-self. This view does not seem to capture other instances of people’s health and wellbeing, such as an individual’s ability to readily engage in routine processes, a group to be productive, or a community’s ability to develop and prosper. What is the future of health and wellness if new developments were driven by people’s ideals, behaviours and practices, and by society’s ever evolving rhythms of daily life?

Design research provides the tools and strategies to gain insights and understand the multi-dimensions and complexity of people’s interactions with their health and wellbeing as individuals and as part of a community, to capture the emerging patterns of human behaviour, and to understand how these diverse human experiences shape new landscapes of health and wellness. The Health and Wellness Research Program of the Design Lab will explore these issues and will target health and wellness topics emerging from people’s daily life interactions in their homes, their play, their workplace and their cities. With an inclusive view and a particular interest in exploring a diversity of contexts that portray cultural, demographic and economic differences, we aspire to deliver knowledge contributions to support design interventions that are positive and meaningful for the future wellbeing of individuals, communities, and society at large.

Research Leaders


The focus of the Community Research Program is facilitating and contributing to designing thriving communities, within the complex context of inter-relating community built, natural, technical and social infrastructures. The Community Program will develop and work within a framework that is innovative, proactive, and future orientated. The demands being made on communities have significantly changed over the past two decades, driven by technological advances, increasing globalisation and consumer demand. Current strategies and policies are being challenged to operate and deliver within a new operational environment that includes designing flexible infrastructure with less resource use, while delivering on environmental, economic, and social demands.

The Community Program has an opportunity to make a significant contribution to society through innovative research driven by new models of industry/academic collaborations – delivering industry and policy relevant knowledge – with the power to anticipate and react to changing demands and contexts within communities. Understanding, anticipating and accounting for change, builds in a capacity for designing future communities and enhance well-being locally for residents and globally for society. New design models will be created through an innovative approach to research/industry collaboration that is achieved through mindful and purposeful collaboration.

Research Leaders


In the Design and  Sustainability program, our research centers on the challenges and opportunities as we (re)design spaces, places, products and processes for ecological, social and economic sustainability. As well as acknowledging, preserving and enhancing our existing natural and built heritage, our focus is design-led societal transition toward more sustainable, resilient futures.

To achieve this vision, we work closely with communities, industry and governments both locally and globally, drawing on our site-specific knowledge and unique climatic characteristics of our location (Brisbane – Queensland, Australia) through a focus on design for humid and subtropical places, as well as designing disaster-resilient communities. For instance, in response to the 2011 and 2013 Queensland Floods, our industrial design students developed an Australian-first portable temporary flood barrier that is about to go into production.

Methodologically, we collaboratively create, make and share, drawing on an iterative inherently ethnographic, visual and action-research based approach.

Alongside qualitative and quantitative approaches, we use the design process and a diverse range of design methods (visualization, scenarios, charrettes, co-creation) to initiate engagement, prompt critical reflection and facilitate innovation.

As our research projects illustrate, research in the Design and Sustainability program focuses primarily on adaptive action and mitigating the impacts of climate change on our built environment, including culturally / historically important sites – through the creative and thoughtful design of products, housing, transport systems and public space, as well as fostering regional, rural and urban revitalization.

Research Leaders

Social Entrepreneurship

A new wave of social entrepreneurship is emerging around the world with a renewed sense of hope to make positive changes towards more liveable and equitable futures through entrepreneurial activities with economic viability and social impact. While Australia has been slower in adopting this wave in terms of the policies, infrastructures, and public awareness; the social entrepreneurship sector currently contributes to 2-3% of the national GDP. With the increasing emphasis on entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy, including reducing the unemployment rates, the social entrepreneurship sector is expected to continue its growth. This presents a unique opportunity for the QUT Design Lab to pioneer the innovation of research and practice in the next generation of social entrepreneurship, bringing to the fore its applied, digitally-driven, and practice-based research strengths through close internal and external collaborations.

The Social Entrepreneurship Research Program will form a cornerstone of the Lab’s operations with a focus on

  • Transdisciplinarity, e.g. designing communities for inter-generational social entrepreneurship, identifying and developing new entrepreneurial opportunities in health, law, education and other domains of social impact.
  • Internationalisation
  • Partnerships with public, private, and not-for-profit sectors
  • Incubation and commercialisation with our core partner Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA)

Outreach to other education and training sectors for youth (schools, VETs)

Research Leaders

Design Thinking

The Design Thinking research platform will function as a strategically positioned collaboration engine within the QUT Design Lab, which has considerable scope to develop customised corporate education outcomes and to contribute to University-wide curriculum innovation. Based on the unique value proposition of design-led approaches to innovation, the Design Thinking platform will offer customised, organisation-specific ‘design thinking’ and co-design programs with a strategic target on issues critical to the Lab’s core stakeholder groups. The program’s key values will focus on building sustainable and resilient partnerships, resulting in meaningful evidence-based impact.

Drawing on existing and demonstrated capacity within the School of Design, the Design Thinking platform’s end-user engagement strategy will target three sectors: government (including local, state and federal levels); not-for-profit, and; commercial and private enterprise.

Using cutting edge design research strategies as the primary drivers of applied innovation, this research platform will employ design methods to enable: technology and futuring strategies, mega-trends and innovation benchmarks, rapid design and development, prototyping and micro-solutions, leadership and capacity-building.

Research Leaders

Design Education

The Design Education research platform will investigate and capitalise on the value of a design-led cultural change targeting the disruption of, and innovation in, the secondary education system, as well as in continuing and professional education and innovative program delivery (e.g. MOOCs). This responds to the research gap investigating the conceptual framework of design as a “pedagogy of multiliteracies” to extend existing state-based curriculum and pedagogical frameworks, as well as to deliver on the 21st Century competencies required to support the creative knowledge economy, which are yet to be understood in the secondary and tertiary education sectors.

The strategy of this research platform aims to address the following primary research questions through an action research and case study framework involving secondary school teachers:

  • What are the organisational leadership challenges to adopting design thinking in education systems?
  • What value can be derived through a design thinking model as opposed to other pedagogical approaches?
  • What are new models for education that emerge for schools that undertake a design led approach?

The Design Education research platform will encompass three priorities:

  1. Professional development in design thinking will offer an insight into the higher degree opportunities for teachers offered by the QUT Design Lab.
  2. Design thinking action research in the classroom will provide teachers with higher education opportunities surrounding design-led transdisciplinary education, working closely with the Faculty of Education, as well as with academics from the QUT Business School and Faculty of Science and Engineering.
  3. Design thinking consultancy support services will provide further engagement opportunities to promote the activities and generate revenue for QUT, while also facilitating research opportunities.

Research Leaders

Design Fabrication

The QUT Design Lab will build a program of services around the capabilities of the J Block Workshop at Gardens Point Campus. The current J Block workshop houses a comprehensive range of fabrication technologies from 3D printers, CNC, wood working and metal milling machinery. The workshop is run by a staff team with a wide range of design and fabrication expertise. It is currently used by the undergraduate teaching programs in Design, and to support research projects both within the school and broader faculty and university.

The Design Fabrication research platform will be established in a similar manner to the VISOR Lab in IFE. It will provide access to equipment and services to support researchers, partners and industry. It is proposed to enable access to the facilities and capabilities by way of a tiered model.

  • Maker. The Design Lab will set up a Maker Space program within the workshop that will provide access to level equipment for researchers, HDR students, alumni and early stage startups. This level of access will be modelled on the approach taken by Maker Spaces and FabLabs that provide open access to equipment and software. Such spaces employ open source approaches, and a community of practice model, to provide support for end-users. Access will be free for HDR students and researchers, while external partners and alumni will pay a membership fee.
  • Fabricator. This level of membership is for external partners who require access to both the fabrication capabilities as well as QUT expertise. For example, an early stage startup requires both fabrication and design advice for a new product they are taking to market. A membership fee and IP agreement are involved in this level – facilitated by core partner Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA).
  • Partner. This level of membership is for partners who are involved in translation and knowledge transfer from the Design Lab to their specific commercial contexts. This level is either framed by a commercial research contract, or a membership model akin to that employed by institutions such as the MIT Media Lab.

The levels of access are structured to provide a pathway from maker to startup to research partner, as well as support applied industry-led research that requires Design Lab expertise.

The J block workshop is a node in a wider ecosystem of similar spaces within QUT and the city. The Design Lab will focus on how the J Block Workshop can be integrated into this wider ecosystem, connecting the unique value that QUT staff and researchers can both contribute and derive from such engagements with external stakeholders.

Research Leaders

Design Criticality

Design Criticality seeks to redefine 21st century design research, pedagogy, and practice as demonstrably ethical, open, optimistic, experimental, and transformational. New approaches are required to tackle diverse cultural, social, economic and environmental challenges with sustainable and ethical outcomes. This platform will build upon ongoing design projects relevant to the fields of architecture, fashion, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture and interactive & visual design in order to embark on ambitious new projects concerning design criticality with a distinctive strategic and real world edge to shape design futures.

Design Criticality has three main themes: Design & Material Culture, Design History & Theory and Design Ecologies. These capture the foci of the platform yet aim to be inclusive to accommodate the range of interests of our current and future research.

1. Design & Material Culture
 Cultural Identities and Global Culture
 Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity
 Cultures of Display, Exhibition and Curation
 Cultures of Consumption
 Urban Culture and Lifestyle

2. Design History & Theory
 Modern architecture and Modernity
 Critical Histories
 Urban Morphology
 Architecture and the Contemporary City
 Global Cities and Geopolitics
 Critical Design and Speculative Design
 Design Activism

3. Design Ecologies
 Slow Design and Emotional Design
 Systems + Ecologies
 Design for Home Ecologies
 Subtropical Design
 Indigenous Design Cultures
 Asia Pacific Design Cultures
 Cultural Sustainability and Ethical Practice

Research Leaders