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Towards Co-creating the Praxis of Teaching Design from Decolonial, Intersectional and Pluriversal Approaches

Research Paper
Livia Rezende, Nicola St John, Fanny Suhendra and Diana Albarrán González, as the InterDesigning Network


Across Oceania, design courses within the tertiary education sector remain entrenched in euro-centric narratives and pedagogical approaches, which omit place-specific contexts, cultural histories, knowledges, and diverse ways of designing, including First Nations’. This concern was one of the main drives for creating the InterDesigning Network, which aimed to connect like-minded educators and students.

Keywords: Decolonial approaches; Intersectionality; Pluriversality; Positionality; Place-based knowledges; Oceania


Who are you? Why are you here? What is your purpose?

These questions form the place-based protocol used when people meet on the unceded Kulin lands of the Woi Wurrung and Boon Wurrung peoples (also known as Melbourne, Australia). They introduce and underpin this article since the work, reflections, and contributions here analysed coalesced on unceded but stolen Kulin lands during the InterDesigning Network symposium held in November 2023.

Who are you?

We are design educators, the founding members of the research collective InterDesigning Network, the organisers of the InterDesigning Network symposium, and the article’s authors. These descriptions, however, are limited to some aspects of our professional identities only, and do not convey the extent and complexity of who we are. We have included positionality statements below to support us in the task of introducing who we are, but we are also mindful that this will unfold throughout this article, in future work and throughout our lives.

Fanny Suhendra: My design research and teaching approaches are rooted in my positionality as a Chinese-Indonesian-Peranakan descent as well as a settler-immigrant in Australia. I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, gendered and identified as a female by birth. I acknowledge my privileged middle-class upbringing, which allowed me education and opportunities to expand my knowledges internationally. My mixed background as a Peranakan means that I live between two worlds of Chinese and Nusantara (Indonesian) local cultures, with languages such as Bahasa, Sundanese, and Hakka dialects being a part of daily life. Therefore, as a settler-immigrant in both my home and current land, assuming the identity of a cultural minority continues to be the main influence on my understanding of design practices. However, none of these complex nuances of cultures, localities and diversity are reflected in my previous experience as a design student and educator. Instead, the practice and education of design in Indonesia, the UK and Australia equally emphasise mainstream Euro-American canons (Wizinsky 2022). These canons placed me and others in a persistent pursuit of ‘good design’ and the latest ‘trends’ that do not reflect my identity and reality. My current teaching and research focus on realising the importance of decentring Westernised thinking to accommodate localised and diverse epistemologies. Looking within and respecting differences are ways to encourage a socially and culturally relevant design practice instead of fixating on putting the Westernised design mindset on a pedestal (Barcham 2022).

Nicola St John: As a 5th generation colonial/settler in Australia with English and Irish heritage, my experiences of design teaching and practice have been dominated by modernist eurocentric principles. For me, de-centring these knowledges of dominant design first required re-centring local placed-based knowledges, acknowledging Indigenous sovereignty and the unceded lands on which I live and work (St John & Akama 2022). As a colonial settler, my approach to teaching design is not decolonial, rather I seek to ‘de-link’ or ‘de-centre’ design from its colonial centre. I understand decolonizing design as an approach that is initiated, devised, and carried out by Indigenous researchers, and is always based on knowledge created by Indigenous people rather than about them (Smith 1999). Rather than premising decoloniality, I draw focus to local place-based protocols (such as those offered by local First Nations traditional owners), histories, and knowledges and learn from First Nations scholars and educators from Australia (e.g., Norm Sheehan, Jefa Greenaway, Tristan Schultz). Incorporating First Nations knowledges of design within my teaching enables me to connect with concepts of the pluriverse as a design educator, and to emphasise the many diverse localised knowledges and experiences that students bring with them into the classroom (St John & Suhendra 2022). Focusing on both local place-based knowledges and student-centred knowledges (rather than dominant Euro-centric knowledge of design) enables me to reimagine how communication design can be taught, and in-turn, motivate students to design from within their own localised cultures rather than in response to dominant euro-centric design narratives (St John & Suhendra 2022).

Diana Albarrán González: I approach design research, teaching and practice based on my positionality as a Mexican mestiza in a journey of decolonizing my identities. As a woman of mixed Indigenous and Spanish ancestry (among others), I exist and act from the in-between, from the Nepantla as a space between two worlds, from one thing to another that is not yet fully formed (Anzaldúa 2015). This is a place of embodied subjectivities that are in constant transformation. At the same time, migration experiences in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region influenced the questioning of my identities by people in those contexts and their histories, driving me to explore different narratives to explain my heritage beyond that of nationality. Nepantla and my diasporic locations made evident the complexities of doing research in relation to people, places and identities as notions of power, politics, privilege and access (3P-A) shift and are influenced by changing contexts (Albarran Gonzalez & Campbell, 2022). In my experience as a design educator and researcher, these shifting experiences contributed to infusing a sense of cultural awareness and sensitivity, including a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lens to how I approach design research, practice and teaching. Similarly, I encourage my students to integrate their diverse heritages, stories, and identities in their work. At the same time, living in Aotearoa New Zealand locates me as Tangata Tiriti, a person under the obligations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi as one of Aotearoa New Zealand foundational document) or tauiwi (Māori term for the non-Māori people of New Zealand). Therefore, the recognition and integration of Māori knowledge(s) and protocols, as well as those from Moana-nui-a-kiwa (the Pacific Ocean), are necessary steps towards decolonial approaches in design education in the region, especially as a Tangata Tiriti. For my Māori colleagues, however, their ways of being, doing and teaching design are considered indigenizing efforts. Both approaches challenge the dominance of Eurocentric narratives of design and encourage students to explore and integrate the plurality of their histories, knowledges and practices of design and value their territories and heritages, and position themselves in Aotearoa New Zealand, thus, enabling pluriversality in design education.

Livia Rezende: I speak from various positions. I am a design historian, a design educator (including impactful roles like being a PhD supervisor to several candidates, and a Postgraduate Research Coordinator in various of the institutions where I have worked); a journal and book editor for whom helping others publish their ideas is a major responsibility as well as a privilege and an honour. I am also currently a visitor and a guest on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Bidjigal people where I live and work. I was born and raised in Brazil where from a tender age I discovered the revolutionary work of Paulo Freire (1996 [1968]), and his deceptively simple yet profound proposition that those who have been oppressed may become oppressors if oppression itself is not brought to the fore by education, both in formal and informal systems. This proposition has been one of my principal reasons to engage with teaching and learning, as well as researching design history. In my research (Rezende 2019, 2021, 2024; Cheang et al 2023) I am keen to identify, study and understand power dynamics in the design profession and in the global spread and dominance of euro- and Anglo-centric design ideas and pedagogies in the post-war period, for example. It is this aspect of design—as a way of knowing, a practice of being in the world, and something that we teach at universities, that is, the spread of Dominant Design (Akama et al 2022) across multiple areas of the world (noted here by my colleagues who hail from places as far as Mexico and Indonesia) that has been guiding my work as an educator, the development of curricula and teaching activities centred on the uncovering of oppression and the discovery of difference and positionalities, and now the work with the InterDesigning Network. I am currently in Australia but always with a transnational and humanist lens.

Why are you here?

The work, reflections, and contributions discussed here stem from our collective endeavour to transform and co-create the praxis of teaching design from decolonial, intersectional and pluriversal approaches. To this end, we formed the InterDesigning Network in 2022 to address key issues affecting design education, an activity that remains entrenched in euro-centric narratives and pedagogical approaches that omit place-specific contexts, cultural histories, knowledges, and diverse ways of designing in the region. In 2023, we launched an online platform to disseminate the network and build a community of educators invested in overcoming these key issues together. But it was the organisation of our first symposium that allowed us to experiment with some ideas, put concepts into practice, and bring together a community to address what is a transformational design education praxis, how can it be co-created across international, intercultural, and intersectional boundaries, and how can we uphold indigenous sovereignty while our relationships are informed by the indigenous knowledge systems of the places where we live and work.

Thus, we are here to reflect on how the symposium organisation—the decisions we took, the conversations and activities proposed—itself prefigured how we wish to respond to the imperatives for change in design education outlined above and detailed below. We are here also to analyse participants’ responses to our propositions, and how this work may evolve and expand. Finally, we are here to enter in a dialogue with readers who hopefully will benefit from the small but firm steps taken to foreground, promote, amplify, and disseminate current efforts to teaching design from decolonial, intersectional and pluriversal approaches.

What is your purpose?

In our experience as design educators, teaching design locally from a euro- and/or Anglo-centric perspectives contribute to students (local and international) feeling alienated and disengaged when their lived experiences, backgrounds and aspirations are not reflected in the classroom. Likewise, educators teaching canonical design narratives from traditional pedagogical approaches have found it increasingly challenging to relate to their course material and engage students in meaningful learning. Our purpose is to promote change—collectively and collaboratively—by centring decolonial, intersectional and pluriversal approaches as praxes in design education that have the potential to increase students’ sense of belonging while improving staff confidence and ability to teach from diverse perspectives. Ultimately, our purpose is to support design practitioners in fulfilling their societal role of foregrounding indigenous sovereignty, relationality, care, and social justice through community-led practices in and through their work (Constanza-Chock, 2020).

Before proceeding, we must address other dimensions of the term ‘here’ that inform our work and this article, as well as related clarifications around terminology, language, and writing.

In this article, the four authors, founding members of the network and symposium organisers are referred to collectively as ‘we’, ‘our’ or ‘us’. Where individual experiences and positionalities are expressed, specific names have been used. To convey a cohesive analysis and contribution to the reader, we write in a single voice, unless stated otherwise. Throughout the article authors’ names have been ordered randomly rather than hierarchically as the distribution of labour in our research collective and in this article is even.

Our workplace, working conditions and academic contexts pertain to the institutional and legal frameworks of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand—the national political units where we live and work. These institutional and legal frameworks inform our analysis where applicable. However, we acknowledge that other intellectual, affective, and onto-epistemological frameworks are also entangled with the work we do, given our positionalities, lived experiences and the places to where we relate. The language used to refer to specific geographies, therefore, will be contingent on what point in a larger web of relations we might be referring.

We currently live and work in settler colonial nations in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, located in a region known as Oceania. Despite geographical proximity and some commonalities in the histories of colonisation in these countries—or national political units—the experience and history of indigenous peoples in the region cannot be collapsed in a single narrative or expressed by homogenising language. While in Aotearoa New Zealand the native Māori people’s relationship to their lands were somewhat recognized in the Treaty of Waitangi from 1840, in Australia, Indigenous people ‘became the legal possessions of the Crown. Under the legal fiction of terra nullius, the law of the coloniser prevailed’ (Moreton-Robinson 2015:118).

In this article as in our work, upholding Indigenous sovereignty means using appropriate language protocols when referencing specific communities or language groups. We have used the terms ‘Indigenous’ and ‘First Nations’ interchangeably to reference the First Nations people and communities of Australia, unless citing specific communities or language groups. ‘Knowledge Holders’ refer to people within Indigenous communities with specific roles and responsibilities relating to holding and disseminating knowledge, while ‘Traditional Custodians’ refer to Indigenous people broadly. In Aotearoa New Zealand, ‘Indigenous’ is a term more widely used to reference Māori and Pacific peoples. When possible, we have distinguished the appropriate Tangata Whenua for Māori, and Tagata Moana or Tagata Pasifika for Pacific peoples.

Current challenges in the Higher Education sector in the region

The Higher Education sector in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand is marked by a high number of culturally diverse, international students from the neighbouring regions who learn alongside settler-migrants from these two nations and a smaller proportion of Indigenous students. All learning and teaching, however, happens on Indigenous lands. As reparation initiatives, design schools across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand have been exploring ways to integrate Indigenous knowledges within their degrees and curricula, across specific courses, discipline programs, and institution-wide policies (Kinniburgh et al. 2016, West 2020, O’Sullivan, 2018, Albarrán Gonzalez et al, 2022, Diamond, 2013). This initiative, however, raises questions on how to approach, respond to, and make space for Indigenous knowledges and the differences between designing curricula to include First Nations knowledges for all students and designing design degrees for First Nations students specifically.

In Australia, recent changes in curricula range from exploring how non-Indigenous students can learn about Indigenous Australians and Indigenous design practices, be exposed to Indigenous critical perspectives and scholarship (Kinniburgh et al. 2016, West et al. 2016) to exploring how non-Indigenous designers can develop modes of practice and representation that are respectful and meaningful to Indigenous people (Greenaway et al. 2014). Similarly, in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are various efforts for the integration of Indigenous knowledge from the Pacific region within contemporary design education in ethical and respectful ways (O’Sullivan, 2019, Albarrán Gonzalez et al, 2022, Diamond, 2013). Yet often, Indigenous voices are lost in these processes, and ways to ethically implement institutional ‘Indigenous Strategies’ and policies are unclear. Educators are often left alone to make sense of these directives and how to employ them in the classrooms. Although universities and industries aim at integrating Indigenous knowledges in curricula (O’Sullivan, 2018, Kinniburgh et al. 2016, Diamond, 2013) and commissioning Indigenous work, educators find little guidance or structural support to do it confidently and respectfully.

To address these gaps as well as to counter the alienation and disengagement experienced by a culturally diverse student body mentioned above, we organised a free-to-attend, in-person symposium, which was held over two days at the RMIT University in Naarm/Melbourne. Titled ‘Co-creating the Praxis of Teaching Decolonial, Intersectional and Pluriversal Design and Histories’, the symposium gathered design educators from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as postgraduate students and design practitioners, in a frank dialogue to facilitate the sharing of common experiences and challenges in the classroom, and the development of strategies to advance the decolonization of design education.

Circles, places, and shores as practices for decolonial, intersectional and pluriversal approaches

In practical terms, which will be detailed below, the symposium was structured around circles of conversation with guest speakers and a co-creating exercise with participants facilitated by Dr Dion Tuckwell on the first day. The second day included another co-creating exercise, a workshop facilitated by Andrés Ortega that resulted in a series of material outcomes, including meaningful reflections and feedback from symposium participants. Some of these insights are shared with the reader as they have steered our own reflections and contributions in this article.

Still in practical terms, the symposium sought to unsettle dominant conventions, including those commonly seen at conferences and symposia in the region, like flying in ‘prominent keynote speakers’ from Europe or North America, or asking that individual panellists present their work for critique. In interrogating these normalised practices and in seeking not to reproduce them, we sought not only to ‘deinstitutionalize’ the conversation but also to create a space where concerns were shared, where educators from all career stages and backgrounds could come together to support each other’s work of shifting design education to more pluriversal ways of knowing, and to create lasting moments of connection. Moreover, in trying to unsettle dominant ways of presenting work and teaching and learning in design, we were not interested in providing answers or resolving historic, discipline, and institutional structures that often marginalise, oppress, or exclude different ways of designing, knowing, and being. Our means did not include brainstorming ‘effective’ or ‘innovative’ approaches to this problem, or ‘enhancing and optimising’ resources. Rather, we sought to put in practice the three key concepts that have been underpinning the formation of the network and the work we propose.

One feedback received from a symposium participant, shared with us at the end of the second day, enabled us to be more careful and explicit with the use of conceptual framework in this article:

Perhaps when explaining this to people outside this “bubble”, it might be worth unravelling existing knowledge first before introducing [what you mean by] pluriversal. Otherwise, this might alienate / make people uncomfortable. (Symposium participant)

In our work, when we propose pluriversal approaches to design education, we are aligned with the words of Marisol de la Cadena and Arturo Escobar for whom designing praxes are ‘understood as the healing and caring for the web of interrelations that make up the bodies, places, landscapes, and communities that we all are and inhabit…’ (De la Cadena and Escobar 2023:44)

The intersectional approach we propose will be discussed in more detail below but encompasses the assumption and recognition that design educators are a diverse cohort, with different positionalities and relationships to difficult topics, for example, race. When speaking about an intersectional approach, we are reminding ourselves and those in our communities that not all design education curriculum or teaching approaches will fit all. Intersectionality allows us to work with difference in a productive, tactful, and sensitive way, while proposing change.

Decolonisation is not a metaphor (Tuck & Yang 2012) in our work. Considering our location in settler colonial nations in Oceania, the acknowledgment, recognition and integration of Indigenous peoples and knowledges were pivotal for the conceptualization and organisation of the activities, especially from the place where the symposium was held. This, and the above conceptual frameworks, led to further practical explorations into how we would organise a symposium with culturally responsive practices for sharing in non-hierarchical, healing and caring ways. Below, we analyse how the decolonial, intersectional and pluriversal approaches proposed translated into further practical decisions that led to the organisation of the symposium around the ideas of circles, shore and place.

While a preferred approach is to lead gatherings using Indigenous approaches from the place (in Australia, this approach is known as yarning), we considered it was not appropriate for us as settler-migrants and guests on ‘Country’ to conduct a yarn. Instead, we saw our role as that of ‘space holders’ of sharing circles, a point that will be explained in the following sections.

At the same time, considering the complexities of respecting each of the Indigenous speakers’ cultural practices, we aligned our approach with the notions of circles to echo Indigenous sharing and storytelling practices in Oceania like yarning from Australia’s First Nations (Bessarab and Ng’andu 2010; Geia et al. 2013), talanoa from Pacific cultures like Samoa and Tonga (Fa’avae et al. 2022; Farrelly and Nabobo-Baba 2014) and kōrero from Māori people in Aotearoa New Zealand (Ware et al. 2018), who some of us have previously experienced as participants. This allowed the speakers to have a sense of familiarity with some of the protocols for respectful sharing. The notion of gathering in circles is also aligned with Latin American approaches like círculo de la palabra [word circle] (Majín Melenje 2018; Uribe-Pérez 2019) and círculo de bordado [embroidery circle] (Albarran Gonzalez & Colectiva Malacate 2024; Rosentreter Villaroel & Albarran Gonzalez 2023; Tapia de la Fuente 2021) which Diana and Livia draw upon as Latin Americans.

Premising local place-based protocols is central to the work of decolonial and pluriversal design (Noel et al. 2023) and to teaching and learning. Place plays a vital role for Indigenous peoples recognizing the interconnect and interdependence relation of people and the environment, even considering it guardians or ancestors. “Place convenes our being together, bringing human and nonhuman communities into the shared predicaments of life, livelihood, and land. Place calls us to the challenge of living together” (Larsen & Johnson 2017:1).

In Australia, ‘Country’ signals the connection of Indigenous people to place as discussed by Elders Uncle Charles Moran, Uncle Greg Harrington and Professor Norman Sheehan (2018: 75): “The relationship between a people and their Country extends beyond time and is recorded in stories laid down in Country that are the spiritual source of knowledge essential to generations. Country is alive and intelligent, providing everything that its people need”. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Māori term Tangata Whenua means People of the Land signalling their Indigenous status. This connection to land is reflected in the practice of reciting pepeha, a Māori relational practice that indicates their ancestral and genealogical connection to mountains (maunga), sea (moana) and/or rivers (awa), tribe (iwi), sub-tribe (hapū), marae (meeting house) and family (whānau) (Opai and Niwa 2021).

Therefore, we called the first circle ‘Connecting to Place’ to point out the relevance of these Indigenous connections, reflected in a symposium participant’s reflection: “Promote connection to place. Both home and abroad. ‘Place’ encompassing ecology, both human and non-human” (Symposium participant).

Considering Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Indonesia, and Mexico’s connection through the Pacific Ocean, we expanded the circle and the connecting to place metaphor to consider the shifting perceptions of place, not only across lands but how the same place could be perceived differently at different times. For that reason, we integrated the notion of ‘the shore’ as a place that is in constant flux based on interconnected cycles of the day, moon, and seasons. In this sense, circles, place, and shore materialised the conceptual framework with which we have been working.

First Circle: Connecting to Place

The speakers in this circle were Emrhan Tjapanangka Sultan, an artist who belongs to the Luritja and Western Arrernte Nations in Central Australia and Kokatha Nation in South Australia (Mukulri, no date), Jesse Wright (JESWRI) a Gadigal artist of the Eora Nation (JESWRI / Mural Artist, no date), Ayla Hoeta a design lecturer from Waikato Tainui iwi (tribe) from Aotearoa New Zealand (Albarrán González et al. 2022; Hoeta & Campbell 2023), and Dr. Cecelia Faumuina an Auckland born design lecturer from Samoa and Tonga (Faumuina 2022; Faumuina and Mortensen Steagall 2023; Stewart et al. 2023).

Our upholding of Indigenous sovereignty was reflected in privileging First Nations voices, following First Nations protocols, and holding a ‘Welcome to Country’. In Australia, a formal ‘Welcome to Country’ is a ritual and important formal marker offered by traditional custodians to as guests on their Country. This welcome, delivered by a Boon Wurrung traditional owner, included the generous and powerful offering to all attendees of:

Bundjil Womin Djeka ngarna-ga – Bundjil asks you to come and asks what is your purpose for coming and understanding.

This, the Kulin protocol, requests that one states their purpose upon meeting another. We adopted the protocol throughout the symposium, asking attendants to state who they were, and what their purpose was before asking the speakers a question. This acknowledgment of identity, place, and purpose not only presented a way for how people should live, work, and study on Country but also it was a way of grounding the symposium in relation to local protocols rather than assuming the place where we met as just a passive backdrop. By premising and acknowledging everyone’s purpose, we supported participants to engage with their positionalities and promoted an ethos of honouring and being on Country. This principle aligns with and advances those put in practice by the organisers of the Service Design Conference (ServDes.2020) for whom:

In all, the contributions we make are strategies for deeper questioning and reflecting to encourage any gathering (like a conference) to be ethically charged, situated and entangled by asking, why are WE HERE and what is OUR purpose? This question is so penetrating and grounding that compels us to pause, reflect and confront deeper dimensions of our being and becoming-with-many, and to take seriously whose lands we are on and what resources we are continuing to benefit from. (Akama et al 2022:33)

The ‘Connecting to Place’ circle sought to deepen participants' understanding of the impacts, challenges, and responsibilities of integrating Indigenous knowledges respectfully and ethically in design education (Figure 1). Diana and Nicola acted as space holders, a role aimed at modelling to settler-migrants and non-Indigenous people in the room how to promote Indigenous perspectives without owing (even if inadvertently) their knowledges. As discussed with participants, knowledge shared within the circle was not for them to take and apply in the classroom. While the discussions of the circle will not be detailed as per cultural safety and respect protocols, our reflections as space holders allow us to share insights on the challenges of navigating the symposium objectives, funders' expectations, location limitations, and live event dynamics.

Space holders and speakers began the circle with their statements of positionality stating their proximity to Indigenous knowledges, with the space holders then stepping out of the circle to enable a free-flowing dialogue between Indigenous invited speakers. The circle metaphor was intended to be reflected in the space layout, aligned with Indigenous and Latin American approaches. However, venue limitations did not allow this to take place. We wonder if the layout impacted the experience and dynamics inside the circle as the metaphor of the circle did not materialise in the venue due to space constraints. The symposium also raised questions to us on how we can involve, encourage, and guide participants to become more conscious of local protocols and acknowledge their relationships to Indigenous knowledge. And how might this be done in other locations across the region as the network grows? Despite the challenges, our intention of modelling decolonial and pluriversal alternatives to running academic events that go beyond conventional paper sharing or passive listening was noted by a participant:

There were really mind blowing ‘pragmatical’ experiments that we did [during the symposium] that would be great to repeat and ‘normalise’ in any gathering, even staff, budget meetings (the more bureaucratic, the more powerful?) like [when] an acknowledgment of Country can be accompanied by the ‘response to’ Kulin way [with which] you intended us to declare/share our positionalities. It’s a moment of a ‘crack’ that opens in the “institutional wall” that allows us to glimpse/invite other ‘worlds’ into moments/conditions engineered to be so mono-cultural. (Symposium participant)

Second Circle: Connecting as a Teaching Community

The creation of a model of design education that decentres current universalizing euro- and Anglo-centric narratives requires discussion and collaboration among multiple stakeholders in teaching and learning. Happening immediately after the first circle, the second meeting in the symposium aimed at connecting guest speakers and participants as a teaching community invested in co-creating this new model and in doing so collectively.

We invited four guest speakers who represent a variety of voices and positionalities, as well as  career stage and experience levels in teaching and learning, to share their experiences: Nicole Crouch, a textile print designer for commercial fashion and industry, a sessional educator and a PhD candidate at UNSW; Bridie Moran, a sessional educator curator, editor, cultural development and policy consultant, and a PhD candidate at UNSW; Shivani Tyagi, a lecturer and researcher at Swinburne's School of Design and Architecture, and Peter West, a senior lecturer in RMIT's School of Design.

As with the first circle, sharing everyone’s purposes and empowering speakers were key premises. Before the symposium, organisers and guest speakers met to share their positionalities and co-establish common intentions for the circle. This way, and based on their teaching experiences and struggles, a structure for the circle driven by discussion prompts were collectively devised.

The conversation was co-facilitated by Fanny and Livia and included the experience of teaching as a sessional educator (i.e., on a casual contract, usually termly based) as an institutional limitation to expanding the design curriculum; tensions between teaching and research in HEIs that call against cultural misappropriation in design and pressures from the textile industry that advances cultural misappropriation, and how approaches to teaching race and racism in the classroom will vary according to an educator’s experience of having been racialized themselves or not, as detailed below.

The second circle unpacked the power dynamics between sessional staff, unit convenors, lecturers, and university leaders, as well as with students, inside and outside of classrooms. We discussed that time pressures and lack of institutional support continue to be a core hindrance to creating meaningful changes toward a more intersectional, decolonial and pluriversal design education. These pressures are acutely felt in the Australian academic context, for example, where the majority of HE courses are offered by sessional staff on casualized contracts and precarious employment. Sessional and fixed-term staff make up around 50–55% of the teaching workforce in Australia (Department of Education 2023). Most of them actively work in the industry and are indispensable to continuing higher education learning and teachings. However, despite their importance and impact on student learning and curriculum development, sessional staff’s precarious employment—which translates into job instability, lack of paid time to contact students outside class time, lack of career support and professional development—place them in a vulnerable position to advance pedagogical innovations and carry out difficult conversations in the classrooms (Oprescu & Nash, 2015; Baik, Naylor & Corrin, 2018). A key contribution of this conversation revolved around the full-time academics, who usually hold roles like ‘course convenor’ or ‘unit director’, employing their privilege and relative power to support sessional colleagues and other educators who lack institutional support.

Discussions on intersectional, decolonial and pluriversal pedagogies tend to consider design educators as having one single experience or background (Noel et al 2023), and do not consider how educators with different positionalities, including their career levels, will face different struggles as educators and have differing approaches to teaching difficult topics. Speakers’ positionalities impact the teaching approaches they can adopt, especially when involving difficult topics like race and white privilege.

West (2020:1,6) considers acknowledgement of whiteness in the classroom as an ‘active acts’ key to confront ‘passive avoidance’ to Indigenous sovereignty, an avoidance that often leads to the misuse of Indigenous knowledge as an ‘interim addition to Western disciplines.’ While West’s intersectional identity as a white man allows him this specific approach, this tone is not available to all educators, especially to those, for example, who also have been racialized and oppressed. Dori Tunstall (2023:30) notes the consequences of superimposing cultural traumas when reflecting on her experience of teaching in Australia as an African American: ‘I accept this as a distancing move on my part. I locate my need for distance to the ways in which Indigenous trauma triggers African American trauma.’ This resonates with Fanny's experience who, as an immigrant settler in Australia, feels that a heightened degree of learning and precaution is required to ensure that she is respectful but also comfortable when teaching race. In the second circle, a consensual point in the conversation proposed that for educators to maintain their wellbeing while engaging with difficult topics getting extra support from like-minded individuals fighting the same battles has been crucial.

We, symposium organisers and design educators, positioned ourselves as learners during the symposium. The lived experience of educators speaking in the second circle showed that, for the promotion of pluriversal, decolonial and intersectional approaches in the classroom, two key dimensions of teaching and learning are required. Firstly, educators have been actively trying to create meaningful and conscious changes in their own teaching practices to disrupt and challenge normative practices that advance the status quo. This includes a willingness to hold difficult discussions, for example, around racial privilege and biases. This leads to the second key insight on the importance of acknowledging that to maintain this effort a balance needs to be struck to ensure the wellbeing of all stakeholders, including students and educators, through a common understanding and acknowledging of their positionalities. Frequent self-reflective practice should include full consideration of our privileges, strengths, and lived experiences as fuel to create tangible change that will benefit all (Figure 2).

Embodied Co-Creation: Final Remarks

Considering the potential challenging impacts that conversations could have for some attendees, and aligning with decolonial approaches that go beyond the rational mind (Jaramillo-Aristizabal & Albarran Gonzalez 2024; Schultz et al. 2018), we wanted to provide a space and activity for an embodied emotional offload that would support the processing of discomfort and tension within the body of participants. Embodiment, as situated and relational knowledge production, supports experiential sense-making, and ideas exchange across contexts impacting thinking and action (Schultz, Abdulla, Ansari, & Canlı, 2018).

Building on the conceptual framework of circles, places and shores (Figure 3), Tuckwell facilitated together with symposium organisers a co-creating mapping exercise to address the challenges, tensions and hopes of bringing decolonial, intersectional and pluriversal praxes into the classroom in HE institutions. This allowed participants to make a reflective imprint of their thoughts and feelings throughout the symposium’s first day (Figure 2). The results of this exercise, which culminated in a collective and distributed debrief at the end of that day, echo Akama’s invitation to ‘learners of Design to embark on decolonising by understanding and respecting various values and world views under the water line, to avoid assuming what is visible on the surface as styles, techniques and knowledges that can be transferred and replicated’ (Akama 2021:107).

The symposium’s second day included a workshop facilitated by Ortega where participants were asked to explore the idea of ‘geographies of the selves’ (Anzaldua & Keating 2015:69-70) to become aware of, and materialise through threads, paper, fabric and other props, their positions, intersections, and the multiple worlds that are entangled in our lives (Figure 4). After these experimental activities, participants were asked to produce some practical recommendations—or simply, feedback and insight—to us, the symposium organisers, that included a vision for the future of the network.

As responses to our intention to unsettle dominant ways of meeting, sharing, and teaching design, it is from the results of these two co-creating exercises that we derive the final thoughts and contributions that the network and this paper can make to promoting change in design education:

We also know how much our mind-body-soul becomes “colonised” by the sheer habituation, repetition of work—emails, zoom meetings—etc. What if there were times [when] we coordinate being/doing differently? Like the archipelagos + cosmovision activities… what range of activities, from subtle to extreme, can we begin to “design into” our daily work—lives?” (Symposium participant)

The above reflection is a call for the work initiated in the symposium to grow, not simply as a second or third bigger symposium, but in more rhizomatic ways, like mycelium networks infiltrating those cracks on those institutional walls mentioned above.


The InterDesigning Network team pay our respect to Elders, Ancestors and Traditional Custodians of the lands where this network was conceived; Wurundjeri, Woi Wurrung, Boon Wurrung language groups of the Kulin Nations, Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples, and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki iwi (tribes). We pay respect to our own ancestors and acknowledge how they have shaped the stories and knowledges we share here.
We also would like to acknowledge the symposium guest speakers, participants, Dr Dion Tuckwell, Andrés Ortegas, and the various other supporters who contributed to the ideas, feelings and propositions discussed in this paper.

The InterDesigning Network was funded by an Australian Council of University Art & Design Schools (ACUADS) research grant. Its symposium was supported by the Design History Society, RMIT University, University of Auckland, and UNSW Sydney.

Authors names, affiliations, addresses and biographies

Livia Rezende

UNSW Art & Design
Cnr Oxford St & Greens Road
Paddington NSW 2021
ORCID: 0000-0001-5415-0416

Dr Rezende, SFHEA, has a PhD in HIstory of Design, is Senior Lecturer and Postgraduate Research Coordinator at UNSW Art & Design, Sydney. Her current research examines how transnational networks led to the institutionalisation of modern design in Latin America during the Cold War as a neo-colonial endeavour. Her previous publications discuss national identity formation and raw material displays in 19th-century World’s Fairs. She serves as Book Series editor for the Manchester University Press and Explorations editor for the Journal of Design History.

Nicola St John

RMIT University, School of Design
20 Piera St, Brunswick East, VIC 3057
Orcid: 0000-0003-2713-4845

Dr Nicola St John is a multi-award-winning Australian design researcher from RMIT University, School of Design. Her research is largely collaborative; partnering with First Nations creatives, community schools, and design organisations to foster student belonging, knowledge transfer, intercultural collaboration, and design entrepreneurship. Her teaching practice encourages the incorporation of intersectional, pluriversal, and co-design methodologies within design practice and her contributions have been awarded through national and international teaching awards. 

Diana Albarrán Gonzalez

Waipapa Taumata Rau | University of Auckland
26 Symonds Street, Auckland 1010, New Zealand

Dr Diana Albarran Gonzalez is a design researcher and craftivist from Mexico, and the Programme Director of the PhD in Design in the Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries, at Waipapa Taumata Rau | University of Auckland. Her research explores design and different ways of collaboration from decolonial, intersectional, and pluriversal perspectives, interested in collective well-being, Indigenous knowledge, crafts-design-arts, textiles, embodiment, and creativity. With over 18 years of international experience, she integrates a meaningful sense of cultural awareness and sensitivity in different contexts, bringing a diversity, equity and inclusion lens to design practice.

Fanny Suhendra

Swinburne University of Technology | School of Design and Architecture
Address: 492 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn VIC

Dr Fanny Suhendra is a design researcher and educator from Swinburne University, Australia. Her research focuses on the intersection between communication design, culture and its impact on behavioural changes. As a Chinese-Indonesian designer educated in the West, she noticed that the hegemonic Western view remained the primary source for design education and practice. The effort to break the exclusivity and niche perspective around communication design informed her teaching, research and practice, ensuring that empathetic practice and user/student-centred approach are used to develop methodology and pedagogy.


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InterDesigning pays our respect to Elders, Ancestors and Traditional Custodians of the lands where this network was conceived; Wurundjeri, Woi Wurrung, Boon Wurrung language groups of the Kulin Nations, Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation, and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki iwi (tribes). We also pay respects to our own ancestors and acknowledge how they have shaped the stories and knowledges we share here.