Practice Makes Perfect

After a long day of walking, talking and brain-filling yesterday, our intrepid disrupters jumped straight back into being inspired on this, the fifth day of our Melbourne fellowship adventure!

Our first stop of the day was the exciting and inspiring Co Design Studios where CEO Jessica Christiansen gave us a talk and tour of their space. Co Design are a not-for-profit creative consultancy and social enterprise that mainly work within the built environment with a focus on urban interventions and transformation of spaces and places.

CEO of Co-Design studio Jessica gives us a run down of their work

CEO of Co-Design studio Jessica gives us a run down of their work

Co Design have adopted a methodology called ‘Tactical Urbanism’ incorporating a low-cost, high impact agenda to create thriving public (and some private) places. Jess told us about some specific projects Co Design have been working on including one in Brisbane that was all about revitalising laneway spaces based on the ''Melbourne laneway model’. For the project, Co Design were given $20,000 for a 3-week public art fiesta/activation of public space. Jessica was open about the barriers that existed to fulfil this brief due to the difference in economy and population size of Brisbane to that of Melbourne.  The three main barriers exposed were liquor licensing, waste management, and exposure of the event through the city council website. The conversation  then moved on to working within the context of a city more broadly. Brisbane (and cities generally) are made up of three components—the local authorities, its people, and its place. The Co Design vision is to help create cities that are shaped by their  citizens (and the biggest problem to their practice is the apathy of these same citizens…).

Co-Design Studio Session

Co-Design Studio Session

Take-aways from our Co-Design Studio Visit:

  • Action is everything. There’s no point (or time) for more strategies or 50 year master-plans
  • Make sure you incorporate a solid community engagement plan into your project so all affected parties (locals and residents in their case) understand what is happening and feel some sort of ownership over the project.
  • Inaction is the biggest problem most innovators face in getting their projects off the ground .
Fellows at the Co-Design Studio in Collingwood

Fellows at the Co-Design Studio in Collingwood

Phew! What a great start to the day!!

Next stop was at Thick Studio. Located in a classic Fitzroy alleyway, Thick have a wonderful warehouse space and great buzzy office vibe. Adam Morris, Thick’s Creative Director, is our final Mentor for the week, and he jumped straight in with the fellows after having already met them at our surprise dinner on Monday evening. He began by talking us through how he he shifted from being an ‘adman’ (a la Mad Men complete with indoor smoking and whisky-fuelled creative sessions), to starting a socially motivated and value-led creative agency.

Adam Morris from Thick Studio

Adam Morris from Thick Studio

Adam said a pivotal point that led to his first realisation that advertising could be a vehicle to contribute meaningful impacts to people's lives was his “frozen Pea” moment—when a typical commercial ad agency brainstorm turned into a “this is f**king ridiculous, what am I doing with my life” moment—realising that he was being paid to solve problems that don’t actually exist and deciding he wanted to only work on projects with meaning, and on problems that do exist.

Adam next discussed what he called the "age of transparency”, where brands are now being held to account by their customers and the public due to the internet, vehicles of mass communication, and digital platforms which allow participation, and have really shifted the way that advertising worked from a one way to a two way traffic.

We discussed how “User Experience” or “UX” is currently a buzz term used to explain making/designing of any digital content whereas real UX is designing experiences based on how people interact with a product or service, considering their wants and desires, wrapped in how they use or do it. Service Design as a discipline has emerged from the development of UX (which is basically what we are all about!).

We then veered off slightly into the world of capitalism and learned about one of Adam’s favourite and most life-changing books: The New Capitalist Manifesto by Umair Haque. From this, he explained, we can gather that capitalism as a system is fundamentally broken, but it’s the only model we currently have. So we need to work within it and work to change it from within. If brands don’t work to enhance people's lives they won’t survive.

We then moved on to 'Thick Value’—a term appropriated from the book—encompassing genuine meaningful value generated without causing economic harm to people or the planet.

Thick Studio as a business works only with clients who operate within the Health, Environment, Education, and Public Service sectors. Institutions within these categories have the scale to make change and Thick is always looking for win, win, win scenarios and to convince clients that doing good can also be good for their bottom line.

"If shitty companies are looking to genuinely change and do good we will work with them. If the feeling is that the company is just trying to greenwash etc we will say no" -Adam Morris

Thick is also one of the founding "B corporations" in Australia. B or ‘Benefit’ corporation status allows companies to work for the benefit of society and the environment even if the outcome of their choices may affect share prices negatively.

“You are as much defined by what you say no to as what you say yes to" - Adam Morris

We followed up Adam’s talk with an exercise he’d devised based around the United Nation’s Global Development Goals. Two circles were formed in the room and fellows had five minutes to read through their assigned goal and then explain it in 90 seconds to their partner and vice versa. people then swapped goals and the circle moved one person clockwise so fellows could explain their new goal to their new partner and vice versa. This continued until all participants had heard (and read) every goal on the list (there are 17 of them).

Adam left us to go and change all our lives through some more smart service design, and our wonderful Un-School Co-Host, Bec led fellows in a session on creating a pitch—how to distill or set an agenda and narrative for your own unique story and selling point by framing your approach to fill a need.

Pitch session with Bec at the Un-School

The exercises was to create a 3 minute ‘elevator pitch’ and then distill it even further to a 1-minute pitch made up of the really most important information you needed to impart.

Finished pitches were presented in two groups, with each group member as well as Leyla having to respond to each pitch with one item of what they liked and what they thought needed improvement. The exercise really brought out another side to each of our fellows, with both the pitching AND the critiquing being equally fundamental to the task.

Following the pitch/critique session, we said farewell to the team at Thick (thanks again Thick!) and headed off down the colourful back alleys of Fitzroy and Collingwood to our evening destination.


The Social Studio and associated restaurant The Cutting Table are both wonderful local social enterprises, operating within a not-for-profit structure that are dedicated to improving the lives of young Australians from migrant or refugee backgrounds. They work through fashion and hospitality industries to create meaningful change by providing TAFE level training, work experience, volunteering opportunities, and employment within the above industries, as well as more broadly across industries as diverse as manufacturing and retail.

Dinner at the Social Studio's Cutting Table 

Dinner at the Social Studio's Cutting Table 

We were treated to a tour of the Social Studio by the CEO Susan Yengi. Opened in 2009, The Social Studio provides a safe space, creates awareness and changes public perception through the provision of mechanisms that allow participants to learn, teach and make an income through designing and manufacturing clothing. All income generated through the studio is invested in creating social benefits for students, staff and communities. Benefits are measured via educational and employment outcomes, environmental benefits and social inclusion.

The Cutting Table grew out of The Social Studio (literally—it used to be a single table operation out the back of the actual Social Studio cutting room!). The Social Studio took over the lease of the shop next door and The cutting table opened her doors in 2011 and is now the beating heart of the Social Studio family.

As we sat down to our amazing meal we introduced our very special secret guest to the fellows... Joining us from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC) was the lovely Nicolette Ranieri, who along with Leyla introduced our fellows to their biggest challenge of the week so far—their 24 hour design challenge!

The Cutting Table team served our starving horde with some absolutely stunning East and West African dishes including a Berbere spiced curry served on Ingera—a light and spongy African flatbread, Kedkede Hibiscus and Ginger iced Tea and some mind-blowing Zlabia—bite-sized African doughnuts… Yum

We then got down to discussing the challenge. In a nutshell it involves the following Quest Statement: How to engage the 10,000 Victorian asylum seekers currently not engaged with the ASRC or it's programs to discover and potentially become active members of the ASRC Innovation Hub's Entrepreneurship Program community, and thereby build a thriving eco-system that aligns with the ASRC aspirations. Keeping in mind the following goals:

  • To assist people seeking asylum to start successful businesses
  • To catalyse a thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurship and connection between business communities
  • To respect the diversity of needs, experiences and obstacles within the community that ASRC represents
  • To connect members to capacity building opportunities
  • To create an incubator where members can build, launch and grow their own businesses

Our fellows have from 9am Thursday morning until 9am Friday morning to come up with creative solutions to the challenge and design a 20 minute pitch to stakeholders and invited judges as well as the Un-School team to critique each pitch and decide on a winner.

We all heading off for an early night. We wish them the best of luck and we can’t wait to see (and show you) what they come up with!

The group at Co-Design Studio

The group at Co-Design Studio

The Un-School Team working hard behind the scenes!

The Un-School Team working hard behind the scenes!