This paper is to be presented at the DRS 2016 conference in Brighton, UK. You can download the full paper here.
Currently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander narratives and participation within communication design practices in Australia are scarce. The Australian communication design industry, currently reinforcing Eurocentric practices, needs to develop a better understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of design and to provide more inclusive practices for designers from underrepresented or marginalised groups. Through case study analysis, this paper explores and discusses a more inclusive way of working with Indigenous people and content within communication design. It draws from and applies principals of Transformative Participatory Action research to communication design practice – a more inclusive model for Indigenous creative practice within Australia. This approach moves away from co-design and participatory design models to focus more on participatory action, active engagement and empowering Indigenous communities through design.
Within current communication design practices, the representation of Indigenous narratives is marginalized, as the ethical and respectful use of Indigenous iconography and culture is often overlooked in favour of Western standards and practices (Jojola, 2011). The Australian communication design industry has historically had limited understanding and lacked influence from the important cultural and creative source of Indigenous Australia. Isolated examples within the industry have made progress in recognising the need for indigenous participation and to provide more inclusive practices for underrepresented or marginalized groups. The design community should reflect the history, culture and society of Australia as communication design is a visible part of the ongoing living narrative of culture (Woodward, 2008).
Currently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander narratives within contemporary communication design are scare. Additionally, the communication design industry has limited involvement in developing practices of working with Indigenous designers. As Vernon Kee describes, ‘most Australians and most folk in graphic design have little or no understanding of the issues involved in working with Aboriginal people, design and artwork’ (2013).
This discussion paper explores a more inclusive way of working with Indigenous people and culture within communication design, drawing from and applying principals of Transformative Participatory Action research. This approach moves away from co-design and participatory design models to focus more on participatory action and empowering Indigenous communities through design. It proposes that inclusive communication design practices require a framework of participatory action, based in active engagement, where marginalized voices (such as those of indigenous people) are empowered (Chilisa, 2012). Utilising a case study approach, this investigation examines different approaches to contemporary creative participation and creation with Indigenous people and culture from a range of fields.
The case studies explored in this paper will be divided into two parts. Firstly through examining case studies from Namibia, Canada, Malaysia and Argentina, alternative frameworks and methodologies are explored that would allow an Indigenous knowledge based approach to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in communication design contexts. Secondly, looking into contemporary creative fields, including craft, new media production and design specifically within Australia, creative relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are discussed. These relationships foster the building of empathy, understanding and community.
The paper then explores and discusses a more inclusive way of working with Indigenous people and content within communication design practices. This approach would benefit Australian communication designers through increased diversity in the creative process, alternative cultural values portrayed in design work and expanded intercultural opportunities in designer collaboration.
Little academic literature exists concerning specific frameworks that apply principals of Transformative Participatory Action within communication design contexts. This paper seeks to make a contribution to design discourse by exploring a more inclusive way of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. An improved understanding of ethical and inclusive ways of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and the visible participation of more Indigenous voices would contribute important strengths to design in Australia, extending its unique creative, cultural and social range. Further research is required to test principals of Transformative Participatory Action research within the field and explore ethical ways of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within communication design in Australia.
 Philip Megg’s A History of Graphic Design in 1983 solidified a graphic design canon that privileged Western practice and a modernist aesthetic-based valuation (Meggs, 1983). With its roots in the Industrial revolution, communication design practice has since been documented in relation to Western industrial societies. Design practices and structures, stemming from Modernism, in particular the Bauhaus, are still taught today, reinforcing design’s Western origins and practices. Herbert Bayer and the Swiss Style of typography are examples of modern practitioners and design styles, which are still regarded as the dominant standards within current Australian communication design education and practice.
 Norm Sheehan’s Indigenous knowledge principals of respectful design, focus on ways of knowing and reiterate how representing Indigenous knowledge and culture should be done in respect on showing care and awareness in the way we identify, explore and assess meaning because we know our view is always incomplete (Sheehan, 2100, p. 68). He continues to describe how the concept of ‘respect’ is so sensitive and complex through visual and narrative approaches: ‘Respect is based on this ancestral understanding that we all stand for a short time in a world that lived long before us and will for others long after we have passed’ (Sheehan, 2011, p.69).
 There are a number of frameworks that advocate and facilitate the integration of cultural protocols, when working with, or researching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Bostock, 1997; DHS, 2006; Janke, 2002; Scott, 2002). However, there are a lack of guidelines and codes of conduct when working with Indigenous people, their culture, beliefs and motifs within the field of graphic design in Australia (Australia Council, 2007; Janke, 1998; Kee, 2013).