30th September 2019

Building site fence mesh that highlights mental health conversations, a ‘tap and go’ interactive jigsaw billboard to donate to the homeless, and a toy bear with speech recognition software to connect with young children who may need help – these are a few of the more than 120 creative solutions to support community organisations devised by QUT design students in an innovative new study program.


Impact Lab: Design for Social Impact was introduced this year to the QUT Creative Industries School of Design as an all-of-school, first-year program.  

More than 650 students, working in teams, were connected with six Brisbane community and charitable partners and tasked to come up with design ideas to support them and their work in a range of areas, from fundraising to service delivery.

“It’s a social entrepreneurship program to showcase how design can be used to make a positive social impact through providing real-word solutions,” said School of Design Academic Program Director Dean Brough.

“Designers need to be able to communicate with clients, to be empathetic to their needs, and understand the briefs that they are provided, so it is also about equipping students right from the start of their degrees with those skills, and also other skills, such as teamwork.

“We were thrilled to partner with such terrific Brisbane community groups which embraced the project, and one of the added bonuses has been students expressing interest in becoming volunteers for the organisations.”

Interactive donation billboard design.

The community partners were TradeMutt (men’s mental health), Red Frogs Australia (supporting and safeguarding young people), Kids Helpline (phone counselling), 3rd Space (homeless support), Multicap (high-needs disability support), and A Brave Life (helping teen and young mothers).

With the students from all of the School of Design’s study areas – architecture, interior architecture, landscape architecture, fashion, visual communication, industrial design and interaction design – their creative solutions were diverse. Concepts included apps, games, promotional products, portable structures made from canvas and shipping containers, a solar-powered phone charging station, interactive donation and educational billboards, plus ideas for face-to-face workshops and online training modules.

From 124 ideas presented, the community partners chose 23 to be pitched to them again at an evening event at Fishburners start-up hub in Brisbane’s CBD.

TradeMutt founders, carpenters Dan Allen and Ed Ross, said they were blown away by the students’ initiatives to help them get more men, particularly tradies, to open up about mental health.

They started TradeMutt after a close mate of Dan’s took his own life in 2015. Profits from the colourful, attention-grabbing workwear they produce go to support mental health and suicide prevention programs.

Colourful building site fence mesh design.

Students tapped into the TradeMutt style and came up with promotional collateral, from coasters and a tradie esky to a portable canvas MuttHut to use at events, and fence mesh to wrap around building sites (pictured). They also suggested apps for making social connections, and adding compulsory online mental health training for construction workers as part of the safety white card.  

“Our brief to the students was pretty broad,” Dan said. “How can we extend our work, start more conversations, and make more of an impact in the mental health space we are in?

“We’ll be looking into how we could progress some of the students’ ideas. In the short-term, perhaps some of the more simple and affordable ones, such as signage; others in the longer-term, like training for the white card.”

Red Frogs Australia communications and marketing manager Bek Gilchrist was equally impressed by the students’ creative concepts for Red Frogs, which began during Schoolies on the Gold Coast in 1997.

The students’ ideas included a biodegradable cup with lid and translucent strip to protect against drink spiking, a ‘change for change’ pinball machine for donations, a red frog-topped cycle cart that volunteers could use at events, and an interactive billboard screen that puts users in the shoes of a Red Frogs volunteer.

“It was wonderful to see the array of designs, and also to hear that the students knew about Red Frogs and many had engaged with our volunteers,” Bek said.

“There’s obviously a cost to actioning many of the ideas and we’re a not-for-profit, but we will certainly be looking into that. It would be terrific to find sponsors to back some of these great initiatives.”

Designers of the building site fence mesh, students Aella MacDonald, Allegra Nobilio, Upekha Gamage, Daniel Fisher and Nick Laxton at the Fishburners pitch night.



Main photo top: Students, from left, Lucia O'Donnell, Willabelle Jones, Alix Veitch and Jessica Fowler who came up with a box concept to showcase Multicap's 'Makeables' service. 


QUT Media contacts: Karen Milliner, 07 3138 1841 or k.milliner@qut.edu.au
After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901 or media@qut.edu.au

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