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Design from Ntaria – a Western Arrarnta imagining

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Imagining design in Ntaria—an Indigenous community in the Central Desert of Australia—presents a distinct cultural perspective and reveals a visual language woven from culture, country, and connection. This visual narrative presents the outcomes of a communication design education program in Ntaria, part of a four-year participatory action research project. Where the experiences, aspirations, and perspectives of Indigenous youth have been historically silenced within design and education research, these designs invite us to see a world through the prism of Western Arrarnta young adults and their lived experiences. Here, design became a tool for telling stories, asserting identity, caring for country, and intergenerational knowledge sharing. Communication design in Ntaria is situated and mediated by Western Arrarnta country, which encourages a deeper exploration of the ways in which culture, knowledge, and identity are intertwined and shape ideas of what ‘design’ might be from many centres. It is hoped through sharing a distinct Western Arrarnta imagining, this distinct cultural voice can join many others from many centres in reshaping current understandings of what it means to design—exploring how place, relationships, and community impact on design process, outcomes, and meanings.

Indigenous design; Participatory design; Communication design; Design education

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About the Author(s)

Dr Nicola St John is a design researcher and lecturer. My research explores cultural perspectives of design and the value of communication design education and enterprise within Indigenous communities. I am a non-Indigenous female, with Irish and English heritage, born in Australia. The value of education has been strongly advocated within my family, yet Indigenous histories, knowledges, and perspectives have largely been absent from my own. Across a bachelor’s and master’s degree my communication design education was embedded in Eurocentric principles and practices, which has been mirrored in the majority of my experiences in profession practice. I work within research spaces aware of the ongoing silencing of Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing and the legacy of theories and histories of colonisation. My research is grounded in an understanding that the voices and representation of people matter—that Indigenous people should be in control of their own representation within design. These considerations inform my position as a researcher and influence how I engage within research. My research is largely community-based, partnering with Indigenous art-centres, creative industries, and Indigenous community schools in participatory action research projects. The overarching aim of my research seeks to increase Indigenous access, participation, and representation in design-based industries.

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