the international indigenous design charter: a new way of thinking

02.05.2018 Announcements

The official Australian launch of the International Indigenous Design Charter recently took place as part of Melbourne Design Week 2018 on 16 March 2018 at one of Australia’s oldest Indigenous cultural institutions, the Koorie Heritage Trust, following it’s international launch at the World Design Summit in Montréal in October 2017.




The occasion was a collaboration between Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria (IADV), a not-for-profit Indigenous-led design association, and ico-D Members Deakin University and the Design Institute of Australia (DIA). The realisation of this initiative builds on years of work and thinking which started with the Australian Indigenous Design Charter, led by Dr Russell Kennedy (ICoD President 2009-2011) and Dr Meghan Kelly, both from Deakin University, and Professor Brian Martin, formerly Director of IKE at Deakin University.


We believe that all design stakeholders need to understand that co-creation and the sharing of Indigenous peoples’ knowledge must be undertaken responsibly. The Charter is a cultural innovation tool that can also be used by designers to explain the benefits of authentic cultural representation to their clients.

The International Indigenous Design Charter is a self-regulated, best practice guide that supports existing policies, procedures and protocols to ensure the rights of Indigenous stakeholders.


Australian Indigenous students Brandi Salmon, Dewayne Yates (Wiradjuri), and Elly Chatfield (Kamilaroi).

The project has been workshopped among First Nations design practitioners and communities from the Sami and Inuit people in the Nordics, the Turtle Island people in North America, with Maori people in New Zealand, as well as with Indigenous people in Australia. While the initial iteration focused particularly on communication design, it soon became apparent that the key tenets of the Charter had applicability across a range of design disciplines, including those disciplines which interface with the built environment.


Michael Nona (Badu Island, Torres Strait) reflects on the Charter’s impact in in Greenland.

The launch of this charter included a panel discussion that explored strategies in the ethical application of Indigenous knowledge and engagement and whether these enhance design thinking. The key partners in the Charter discussed how the role of the Charter can assist design practitioners and promote understanding among practitioners, their clients and the buyers of design.


International Indigenous Design Charter website

The discussion also sought to illustrate how the Charter is strategically being used or explored. For example, the Charter was discussed as part of a submission to an Australian Federal Parliamentary Indigenous Affairs Committee: Inquiry into the proliferation of inauthentic Indigenous 'style' art as a potential benchmarking document to test the veracity or cultural responsiveness of imitation Indigenous design. Further, the Charter has been used to benchmark the development of an Indigenous cultural design competency tool within the University of Melbourne and as part of teaching practice at Deakin University, while a key Municipal Council—the City of Melbourne—has been exploring the potential to utilise the document for various design discussions.

The International Indigenous Design Charter is an open source iterative document which will evolve and adapt to meet requirements as defined by the relevant and local Indigenous communities in which it is used. We are particularly encouraged by the fact that the Charter is available through the Design Institute of Australia’s (DIA) website in Australia and importantly is wholly supported by INDIGO (the International Indigenous Design Network—hosted by Deakin University) which also provides access to the document and is further endorsed by ICoD as a Best Practices Resource.

Stay tuned as further case studies and examples emerge demonstrating the use of the Charter and how the value of Indigenous design thinking, exemplified through INDIGO, starts to inform new conversations between the intersection of design and Indigenous knowledge systems. 

Jefa Greenaway RAIA (Wailwan Kamilaroi)
Jefa Greenaway is a Lecturer at the University of Melbourne, an active design practitioner as Director of Greenaway Architects and is the co-founder (with Rueben Berg) of Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria [IADV]. Jefa is also a member of the INDIGO Working Committee, an ico-D endorsed initiative. His project, Ngarara Place will be exhibited in the Australian Pavilion as part of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition | La Biennale di Venezia – supported by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA).