Gerda is a Professor in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing.
Tell us briefly about your current research and what drew you to this topic?
My research is focussed on the value of design from a business perspective: what value do companies create by investing in design and what strategies are best suited to optimize the payback from design investment? I focus in particular on the value of professional design, that is design by those who are specifically trained as designers and/or whose main job activities relate to designing products or services.
I appreciate objects that not only look great, but are also easy to use and have the appropriate functionalities. Since this is precisely what designers can deliver in terms of design outcomes, I decided to study this in more detail.
My interest in design and the outcomes of design started in the late 1990s, when doing my PhD at the Rotterdam School of Management. In that time design was still only seen as ’art’ by the Dutch government. Today this has completely changed and design is recognised as essential for competitiveness by the Dutch government. The federal Australian government seems to be on its way to acknowledge the important economic role of design too, but is a late adopter –to use some marketing jargon.
How would you compare the research environment and culture in Australia to Europe?
There does not seem to be much difference: both in my School (School of Finance, Economics and Marketing) and at the Design Research Institute (where I am appointed for 50% of my time) there is a strong recognition that for an academic career there is a need to publish in leading academic journals. Perhaps there is somewhat more emphasis here on knowledge that should be of direct use for industry or society –even though the last Dutch university I worked for (Delft University of Technology) had a similar focus.
What research problems and areas are you likely to explore in the future?
I just started a project with a colleague from my School, to examine the interplay between design and marketing capabilities. The ultimate purpose is rather ambitious: i.e. to come with an integrative theoretical framework. Another initiative, together with four RMIT colleagues from three different Schools (EFM, GSBL, Management) and DRI, is to develop a research program on Asian design –to this end we will organise a research symposium with leading design (management) professors from Asian universities at Hong Kong Polytechnic University early December. Furthermore, I would like to continue to explore the role of professional designers in the strategic phase of innovation. I already did research on this topic within the Dutch industry and would like to extend it to Australia.
How do you balance your teaching, supervising, and your own research time?
It is most effective for me to have dedicated time periods for each activity. Thus a specific time period in which I mainly teach and a specific time period in which I mainly do research because each activity requires a specific ’mind set’ that takes a while to develop. I consider supervision as research, in particular since I only guide PhD students who do a papers-based PhD thesis.
What are your views on collaboration against individual research work?
All my research is in collaboration with others. It is great to have ’sparring partners’ and to combine each other’s knowledge and different ways of thinking into a unique outcome. I like to work with ’older’ people who are more experienced, so I can learn, but I also like to work with ’younger’ people to be inspired by their enthusiasm and ambition and to hopefully teach them something.
Please tell us about things you enjoy when not researching?
Is there something to enjoy next to researching? I did not know…. (OK, I do enjoy spending time with my family; going to the movies –I actually did quite some research too on the film industry; biking –I am Dutch….; and going to good restaurants – and Melbourne offers plenty of opportunities to do just that!).