Masters of Design (Research), RMIT University

The context that I practice in is: enabling people to move about the world so they may have enriched lives within an ethical code of responsibility and accountability for one’s actions. As such, I seek to supervise projects that follow the mantra that “design is demonstrating the potential of an idea” within a sustainability framework. I am interested in supervising projects which are grounded in emerging wicked problems, radical, courageously non-conformist and technically excellent in execution.

My interests draw me to projects that pioneer design approaches to sustainable mobility. Sustainability defined as ecology, equity and economy is a tool that requires design solutions that are aware of and cater to needs of reduction in environmental impacts through innovative approaches to existing and future problems, including materials and structural rethinking, energy consumption and radical rethinking of the high-performance, luxury and convenience-oriented products currently being produced.

I am intrigued by the challenges of urbanisation, medium and high density communities and by projects that demonstrate the potential for equitable access to mobility through well articulated proposals for users and emerging urban scenarios through novel private and public transport, agile infrastructure and services and products that are ethical, socially orientated and  inclusive in approach and realisation.

In all design solutions, I expect the problems and proposal that are developed should demonstrate awareness of the broad economic benefits (or cost benefits) and visualise contextually relevant and new market sectors for industry with insights into current design and production methods and limitations. As designers, we should be integrating emerging design and make processes and exploit the potential for new products, systems and forms of manufacture and user experience.

My approach to design research supervision is Learner-centred and following a design framework that has clear touch points and Learner articulated aims and objectives enhanced with Intellectual provocations that stimulate design as contextual problem solving to overcome wicked problems. The first semester involves deep immersion into a field of inquiry including cyclic and iterative approaches to defining problems and the exploration of the ethical, socio-political and technical and tangible ‘ecosystems’ in which they exist. This is followed by proposing interventions to radically address the problem with insight into the intention and effect of one’s design interventions in consultation with key stakeholders.

In Honours, The first semester is concluded by visualising and prototyping comprehensive solutions for your context and presenting your proposals to a panel of experts for critical review and feedback.

The second semester of your projects involves addressing the critical feedback through iterative development and refinement through digital and physical prototyping resulting in a comprehensive product prototype with potential for industry application. The project is concluded by demonstration and dissemination your proposal and prototype to key stakeholders and a profile building strategy to gain maximum benefit from your design project and outcomes.


My postgraduate research focuses on the futures for Industrial Design when the context of practice becomes trans-national due to global manufacturing relocation.

Current projects include collaborations in the fields of mobility,  sustainability: ecology/equity/economy, computer aided industrial design and production, new methods for vehicle design and production, user-centric mobility solutions, visualising and prototyping radical solutions to mobility products services and systems.

I am the co-founder of the Car Design Research Network CDRN,
a member of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association AVEA.

I am currently undertaking research into Australian Automotive design history project seeking to capture and retain examples of innovation and design in existing Vehicle designs.

Publications and Collaborations:

Varadarajan, S, McLean, H and Curlis, S 2007 ‘Teaching computer aided design; an experiment in teaching and assessment practices’, in Robert Zehner, Carl Reidsema (ed.) Proceedings of the ConnectED 2007 International Conference on Design Education, Sydney, 9 – 12 July 2007.

Fennessy, L., Varadarajan, S., & Curlis, S. (2010). Transnational Experiences: India and China in Australian Industrial Design Education. Republished in E. Salmi, H. Edquist, K. Friedman, S. Langdon & J. Maciak (Eds.), Melbourne 24/09: Cumulus Working Papers (pp. 86-91). Aalto: Cumulus Secretariat & School of Art and Design Aalto University, Finland

The Car Design Research Network (CDRN) approach has required emerging designers to address broad public concerns defined within their projects during the last 6 years, themes for sustainable mobility and transport design have included: Public Share Cars, Super light vehicles, No private ownership, Vehicle to Grid Integration, Swipe and drive public transport, Intelligent and autonomous vehicles. Community orientated vehicles Vehicles as infrastructure, mobility aids and enhancers.

A selection of former 4th-year projects I have supervised include:

  • Dean Benstead, O2 Pursuit Air Powered Motorcycle,
  • Michael Gray, HSV 2 person EV sports car
  • James Patrick, Electric racing Moto
  • Jethro Pugh: The Infinity-Class is a driverless transport system  class
  • Zheng Chin Timber Bicycle