Design School at Arup; Design School at Arup;

Design School at Arup - nurturing the brightest minds

Every year I have the great pleasure of bringing together some of our early career people at Arup in Australasia to explore all things design.

‘Design School’ is a global programme at Arup, funded by Arup University, that brings together a select group of nominees from all around the world, from all sorts of disciplines – from engineering, to marketing and finance – to strengthen skills in design - in its broadest possible definition. Around 500 of our people take part globally.

Each of the five regions holds at least one Design School. Based loosely on the university ‘studio’ method of design teaching, we pick a theme and bring in external presenters – leading thinkers and design practitioners - and combine them with our own leaders to inspire our people to think and work in new and inventive ways.

Over the years – and 2019 will be the 20th anniversary of the Design School programme – invited presenters have included the female world speed record holder for paragliding, the head of Jaguar automotive design, a world-famous chef, high profile architects, product designers, fashion designers, and this year, the polar explorer, Tim Jarvis.

Themes have ranged from Flight, Fashion, More for Less, Journeys of the Future, Expecting the Unexpected and Elegance to Social Usefulness, and most recently in our region, Un-Design and The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


For our people, they get exposed to new ideas, new techniques, new colleagues and new cultures – one lucky participant, each time, gets to travel to a Design School in another region! They’re encouraged to challenge the status quo, to have courage in sharing ideas – however out there they may seem, and be comfortable with uncertainty in the knowledge that new ideas stem from rummaging around the edges of things. The external presenters offer a novel perspective which provides a faster transition out of comfort zones – one of the intentions of the programme.


It was a wildly intense and inspiring experience that pushed us to unlock the potential of design on every aspect in life and grasp the complexity of its impacts. ”

Evonne Lim head shot Evonne Lim Graphic Designer

For our clients, they know that not only do we hire the brightest minds, we also nurture them. Curiosity is in our DNA at Arup, and what comes with that, I think, is the humble knowledge that we never know all the answers – we all need to continuously learn. It is by ‘continuously learning’ (and I include myself in that, not just participants of the Design Schools), that we are able to create ‘the new’: to create outcomes that push the limits in design.

Design School sketch Design School sketch

Exploring and pushing those limits, I believe, is more important than ever. Our clients, communities and environment all require us to bring fresh thinking to today’s and tomorrow’s complex challenges. It’s partly why I was so pleased we chose to focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals this year. The SDGs - 17 goals that outline how to protect people and planet are increasingly leading our decisions as a business and we wanted to emphasise their importance to our work in a practical, not just philosophical, way.

I’ve been amazed by how much of this year’s SDG theme has made it back to our participants’ day jobs, teams and offices. Subsequent events around the SDGs have been held and conversations on the SDGs have noticeably dialled up a notch or two.

Design School was an awesome experience. It challenged us and threw in a few curve balls along the way. Seeing how a diverse group of people was able to come up with different ideas and then feed off each other to grow these ideas was pretty inspiring and reiterated to me what Arup is all about. ”

Anthony Ferrau head shot Anthony Ferrau Structural Draftsperson

What continues to intrigue people when I share stories about Design School, is that Arup invests so much in our people. We don’t just employ our people to churn out projects. We invest heavily and thoughtfully into their development and our culture. Through Design School, friendships are formed under the banner of design and wanting to make an impact that goes way beyond their day job.

When participants tell you that Design School is a career highlight for them, you know you are delivering something with impact.